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Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Detox City for Botoxic Nation

by Clinton Fein

I've been patient, I've been good, tried to keep my hands on the table
It's gettin' hard this holdin' back, if you know what I mean.
--Olivia Newton John, Physical, 1981

America's addiction to sex, drugs and spin has taken on a gargantuan relevance as a coping mechanism to facilitate denial about the daily body bags being shipped back from Iraq. In the short space of time since we introduced the world to preemptive striking based upon cooked evidence as a political payback strategy, we have turned social conservatives into high rolling, drug abusing cads and apologists.

Click to Send PostcardFirst, the recall reelection in California. An Austrian, who as I pointed out once before, spent an unhealthy amount of his life pumping steroids around scantily clad men, derailed the governor of California - a man so dull, Al Gore, by comparison to Gray Davis, seemed like an ADD kid who had just been yanked off Ritalin. Arnold Schwarzenegger was yanked from the economically precarious Terminator franchise to preen before cameras mouthing cutely phrased one-liners from his old movies. "Haste La Vista Baby" and "I'll Be Back" became policy positions, cable TV captions and National Enquirer headlines all at once.

While wry media commentators have remarked that the state that spawned Hollywood elected an illusion rather than a politician of substance, the reality is that there is probably no better couple to represent California than a man who has bigger, more unnatural breasts than his wife.

As accusations surfaced about his womanizing, anti-woman values displayed throughout his career, and -- closer to the election -- unwanted groping, the candidate made light of it all, dismissing it as "old news". A 1977 Oui magazine article featured the then-bodybuilder describing how several men in a Golds gym had enjoyed a sexual encounter with a woman -- a gang bang for those unafraid of fucking in public. An more recent Terminator 3 publicity story in Entertainment Weekly quoted him as not only deriving pleasure from, but improvisationally inserting (a seemingly common theme) the scene where he shoves the face of a robot in the form of a female (played by an actress) into a toilet bowl: "How many times do you get away with this - to take a woman, grab her upside down, and bury her face in a toilet bowl? I wanted to have something floating in there…The thing is, you can do it, because in the end, I didn't do it to a woman -- she's a machine! We could get away with it without being crucified by who-knows-what group."

Rather than let sleeping dogs lie, or lying dogs sleep, Schwarzenegger chose to remind voters of the negative publicity by invoking the image again in a debate with gubernatorial contender Arianna Huffington: "I would just like to say that I just realized I have a perfect part for you in 'Terminator 4." No sooner had he uttered it, Maria Shriver, his gaunt-cheeked wife lifted what looked like her self-induced, Phen-phen head out of the toilet bowl to defend him.

Who, aside from Arnie, (or The Governator or whatever other annoying little labels the media has anointed him with), a steroid augmented, plastically carved robot (who actually plays one in the movies), and his Barbie doll skinny, NBC journalist wife, (who happens to be a Kennedy), could be better suited to represent California? A state that has more destructive, chemical weapon stashes of Botox than what's been found in Iraq and relishes stories of bad guys turned good. Or good girls turned bad.

In October 1981 California's aerobics and granola pathology inspired Olivia Newton John to shed her good girl image once and for all and get "Physical" by provocatively suggesting a gang bang in a gym in a then-racy music video for the album's tile song. Featuring, coincidentally, scantily-clad muscle queens that seemed more interested in each other than her. Physical remained at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 for ten weeks, making it the longest reigning No. 1 hit of the 1980s.

Although easy for a man to posit, Village Voice's executive editor, Richard Goldstein, suggested that women subject to Arnie-style groping respond in kind. "If you want to stop gropinators in their tracks, grab them back. Not as a romantic response, but as a preemptive action when a guy is known for this m.o.," he wrote. And for a guy that has a rumored twenty five Hummers, and a slew of nude pics saturating the Internet, you evidently don't even need particularly large hands. And vice is the new virtue now anyway. Every Bill and Hillary Clinton hating media hack from Bill O'Reilly to Ann Coulter miraculously seemed to forget how important revealing the peccadilloes of public figures in private was, just as quickly as the Gloria Allred brand of feminists, who seemed to turn a blind eye to the former President's transgressions, grabbed Schwarzenegger by the metaphorical balls and squeezed hard.

Numbing himself with dizzying amounts of OxyContin through all of this was none other than talk radio hatemonger, Rush Limbaugh. The same week he was fired by ESPN for making racially charged remarks that were his signature brand, revelations about his addiction to what's known as "hillbilly heroin" were splashed all over the front page of the National Enquirer - the tabloid that regrettably suffered only one death from anthrax in 2001.

Bravely borrowing from the Schwarzenegger mea culpa strategy playbook, Limbaugh acknowledged that he had, indeed, been buying and guzzling prescription painkillers illegally from his housemaid. The same social conservatives who blame the decay of American culture on liberal mores forgave yet another of their own. Even the gambling addicted, moral scold, William J. Bennett, a former secretary of Education and the author of "The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family" can safely bet on it that Rush will be forgiven.

The same week that President Bush met with Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, he proclaimed October 12-18 "Marriage Protection Week." And if that wasn't enough, declared poor, toxic, rehab imprisoned, detoxifying, poster chump of the week, Rush Limbaugh, "a great American."

"Just as human nature has inherent purpose, so does human sexuality. There is a natural sexual order, a proper order for love - an ordo amorum, as St. Augustine put it. We are made male and female, and these immutable characteristics define proper sexual behavior. Because this proper sexual behavior quite commonly results in childbearing, these characteristics also define the appropriate relationship for sexual behavior: marriage," wrote Bennett (probably in a casino) in a typical, screeching, anti-gay diatribe in an October 17, 2003 editorial in The Los Angeles Times - the same publication that broke the Schwarzenegger sexual harassment allegations.

Ordo amorum, my ass. So what, tonguing a woman's breast against her will, or unceremoniously shoving your hand up her panties and pinching her crotch or butt are the predetermined characteristics of heterosexuality? Maybe in Bennett's dark, smoke-filled world of roulette wheels and blackjack tables or Rush Limbaugh's hydrocodone heaven, or Bill O'Reilly's toxic, over bloated ego, but for most of us, these pseudo-moralists spewing their ill-concealed hypocrisies are probably the only things more revolting and anger-provoking than some steroidal, testosterone-imbalanced bastard shoving his robotic hands up the skirts of our Moms or sisters. Get your head out of the toilet Maria. And get a gun Mom.

Failed Presidential candidate, Gary Bauer of American Values weighed in, calling Schwarzenegger's election win a "gigantic step backward," for supposedly being tolerant of gays and a woman's right to choose. (Abortion, that is, not sexual assault). Narrowing the focus of the scapegoating -- recently renamed compassionate conservatism -- Bauer softens for white collar addicts on pharmaceuticals whom he distinguishes from cheap, lower class addicts on street drugs.

"From a moral standpoint, there's a difference between people who go out and seek a high and get addicted and the millions of Americans dealing with pain who inadvertently get addicted," Bauer told Newsweek magazine. Just as Jesus would have done, no doubt. American values indeed, but hardly Christian. After all, the purists are taking pure, laboratory controlled, measured-by-the-milligram fixes. They shop for drugs at RiteAid or Albertsons (or send their servants to score), not on urban decayed street corners.

Naturally, following in the footsteps of the Vicodin-hazed, codeine-bloated, painkiller-induced-deaf, Rush Limbaugh, fellow Bennett moralist, William F. Buckley, the effete publisher on The National Review, was forced to endure a humiliating apology amidst accusations of anti-Semitism following a twisted tirade by writer David Easterbrook and subsequent firing by, once again, the personality-plagued ESPN.

The same publication that hired Lucianne Goldberg's fey son, Jonah, (who writes about as maturely as Ann Coulter on a good day), and who rivals the Wall Street Journal's editorial pages in anti-Islamic hysteria, managed to publish with a straight face how they had "spent a generation writing about Jews, Israel, and the elimination of prejudice," and how "many times in our pages insisted upon the moral importance of culture, and worried about the deleterious consequences of the romanticization of violence in American popular culture.

Yet, of Schwarzenegger's abuse accusations (some of which he admitted to) and the gratuitous violence that permeates his movies, a National Review post-election editorial by Joel Kotkin seemed more worried about how to best emulate him: "Republicans, too, have something to learn. If they wish to expand outside of their right wing and southern base and become competitive among the new constituency in key states like California, they must adopt a less strident position on social issues and a more humane face in general. Arnold's political positioning helped turn many of these voters into 'Schwarzenegger Republicans.' But whether they remain Republicans for George Bush and other party candidates will depend on how much the GOP learns from the Terminator's California triumph."

In the introduction to his 1998 book, William Bennett said: "In the end this book rests on the venerable idea that moral good and moral harm are very real things, and moral good or moral harm can come to a society by what it esteems and by what it disdains." That was before he was caught gambling away the revenues the book would generate. And before Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California.

Illusions are fantastic when they work, but should not be confused with a glut of what are, in fact, delusions - or simply denial. As poor Roy, (of the Las Vegas staple illusionist duo Siegfried and Roy), learnt when he was nearly chomped to death by an exotic tiger he rudely tapped on the nose with a microphone, losing control of an illusion can be dangerous stuff. William Bennett has as much credibility discussing virtue these days as Rush Limbaugh would in a "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign. Or Maria Kennedy Shriver Schwarzenegger as a soccer mom, where, attempting as much, she was booed away from a mall ten minutes after showing up in her SUV to defend her unfaithful, itchy-fingered husband.

David Blaine, an American illusionist, starved himself for forty four days in a glass box suspended above the Thames River, to prove that he had more endurance than perhaps starving, malnutritioned kids in Africa, or electricity deprived orphans in Iraq. What is no illusion at all is that he nearly set the record for the most self indulgent illusion, but forgot about the legendary poet Sylvia Plath who placed her head in an oven while her children slept in the room next door. Perhaps Plath's stunt wasn't supposed to be an illusion, but rather a myth, more recently starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

In the meanwhile, the anti-Semitic flames being stirred by former shampoo model, Mel Gibson, to promote his Jew blaming crucifixion movie, Passion, to insert himself as a modern day martyr, (and who threatened to kill New York Times' Frank Rich for mentioning as much), might have an ulterior political motive. Schwarzenegger's expressed admiration for Hitler in his 1970's movie Pumping Iron and Nazi father meant nothing to voters. While his acting skill in the Lethal Weapons series may be more of a reason to crucify Gibson than whatever it was that irked the Jews about Jesus back then, his outbursts have been so misdirected it's a wonder he hasn't accused Schwarzenegger of being Jewish.

Gibson has the anti-Semitic father, Hutton Gibson, and the movie star credentials to become a political figure in America. And clearly we, Americans, are stupid enough to fall for it. If he can create the illusion that he is a glamorous womanizer rather than a dour, preachy, zealot trapped in a pretty-boy body and a discredited William Bennett worldview gone by, he may actually have a chance. Schwarzenegger overcame the potential Jewish voter problem, as well as politcal inexperience, by cultivating iconic status as a powerful, action-figure hero from which we couldn't disassociate him. Gibson's latest turn, and diva-like tirades, may foil any such ambitions -- unless he plans on being governor in Judge Roy Moore's Alabama.

The pendulum of moral virtue is swinging in a new direction, making it possible, once again, for the flawed and the fragile to take their weaknesses and turn them into sympathetically-tinged stepping stones to success. Compassionate conservatives are substituting tough love for tough shit, allowing you to still be all that you can be in spite of it all, provided, of course, you follow the new rules. So run along to your nearest drug store (or send your maid), pop a fistful of prescription painkillers, grope someone’s sister or brother in the first elevator you find, get a big flag to plaster on the back of your Hummer and sieg heil to your good fortune. It’s what we esteem now, and you too, can be a great American.

Clinton Fein can be reached at clinton@annoy.com


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