Schwarzenegger Syndrome

Politics and Celebrity in the Age of Contempt

An irreverent look at the rise and rise of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, from the journalist the New York Times calls a “huge satirical talent”

“It’s the most difficult decision I’ve made in my entire life, except the one I made in 1978 when I decided to get a bikini wax.” —Arnold Schwarzenegger, announcing his candidacy for governor of California in 2003

From the California recall circus, in which Gary Coleman, Larry Flynt, and Arianna Huffington vied with over one hundred other candidates to replace a supposedly inept governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger emerged triumphant. How did this onetime bodybuilding champion and gay pinup, with no political experience and a string of mediocre action movies to his name, come to take over the world’s fifth-largest economy?

In The Schwarzenegger Syndrome, celebrated journalist and novelist Gary Indiana makes the case that this tale is a product of a mediasoaked culture in which image matters more than substance. The recall process, a parody of direct democracy, gave Schwarzenegger the chance of a lifetime. With so many candidates in the race, he certainly wasn’t the most qualified, the most articulate, or the most credible—but he was the most famous. And for the majority of Californians, that was enough. A witty and biting travelogue through the intersection of celebrity culture with American political life, The Schwarzenegger Syndrome lays bare the dark implications of Schwarzenegger’s rise to power in the Golden State.