Dreamin’ on the
Eve of Termination
Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice
– It’s became painfully clear to me, as I Roamed around the San Francisco
Bay area on the eve of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ascension to the governor’s
mansion, that the promise of California – the dream of a new sun-bathed life
in ecotopia that lured generations to this Pacific Mecca – is dead.
Utopia’s gone awry with today’s
having succumbed to social Darwinism.
now brazenly sports obscene extremes of wealth and poverty.
The rich are getting richer and they’re in your face everywhere you
turn. The poor are both omnipresent and invisible, spending their lives
commuting across county lines in search of menial work and affordable homes.
And the middle class, like the dreamers and artists that once shaped
California’s image as the promised land, are disappearing, either succumbing
to the tortures of poverty or fleeing California’s seventy-hour workweeks and
multi-thousand dollar rents. California is now pocked with Lexus clogged streets
and sidewalks packed with wagon trains of shopping carts – the mobile homes
for the state’s ever-expanding homeless set.
Surreal Candidate for an
Today’s wealthy Californians are afraid of the monster of
a society created by their lust for ever larger homes and cars, and their
disdain for taxes. They are now
imprisoned and entombed in secure alarmed houses and gated communities,
segregated away from the people who cook their food and clean their pools.
Their boundless lawns cover the dessert, watered by the very blood of the
earth, as lakes and rivers are sucked dry across the west.
Ever-expanding ribbons of asphalt wrap this surreal environment tighter
and tighter as more and more Californians spend ever-increasing portions of
their lives sitting in traffic going nowhere, with their cars looking more and
more like coffins with each passing day. In
this society, both detached from and afraid of reality, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Media Studies scholars have been sounding the alarm for
is losing its grip on reality. Information
is giving way to infotainment. TV
gossip tabloids and propaganda are both are replacing news programming. And
Americans are spending more and more time sequestered away in their viewing
pens, immersing themselves in a virtual world instead of a real one.
Hence, it really shouldn’t shock anyone that Californians
were ready to dump their real life boring Al Gorish governor in favor of the
Terminator. I mean, let’s be real
here. We’ve all seen the movies.
The guy can work around the clock without sleep. He’s literally
bulletproof. He saved humanity twice
and has been to the future. Given
these attributes, I’d vote for him too.
Politics” and Gag Orders
The real-life problem is that this is precisely how and why
Californians voted. With the
exception of a few 11th hour allegations about groping, there never
was any discussion of who Arnold Schwarzenegger is and what he stand for. Nightly
newscasts showed him belting out canned sound bite phrases like “Puke
Politics” to cheering shopping mall crowds while struggling to avoid
For his part, Schwarzenegger, during his two month
political career, successfully avoided addressing issues, instead invoking campy
lines from his old action films. In
essence, he ran not as citizen Schwarzenegger, a man with no managerial,
diplomatic or economics background, but as the Terminator.
He successfully managed to let his campaign play out not in the presence
of journalists who might ask tough political questions, but in the company of
old entertainment industry friends such as Jay Leno, Oprah Winfrey, Howard Stern
and Larry King.
This has been Schwarzenegger’s operating protocol since
the freakish Austrian bodybuilder was first crafted into a
star. Speaking to the San Jose Mercury
News, the director of Schwarzenegger’s first action film (“Hercules in
New York”), Arthur Seidelman, explained how “Arnold’s entire career has
been manufactured,” with the actor relying on public relations spinmeisters
and a team of lawyers to maintain control of his public persona.
recall election, team Schwarzenegger required campaign workers to sign a five
page confidentiality agreement. The
contract, in essence, identified Schwarzenegger as a brand, much like Nike, with
a carefully crafted image and brand equity.
It points out that Schwarzenegger
“is a public figure and substantial effort and expense have been dedicated to
limit the constant efforts of the press, other media and the public to learn of
personal and business affairs.” Campaign
workers who grant interviews talking about the candidate turned governor-elect
will, according to the contract, have to forfeit up to $50,000 per
While such a contract may be acceptable for an actor
protecting his privacy, it shouldn’t be tolerated of a public official
managing the world’s sixth largest economy and
’s most populous state. Putting a
gubernatorial candidate off limits to the scrutiny of the press, impotent as it
usually is, constitutes nothing less than a full frontal attack on democratic
values. There will be no
discussion of the issues – just the election.
and Enron Right on Target
Europeans, accustomed to a more lively political culture, the
recall raises the specter of fascism. As William Rees-Mogg of the
Times puts it, “Arnold
Schwarzenegger is relying on the appeal of fascism, whether or not he is
personally a fascist.” Rees-Mogg explains, “He does not run on experience.
He has been a politician for only eight weeks. He does not run on policy. He
relies on catch phrases and on empty generalization. He does not debate the
issues. He has taken part in only one debate…. His campaign exists outside
rationality, in the world of celebrity and sensation. The politics of mass
emotion are the politics of fascism.”
all intents and purposes, Schwarzenegger is a mystery candidate without anything
resembling a platform. All we really
know is that he promised to erase
’s $8 billon deficit while cutting $4 billion worth of auto fees and
preserving education funding, which makes up 40% of the state’s budget.
Beyond this fiscal wizardry, Schwarzenegger’s plans as governor,
assuming he has some, are a mystery. All
we have to work on are little reported clues.
We have no idea what his views are on mass transportation, but we know he
owns six personal Hummers. We don’t know his platform on retail sprawl, but we
know Target stores is one of his major campaign sponsors.
seems to be less of a mystery, is why some of the most powerful business players
in the west wanted Gray Davis out of office and the Terminator installed in his
place. According to BBC reporter
Greg Palast, some of the major players behind what we now know as Enron’s
multi-billion dollar rip-off of
electric ratepayers, engineered the recall.
It goes like this: The
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), headed by an associate of former
Enron CEO and Bush buddy Ken Lay, proposed that the energy companies who ripped
rate payers by engineering a fake energy crisis, pay back those rate payers to
the tune of two cents per dollar stolen. In
order for this settlement to fly, however, the governor of
must sign off on it. But the
administration offered no deal. Instead,
Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante pushed forth with a $9 billion lawsuit
against the same energy companies.
Here’s where Palast’s reporting comes into play.
He cites 34 pages of internal Enron memos uncovered by the
based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.
These memos, according to Palast, show that one month after Bustamante
filed his suit, Enron players held an emergency meeting, cooking up a scheme to
kill the $9 billion suit by recalling the governor and replacing him with one
who would sign the FERC’s sweetheart deal, thus negating Bustamante’s
lawsuit. The ensuing recall cost
’s taxpayers $66 million and cost Gray Davis his job.
Sinister as this plan seems, it only worked because in the
end, Gray Davis did in fact fail as a governor.
During his tenure in office, he abandoned the progressive Democratic base
that initially elected him, instead opting to tout the corporate-friendly line
of the Democratic Leadership Committee. When
he imposed 30-40% fee increases at
’s public colleges and universities, his constituency rebelled.
In the end, it was union members, students and the poor, formerly
’ core constituency, who voted to recall the governor who let them down.
It was the politics of concession that caused
’ base to abandon him as Californians voted to damn both the governor and
themselves. And finally, it was the media, who put Schwarzenegger’s face
everywhere while never asking him a difficult question, that sealed the
With Schwarzenegger not yet in office, Californians are
already talking about another gubernatorial recall. As they would say in what
now passes for political discourse in
, judgment day is coming. Asta la
Dr. Michael I.
Niman’s previous columns are archived at http://mediastudy.com
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