It was the ultimate blending of fantasy and reality. The occasion was a speech by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to a hotel ballroom full of travel industry investors and for this larger-than-life governor, no human introduction could be enough.
Instead, Schwarzenegger had himself introduced with a video. This one featured clips of him and wife Maria traveling the California coast, clips of his speeches and scenes from his movies. The segue from Arnold the speechmaker to Arnold the Terminator was seamless, done with what Hollywood calls very high production values.
So high and so smooth, in fact, it was all but impossible to tell fantasy from reality in the video funded by the privately-financed California Travel and Tourism Commission.
Which seems to be what Schwarzenegger wants these days, as the blurring of real life and the world of the imagination reaches new heights in his administration.
It’s not merely that, like the federal Bush administration, Schwarzenegger’s aides have used tax dollars to produce fake media reports pushing his agenda, something others in government label an illegal use of public money for pure propaganda.
That would be bad enough, especially since the false “newscasts” make assertions any rational person can recognize as fantasy. One claim: If Schwarzenegger eliminates a requirement that employers provide a lunch hour for workers during the first six hours of any shift, employees “will…eat when they’re hungry.” Reality is that it’s far more likely they may not get to eat at all until they get off work, if this rule change occurs.
But it’s on the issue of steroid drugs where fantasy may have most superceded the real world in Schwarzenegger’s mind.
The governor concedes he used steroids to help build himself into a world champion Mr. Olympia muscleman. He told a national TV audience he has no regrets about it.
But in the next breath he informed today’s youth that using steroids is a bad idea. It was a classic example of “do as I say, not as I do,” which any parent knows will never convince children.
Right after that, he went off to Ohio to preside over the “Arnold Classic,” a bodybuilding extravaganza where it’s hard to find anyone off steroids. While there, he insisted both that he will battle steroid use and that he will push to eliminate “junk food” from vending machines in California public schools.
What message are today’s high school athletes to take from this conflicted bag? They see a world-famous movie star governor with a fabulous physique living in a sprawling mansion. They see him driving luxury muscle cars, commandeering television time anytime he likes, reporting 21 investments worth at least $1 million each and married to a prominent member of the Kennedy clan.
All because of muscles created with the help of steroids. Are they fantasy or reality? Does anyone believe anymore that it was “that last extra (weightlifting) rep” that produced the Schwarzenegger muscles, as he so often claims?
Any more than most sports fans still believe San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds, another admitted steroid user, suddenly went from hitting 25 or 30 home runs a year to smashing 73 solely because of a winter weightlifting routine?
Now Schwarzenegger says don’t do as I did, don’t use this stuff to build yourself up the way I did, because it may be harmful. Rational youngsters could be forgiven if they considered his latter-day talk pure hypocrisy.
Especially when they see Schwarzenegger’s near legendary bodybuilding mentor and magazine partner Joe Weider, the man who brought him over from Austria, sued by another power-lifter for allegedly tacking Weider’s head on an image of the other man’s body — without permission — in the corporate logo of Weider’s business.
It’s no longer just Schwarzenegger’s own muscles that might be phony, there’s also the allegation his great benefactor has a false image.
That’s all part of a world where fantasy mixes with reality on a scale that could confuse almost anyone.Which is fine, if it works for Schwarzenegger and his family, as it apparently has for many years. What’s important now, though, is for voters not to be confused by this kind of mix. Particularly if there’s a special election next fall and Schwarzenegger uses his face and physique to promote plans he calls “fantastic,” but whose alleged benefits may be nothing more than fantasy.