Mediamatic Magazine vol 4#3 Arjen Mulder 1 Jan 1990

Body Conspiracy

Body Conspiracy

Once having gotten in contact with the film star Schwarzenegger, we see the strangest reversals appear: the body that recklessly eats images, the nature that plunders technique, and the audience who, together with the main character, take over the film by forming a conspiracy against the directing. With Schwarzenegger s film Predator as a case in point, Arjen Mulder shows how the media, from inside out, is digested. Not out of protest, but as subtle revenge.


Body Conspiracy -

The work of Arnold Schwarzenegger is unreadable if taken out of the topicality which it realizes. This topical ambience is built up in thefilms, time and time again, as a cocktail of at least four elements: the first is formed by the political-media corporation on world scale, the second by the films of Sylvester Stallone, with whom Schwarzenegger sets himself forth permanently, third part through the career planning of our beloved body builder himself, and the major part through parodying the first three. His world audience - which he himself calls the real hard-core Arnold audience - knows this and isn't bothered. These films are so emphatically meant for seasonal consumption, never looking beyond the surface, that only professional and occasional viewers fall for the trap. For all others it is clear that, behind these fly-by-nighters hides a refined conspiracy on a long term.

The more Arnold has film made of himself, the more the secret tendency surfaces. In his career one can point out two events in which he crossed thresholds: the first when, as a fifteen year old boy in Austria, he decided to become the ultimate body builder, and the second when he decided to expose his expanded body to the film camera years later in America. One can read his film work as a systematic exercise of revenge for all the laughter he had to endure during his body building period so as not to disturb his career planning. He ridicules the preoccupations about his appearance for good, by totally showing them to be correct, or by 'plugging-in' the secret associations, which his body conjures up, so strongly in his films, that they loose their charisma.

Schwarzenegger makes no series out of a success formula, but constantly fills another role with himself. His films are experiments which succeed or don’t. In Conan The Barbarian he is literally a prehistoric monster, in The Terminator a ridiculous robot. In Commando an an atavistic war machine running in a vacuum, in Raw Deal you stumble over the window mannequins, the artificial people, The Running Man is a video game with Arnold as the little man that must dodge the attackers. In Red Heat he himself is the Russian that Rocky used to fight. In Twins he appears to be the end result of a genetic experiment of a crypto- fascist, and in Predator it is suggested that our hero has a deep affinity for an alien monster (to defeat the alien is to become an alien).

But in all honesty, if someone has such a radical relationship with his body that he brings it to x-times Mr. Universe and dito Olympia, would the shallow opinions of his skinny fellow human beings bother him? He himself had known all along what his body was doing, the others just weren’t that far. The theme of revenge in Schwarzeneggers films is only meant for the hesitant viewers to help overcome their obsolete disgust for the late 20 th century body, by telling them that they are right and at the same time, that that doesn’t matter. It’s about something else. The directors that Arnold takes in charge feel that they are hired for a suspicious job, and try to save their skin by obliging Arnold to loose about 10 kilos for every film. Why, in fact, should his body be so big and why should it also be put on celluloid? That the market and Schwarzenegger want it is no reassurance, they are in one conspiracy together in order to get the directors to do their dirty work. In these films revenge is surely taken, but on who for Godsake, on what, for what, when...

+++ Critique of Politics
The most extreme film that Arnold has arranged up till now is, without doubt, Predator from 1987 - a work which leaves one sick for nights on end. The film opens with the apotheosis of the Rambo episode made shortly before. The big man goes into the bush with a jungle commando in order to teach right a collection of politically motivated vagos. The ideology of the enemy doesn’t matter. For Arnold, the political game can be played from any position as long as it’s played fair. Whether its own army or the army of the enemy breaks the rules of the political honour code, Arnold directly shows that he seriously disapproves of both options. Well o.k., there are several people taken hostage and they are liberated. The job is done in no time, and after a quarter of an hour the viewer asks himself: hey, we just got in and the major violent scenes have already happened - what now?

In the first place, the heroic action gets corrected to the level of blatant power abuse. Arnold and his men prove to have not cleared up the innocent kidnapping of several decent ministers, rather they are in charge of killing guerrillas where the ordinary army couldn’t reach. This level of the story can be seen as a critique of policy. The idealistic point of view, that politics should be practiced decently on all sides, proves to be dated by reality: politics ■ unfair game, always. The ciA-man who leads the commando even says this out loud, as if it wasn't already clear.

A new element is then brought in, in the struggle, even before the actual film begins. This element is introduced with old- fashioned images of a space ship from which a shuttle is fired in the direction of earth. On their way to the jungle camp the Arnold-group encounters several skinned corpses hung upon a branch, descending from Green Berets assigned the same mission. Fine and well, and it also gets explained by a guerilla girl which the men have taken along: there is an alien in the jungle who wants to eat them. By itself, the alien is not so strange in this case: it’s a classic situation that, where people’s uprisings occur, flying saucers and alien contact are part of daily life. Aliens come, as one says, for the higher level of emotional energy that is produced from these occasions to fuel their space ships.

Completely in line with Stars Wars and Aliens, Predator also seems to attempt to discredit our extra-terrestrial brothers - this time by accusing them of cannibalism and in so doing, degrading them to an earlier stage of our evolution. The function of this humanistic critique of the alien is to save the image of the exposed barbaric political game. Only if we understand who our real enemy is, shall we, on home Earth, adhere to the code of conduct for comfortable political troubles. The only thing that could unite the planet is a united space program said Burroughs.

What makes the film alarming, is that the behaviour and characteristics of the alien being are not to understand. The alien is practically invisible through it’s ultimate camouflage, which exists out of it literally being the colours and outlines of its surroundings, even outdoing the chameleon. It can even undo itself from its substance and become background without shape. Sometimes it suddenly takes on a physical appearance, as if it’s able to apply the uncertainty principle of Heisenberg to itself: this photon can decide for itself whether to appear to us as a particle or as a wave. The alien doesn’t observe with the help of visual images but through heat registrations (or something similar). On the other hand, it’s strangely enough not able to see through the mud which Arnold has covered himself with by accident. It likes to skin humans, not for the purpose of eating their meat, but in order to honour the skeletons as a fetish after having been picked clean to the bone by 'other animals’. It kills the commando fighters by negligently crushing them to a little dirt pile, but facing Arnold, it takes off its helmet in order to fight man-to-man, (as a parody of Rambo). By removing his helmet the alien reveals the face of a scorpion, the rest consists of computers. Earlier it had carefully observed this animal. (If the alien just had taken his outward appearance from a scorpion, then could it also have taken the torso and sweet face of Arnold? The proposition that the alien is related to the scorpion is as ridiculous as relating him to the teddy-bear in Starwars and et.)

In short: the alien is totally unpredictable. By trial and error, the hero as well as the viewer gradually finds out about the alien’s capabilities. But why? What does the alien want? And how is it possible that Schwarzenegger can fight against him, when it would be completely ridiculous if Stallone did? This least question is not difficult to answer. Stallone is, in all his creations, a very nostalgic figure through and through. His body is an instrument which he uses in his pursuit of classical values such as friendship, patriotism, brotherhood, family, and other historical determinants.

Although Predator gives the suggestion that American foreign policy only makes contact with aliens (from strange planets such as Vietnam, Nicaragua, Libya), and that Rambo, as spearhead of these policies, never met a human being, Rambo and Rocky are full proof humanists in their behaviour. Schwarzenegger, on the contrary, has nothing human in his top films. The suggestion that he, in his deepest state of being, would be the same as you and me is made ridiculous each time. He is not orientated to earlier disciplines, but has left history behind or still in front of him: in The Terminator he arrives by way of time machine into the present and in Conan he is prehistoric. Schwarzeneggers character shows clearest when we compare him with Rocky iv and his Russian opponent Drago. Where Rocky strengthens his body through natural means, (jogging, mountain sports, car lifting), and Drago submits his body to technology (with computers which prescribe exercises, diets, and drugs), Arnold is the perfect opposite.

His body is technology that has become part of nature. We never see Arnold do physical work; no training, no coaches, no special menus or athletic achievements. He is there, or rather, it is there, the body. His muscle tissue is neither flesh nor steel, but pumping iron. It is a real late twentieth-century body, as those of East German swim champions, or of Ben Johnson - bodies on which supporters of natural ideology let loose their eco- fascistic-anti-dope-terror.

+++Image Parasite
Our century is that of the media, the audiovisual, the image of immediate omnipresence. What do we see on the screen? Bodies undone from their substance, reduced to colours and outlines, background. Photography, film, and video are the predators of materiality, as before the idealism, the spiritual, in short, as the soul used to be. One can escape from this modern denial of our corporality in two ways. One is to fall back to the classical Christian theme, the motive of resurrection of the corps at the end of time. When the image is destroyed, the natural body will rise again in all its glory. But Predator disturbs the illusion about what we are up against. The body has always been extremely vulnerable - hence the war techniques from which, in it’s turn, the media proceeds. The alien in Predator is image, colour, outlines, is celluloid or magnetic/digital signal. This image adores the body as a fetish, as the whole visual industry does. But the image cannot contact the body without annihilating it or dematerializing it. Spoken in bodily terms: without stripping away the soft machine of muscles and entrails and keeping nothing more than skulls and bones. Out of that, no body can resurrect. The image will never reciprocate and turn back into the state of body from which it came, from which it is a parasite. Only images remain. When the image disappears we are left with dead matter.

Schwarzenegger is aware of this and on this has based his strategy. Body builders absorb the image of their body into their body itself. It’s not for nothing that sport schools are covered with mirrors. They don’t consider this image to be a spiritual ideal, but take it straight into their muscles, into the living material. The skeleton is nothing more than a dead structure on which they hang. With their muscles they don't form an armour against the threatening outside world, rather, they swallow them up in their flesh. Their body submits itself not to the demands of (image) technique, but uses it ruthlessly in order to place itself outside of natural history. In doing so, it avoids the laws of the destruction of nature through technology. Like the image parasitizes on the bodies, the body can parasitize on the images, and with a comparable conclusion: the final destruction of the host that has become superfluous because he is absorbed in his own body.

Schwarzenegger’s body is so big and strong because it revolves around images, that's why you never see him training. Furthermore, he has become a movie star, not as a capitulation for the image technology (although it is still somewhat of a danger), but to get to the trough as close as possible. He lets the images of himself be made from which he feeds. He turns cinema literally into a consumption article. That is the conspiracy in which he involves his hard core audience. In Arnold Schwarzenegger the audience ultimately sees someone eating images that have for so long only suggested boredom in all their folomness; but he does it in a way in which we, afterwards, are not able to do without images. Even stronger, he has founded the total image culture; the one in which the image has become body, in which the silly dialectics of audiovisuality and materiality have finished for good, since they coincide from now on, in which the body has found the fourth dimension outside of the technological culture to take any form it wants: body building, body freedom.

With an ironic dissociation with regard to the lost naturalness or old male ideals, with the power to find no political or social meaning in itself, this body is content with itself because it already knows everything outside of it. It swells up in an unemphatic selfembrace. The audience discovered in Schwarzenegger the avant-guarde of the historical crusade in which they themselves take part. It has been digesting film for a hundred years. It longs for more substantial food. The world after the media, that's the body conspiracy.

translation Linda Pollack