Schwarzenegger, your He-Man days have come and gone

March 17, 2013 | 5:00 a.m.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in a scene from the 1982 film "Conan the Barbarian," left, and during his term as governor of California, right. (Reuters; Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in a scene from the 1982 film “Conan the Barbarian,” left, and during his term as governor of California. (Reuters; Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

COMMENTARY

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent decision to return as executive editor of Muscle & Fitness and Flex magazines makes one thing abundantly clear: The former bodybuilder, movie star and California governor can’t seem to grasp the simple fact that his era is over.

He tried to ride out the revelation that he had secretly fathered a child with his housekeeper by penning an autobiography that was long on self-aggrandizement and short on introspection. Then he ventured back to the big screen with “The Last Stand,” prompting critics to declare him too old, too odd-looking (who knew Austrians turned orange as they aged?) and too mired in scandal to resurrect his action hero career.

Now he plans to return to his bodybuilding roots because he just doesn’t get it: The He-Man is dead, and few mourn his passing.

While Schwarzenegger was governating, the cultural landscape changed. Women, led by Lara Croft, Buffy and Nikita, gained muscles and martial arts skills on the big screen and small, while men learned how to talk and even (gasp) intuit.

PHOTOS: Arnold Schwarzenegger: The good, the bad, the bad-ass

Dr. Gregory House and Don Draper became the objects of serial desire while the cinematic action hero morphed into Robert Downey Jr., more mind and mouth than muscle. James Bond still thrives, but it is Daniel Craig’s scarred, haunted and human Bond, weeping tears of salt, not vermouth. Sylvester Stallone tried to get back in the game too, and “Bullet to the Head” bombed even faster than “The Last Stand.”

iron man 3, robert downey jr, tony stark

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in the upcoming “Iron Man 3.” (Marvel Studios)

It isn’t just anatomy, it’s attitude. Social, economic and environmental concerns have turned on the in-your-face consumer-machismo that Schwarzenegger and other big men made their signature. Bodybuilding, Hummers, the Cuban cigars, the triple Scotches, the wild nights and womanizing are no longer the accoutrement of A-list masculinity.

Nowadays, real men drive hybrids, extol super-foods and worry more about core muscles and resting heart rates than the size of their pecs. Smart is the new sexy, struggling the new strong, insecurity a form of seduction. It helps if you can sing.

The He-Man did not go quietly. Roused to fury by the feminist movement and the quiche-eating New Male, the He-Man took power in the 1980s, both politically and culturally — it’s no coincidence that Schwarzenegger’s film career launched during the Reagan years. Subsequently, he found sustenance in both the “Fast and Furious” video-game generation and the new political right.

INTERACTIVE: ’80s action heroes reload

He-Man in a "Masters of the Universe" cover. (DC Comics)

He-Man in a “Masters of the Universe” cover. (DC Comics)

But the rise of the woman warrior, both real and fictitious, the increasing acceptance of gay Americans with their richly diverse definitions of masculine and feminine, and a digitally led shift toward Steve Jobs-cerebral over blue-collar-physical forced the classic He-Man into a very real Last Stand.

It all but defined this past election. Mitt Romney, no one’s definition of a He-Man, was recast as Mr. Fix-It, a can-do guy with money-making smarts who might be good to have around the house. Meanwhile, some of his supporters seemed intent on taking up the machismo slack with a game of gender-political chicken.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) convened a House panel on birth control that was all male. Rush Limbaugh called law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” because she thought insurance companies should cover birth control. Then-Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) tried to argue that women could not get pregnant in cases of “legitimate rape” in last year’s GOP primary for a U.S. Senate seat. In the Indiana Senate race, Republican Richard Mourdock insisted that abortion not be allowed in cases of rape because such births are in fact a “gift from God.” (Both Akin and Mourdock lost their races.)

Coming from hard-line conservatives, none of these views were new or even surprising, but the response of bipartisan outrage certainly was. The gender gap has been a political reality for years, but during this past election many voters seemed intent on sending a message: “Knock it off, guys.” Smug and sexist just doesn’t fly even among conservative women.

Comics artist Alex Ross' depiction of President Barack Obama on the cover of "Wizard" magazine. (Wizard)

Comics artist Alex Ross’ depiction of President Barack Obama on the cover of “Wizard” magazine. (Wizard)

So for another four years we have a president whose wife has better biceps than he does, a man more visually associated with a library than a ranch. In many ways, Barack Obama is the quintessential third-millennium alpha, the antithesis of such He-Man presidents as Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton (who, after a life-saving diet of veganism and spousal deference, has also changed with the times).

Obama may be commander in chief of two wars and the man who brought down Osama bin Laden, but unlike most of his predecessors he is rarely seen handling a firearm (and then only shooting at clay targets). He does not yell; he has been known to sing.

Indeed, prompted by the Sandy Hook tragedy, one of the first big fights of his second term is against the National Rifle Assn., arguably the most powerful embodiment of Old Guard masculinity in the country. Certainly NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre followed the He-Man script to the letter when he finally broke his silence after 20 children and six adults were slain by a lone gunman in a matter of minutes. The obvious solution, he said, happily stepping back into a time when men were men and women didn’t have the vote, was to arm all the teachers.

And it isn’t just an American phenomenon. All over the world, in countries where male authority is socially and politically institutionalized, the old models of masculinity are being reconsidered. The recent gang rape and killing of a female student in New Delhi sparked a national uproar that resulted in a government panel examining the widespread abuse of women in India and calling for an end to “a culture of masculinity, a cult of aggression.” In Pakistan, the shooting of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai by members of the Taliban infuriated by her insistence that girls should receive an education caused international outrage.

Not even the pope, arguably the world’s most spiritual He-Man — head of the most famous patriarchy, defined by his position as infallible, speaking literally in edicts — is immune. Beset by scandal, including and especially the revelations that the Catholic Church has, for decades, ignored and covered up the rape and sexual abuse of children by pedophile priests, the now-former Pope Benedict XVI recently acknowledged that, beset by health issues and general frailty, he was no longer the man for the job and became the first pontiff in centuries to resign.

So out of style is the concept of He-Man masculinity that History, in publicizing its much-anticipated series “The Vikings,” is pushing not only the role of women (did you know they were allowed to own property and go into battle?) but intellectual curiosity. The lead character may be named for a famous Norse pirate, but he’s portrayed as just as interested in acquiring knowledge and technology as he is in slaughter and booty.

If Ragnar the Viking realizes the age of the He-Man is over, perhaps it’s time Arnold Schwarzenegger did too.

– Mary McNamara, Senior Culture Editor

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex

RECENT AND RELATED

Arnold Schwarzenegger in a scene from the 1982 film "Conan the Barbarian." (Reuters)

Schwarzenegger: The good, the bad, the bad-ass

‘Last Stand’ director on Arnold’s comeback

‘Conan’ producer on Arnold’s aging Barbarian

Schwarzenegger’s Conan preps for ‘Unforgiven’

Muscle summer: ‘Thor’ and ‘Conan’

‘Thrones’: Jason Momoa goes for the throat

New ‘Conan’ aims to bring back the barbarian

Hemsworth too muscular for his Thor costume?

Stallone and Schwarzenegger target Hall H

‘Terminator’: Justin Lin looks at ‘sacred’ franchise’s future

Comments


18 Responses to Schwarzenegger, your He-Man days have come and gone

  1. John W. says:

    While I agree with much of what this writer has to say about our former governor (he is a anachronistic joke), eventually it became apparent that this was a woman's voice. Telling us how men are now, what our role in society is today, is not far from a man describing the experience of childbirth. What Ms. McNamara fails to understand is that we are every bit as complicated as women. You can bet your life that the Tony Starks out there fantasize about being big and tall. That President Obama would prefer that his wife not be physically stronger than he is. And the Pope Benedict correlation to this He-Man mentality is just ridiculous (and likely offensive to millions of Catholics out there), but I suppose you needed to fill your word-count, right?

  2. John W. says:

    Man, but you know what I DO miss from the old days? The old Hero Complex. It used to be fun. Now, it's mostly just… angry.

  3. celkJ says:

    Never seen the expendables i take it?

  4. Charles says:

    Yes, that's what I want, a former Ms. Magazine liberal feminist to tell us what is or isn't masculine. No thanks, your opinion is not wanted.

  5. Peter Ruiz says:

    Bravo, Ms. Macnamara, Bravo! Yeah I have to agree with you, those "He-Man" days are long gone. I guess we have to settle for all of the "macho men" of today: Justin Bieber, "Lil" Wayne, any man who "fathers (term used VERY loosely)" illegitimate children by numerous women, or any angry Englishman that teaches us how to sing or cook. PATHETIC!!! Well ma'am, like the old saying goes, chivalry is dead, and women like YOU killed it! Maybe next time a woman expects me to, say, give up my seat on a bus, or lift something heavy because she can't, I'll just refer her to GI Jane, how's that? I'm sorry, I just can't, I'm to "old school" or too much of a, dare I say, "GENTLEMAN," to behave in a manner that "really" demeans women! BTW, if you really believe that picture of "true equality" that the History Channel is trying to present, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you!

  6. Peter Ruiz says:

    I take it my comment didn't meet with your approval, LA SLIMES! Typical behaviour from a left-leaning, elitist type "news"paper…

  7. Z. Milo says:

    While I agree that Schwarzenegger and Stalone are passed especially Schwarzenegger, I think the writer of this article fails to fully recognize that the movies that they recently made ranged from mediocre to just plain bad (the poster for The Last Stand just said bad movie). With a good script and the right actor I think good old fashion action movie would be quite successful. The first Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, and Terminator 1 & 2 were great movies that still hold up, the problem is Hollywood, is obsessed with franchises that depend regurgitating the same idea using the same actor or actress.

  8. John W. says:

    Funny, management wouldn't post my first comment on how terrible this article was, but they posted my second, nowhere-near-as-critical post. Let's see if they put this one up.

  9. Ida Tarbell says:

    Arnold, Sly, they were always a joke. The cigars are so '90s. The Expendables made money, though some of the Sly vehicles before it didn't do that well. So Sly gets to live again, for maybe another movie, but he's toast too. Its always a bunch of kids who launch these stupid fads. I wish they'd stop. Adults are now the biggest audience. Yes, Boomers. Stop the Chi Chi cartoons for kiddies too. The movies are going to be an adult world for a very long movie moment.

  10. JKF says:

    You seem to be going on bogus stereotypes that all masculine, conservative men agree with x, y, z. And your mediocre journalism seems to have forgotten macho, he-men, Navy Seals DID kill Osama bin Laden; not a political moron in a situation room.

    • John W. says:

      You're comparing real-life military personnel engaging in real-life missions with these… actors? And you're calling Obama a "political" moron when he destroyed the best efforts doof your party could muster?

      Yeah, to quote your illegal war-starting hero, "Mission Accomplished!"

  11. Dave Thomas says:

    I think it’s a little sad that Mary McNamara has the title of “Senior Culture Editor” and that no one on the editor staff of the Times including McNamara sees the irony in her article pronouncing the End of Days for the Governator because he too is now “senior” (“Hasta la vista, He-Men, Sunday March 17, 2013). McNamara’s trend pronouncement that the era of the muscle men like Schwarzenegger and Stallone in Hollywood is over is a faux thesis to get her space in the Calendar Section of the Times. Her real thesis – if there’s one at all – is a rambling attack on masculinity, which only starts with Schwarzenegger and then stumbles into politics attacking Romney, Limbaugh, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and then raves briefly about how Michelle Obama is more muscular than her husband. Then she rambles on to attack the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, the Sandy Hook Shooter, gang rapes in India, the Taliban shooting of a fifteen year-old girl, the resignation of the Pope, and the History Channel’s new series “The Vikings”. Pretending that McNamara has synthesized these very disparate events into a thesis that proves the age of the He-Man is over is a real senior moment for both McNamara and the Times editors. This is not an article about the fall of the American He-Man, it is a rambling roundup of he year’s events more fit for the New Years Eve Edition of People Magazine than Calendar Section of the Los Angeles Times. Why it almost makes me want to write an article about how the Age of the Newspaper is over because the editors can't find good writers any more. Nah!

  12. Johnz52 says:

    Funny but the self appointed Senior "Cultural" editor forgot to mention Jason Statham, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Lu, Tom Cruise, the Rock and a load of other actors who have done very well with the action genre which the scribbler oddly refers to as "He-Man." It is obvious that McNamara has issues with Arnold, but that is her problem. This article is as biased as a Phillip Morse report on the hazards of smoking. The action genre is very much alive and well, just watch for "G.I. Joe" coming soon to your neighborhood multiplex.

  13. Peter Ruiz says:

    I stand corrected (egg on my face), thank you LA TIMES!

  14. Steve says:

    Conan was 66 years old in Conan of the Isles by L. Sprague de Camp in 1968 if you actually bothered to read it.

  15. Jess says:

    You seriously applaud Don Draper, then in the next paragraph shun triple scotch and womanizing? Have you ever watched Mad Men? Don Draper is a piece of trash.

  16. alharron says:

    The article's writer seems to be under several misapprehensions.

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