20 years ago this summer, Pee Wee Herman got busted for indecent exposure in Florida and almost immediately and brilliantly bounced back with a surprise cameo appearance opening the MTV Music Awards a couple of weeks later with the only possible response:
Based on everything that's turned up in the news this week -- and the immediate explosion of responses on Twitter, Facebook and everywhere else -- it wouldn't be surprising if Arnold Schwarzenegger would be tempted to try for something like that himself on MTV's Movie Awards early next month. Except it would be heavy-handed, forced, feel kinda stupid and be out of sync by that point -- as would his attempt at the joke.
Because in the end, thinking of all the wreckage Arnold has left behind over the years while hiding behind a mask of a smile, a laugh and a cigar -- just ask the family of Luis Santos sometime -- there is no joke beyond the blackest of humor, the stupidity of privilege run rampant that, as more details dribble out this week, can only be met in the end by a "really? on top of everything else you went ahead and did all that? REALLY?" and a shake of the head.
Where there has been a bit of open humor to be found in the cries of self-pity from various former supporters of his from the 2003 recall campaign, the kind of people who regarded the many news reports from the LA Times and elsewhere regarding his personal odiousness as being evidence of some sort of liberal conspiracy against him, only to then be
happily ignored by him while he governed while he's now left them the gift of a toxic brand name on top of everything else, rivalling Pete Wilson and company's "Wait, there are only white voters in California, right?" move for long-term strategic GOP brilliance.
As the linked story notes, those who voted for Tom McClintock instead from the start back in 2003 can at least claim consistency -- though when one of them looks back and still says that the recall "energized Republicans and conservatives in California and showed them that there is a path to victory," it could be argued that the point is being missed big time, to put it mildly. For everyone else who bought into the act from the start and confused their moviegoing choices with their political common sense and integrity, though, we give you five songs to console yourself with:
1. "Oh My God," Guns 'n' Roses
They'll be in this list again -- in fact, you could argue that we could make a list of nothing but
Guns'n'Roses songs that could fit here, thanks to Axl's favorite subjects of corrupt Hollywood glamour, complaining a lot and sex, not to mention song titles like "Estranged," "Civil War," hell, Use Your Illusion itself -- but you could argue that this particular song was prescient in more ways than one. When this came out back in 1999, Schwarzenegger's career was already mired in the string of dull-as-ditchwater action/SF/thriller films that he seemed to rotely churn out before 2003 gave him his chance to reinvent himself in spectacular fashion.
But Guns 'n' Roses still had major mystique going -- this was the first wholly new song from Axl in eight years that wasn't a cover version, a new version of the band was on the verge of live dates, and they'd done the 'attach a new song to a Schwarzenegger movie' thing before, pretty handily as well -- and so it seemed lightning could strike twice again.
It didn't -- the song got no traction, the movie didn't go anywhere, Axl and Arnold proceeded forward as they did, and now they're both washed-up jokes lurking somewhere in the Westside and its general environs. Perhaps the fact that the movie was called End of Days should have clued them in.
2. "Won't Get Fooled Again," the Who
Might as well get this one out of the way, especially since the song is like Schwarzenegger himself --something from the '70s that never ever quite seems to go away. But the sentiments of the song, unlike Arnold, are pretty timeless, so much so that at one point that it was claimed as a conservative anthem a couple of years ago by the formerly pop-culture-suspicious-if-not-hating National Review -- a magazine dedicated to the principle of 'standing athwart history, yelling 'stop',' to paraphrase the words of its founder William F. Buckley, then being crushed by history consistently while ultimately moving the goalposts once again. (Give it ten years and they'll be running pieces about how they always thought gay marriage was inherently conservative and good for America.)
But the song rightfully suspects power in general rather than assigning a specific political cast to it while Pete Townshend was also cagey enough to phrase it as a constant and not always successful struggle for awareness rather than a sums-it-up solution -- a nuance perhaps lost if one is just rerunning lines from Total Recall in one's head over and again while in the voting booth.
3. "Sweet and Tender Hooligan," the Smiths
Given Schwarzenegger's, for lack of a better word, fraught relationship with men who are not 1000 percent ungirlymen in his eyes --Gawker's recent piece covering all sorts of things Arnold's done
over the decades mentions a few interesting situations back in the 60s and 70s, for a start -- it seems not only appropriate but perfectly justifiable to note the revelation of Arnold's supreme heterosexual foible via the words of Morrissey, someone who knows from romantic wrenches, societal straitjackets and hiding in plain sight.
But there's also something about the special pleading of the narrator in this Smiths classic that makes it even more appropriate, as the theatrically amoral title figure, with a few murders to his name, swears that "he'll never ever do it again...not until the next time." As Schwarzenegger mouthed various excuses and pleas back in 2003 for previous bad behavior, the effect on certain voters, as Steve Lopez noted in his LA Times piece the other day, was depressingly obvious: "GOP women who espoused family values came to Schwarzenegger's defense. They insisted that either all Arnold's accusers were making it up, or that they wanted to be groped. "It doesn't matter," one woman told me." One wonders, assuming these people didn't come down with a sudden case of convenient amnesia, if perhaps they might be singing a slightly different tune now. Such as our next entry:
4. "Why D'ya Do It?," Marianne Faithfull
If anything this is what Maria Shriver should be blasting at full volume each time she comes into the courtroom for the next few years to see whether or not she gets to have all of Arnie's collection of stogies to sell to Rush Limbaugh or whoever else wants to die of mouth cancer first, or maybe just a Hummer or two that she can either get dumped in the ocean or wired with enough explosives to make the entirety ofTerminator 2
seem likeThe King's Speech
Faithfull's interpretation of a brilliantly vicious, cut to the quick lyric about marital infidelity, whether from Broken English or via her early 1990s live album Blazing Away, is a take-no-prisoners performance that nails a wandering cheat to a wall and breathes so much fire on it that there's nothing left but skin, bones and a withered and emptied scrotal sac. But it also suits being sung by those political suitors of his in 2003 who saw the gladhanding empty vessel that was Arnold, got starry-eyed and dreamy about all the right-wing glory days that were sure to follow, and then spent the next seven years getting slowly roasted over a slow fire themselves. Faithfull's kind of unrestrained anger is all they're able to manage now. Or maybe, once again, Axl's...
5. "You Could Be Mine," Guns'n'Roses
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The real winner, in the end, for all sorts of good reasons. That same year that Pee Wee inadvertantly lived up to his stage name, Schwarzenegger was on a hell of a roll -- sure, it was only one film he had in said year, but it was Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a return to what had become his most iconic role aside from Conan, another feather in the cap of James Cameron's filmmaking and special effects machine and the box office champion of the year by a mile.
It one of those cases where it would have been stranger if it had failed but nobody put a foot wrong, down to the music -- with Guns'n'Roses on the verge of releasing their long awaited full followup to Appetite for Destruction, Cameron decided to include them in the film, Schwarzenegger got into the act as well, and the end result was that band's first new single in a couple of years and a video that was everywhere on MTV, featuring Arnold in character out to target the band at a show, finally staring them all down at the end. It was cross-promotional slickness to an extreme degree.
Lost in it all was what the song was actually about, not that that's stopped Hollywood before. But the portrait of a highly dysfunctional relationship sure says a lot more than was ever intended or expected, not just about Schwarzenegger's personal life but his political one, a marriage of convenience that he got away with for a while if not forever. If you read it the song from Arnold's point of view, all the ranting about being "a cold heartbreaker [who'll] be out the door before you wake" and complaining "Don't forget to call my lawyers with ridiculous demands" and more just makes too much perfect sense.
At the end of the video, Arnold-as-Terminator sizes up Axl and concludes "Assessment: Waste of ammo." One has a feeling that a lot of people are looking at him the same way now.