Sexuality and the Arnold Schwarzenegger Hero: A Survey

The defining trait of the Schwarzenegger hero is brute physical force. In Predator (1987), the first handshake between Schwarzenegger’s Dutch and his boss Dillon is an excuse to show us an extreme close-up of Arnold’s contracting biceps. In this world, muscles are more important than human exchange. Comando (1985) introduces its main character, John Matrix, as a gigantic meatloaf. The camera zeros in on his biceps and bulky torso until the screen reveals that he is carrying a huge chainsaw in one hand and a huger tree trunk in the other. Similarly, Conan The Barbarian (1982) imposes himself as the hero of the movie when his muscle increases. In a montage that captures his transformation from youth into the bulging muscleman he becomes, the emphasis is clearly placed on physical force again. We get shots of arms and legs that grow and grow in frightening proportions until Conan finally reaches his prime. At the same time, mental maturity that would ideally develop with age is not alluded to or expressed in any way. In a world where men only seem to communicate through physical violence, intellectual abilities become a non-issue—maybe even a hindrance.

What then, about sexuality? After all, killing the bad guys and saving the planet is only worth half as much if the hero can’t score the babe at the end of the film. Manly men such as the hulk-type Arnold embodies, should, by design, breathe sexual competence. So, how is the Schwarzenegger hero faring in this regard?

On the surface, Schwarzenegger’s films are surprisingly asexual. With the blatant celebration of flesh and musculature, sex scenes are sparse; interactions between the sexes are usually reduced to the typical, damsel in distress meets male savior spiel that has prevailed throughout the history of film. Conan The Barbarian gives us the most explicit view of the Schwarzenegger hero’s sexual behavior. When Conan loses his virginity, his lover morphs into a non-descript reptile, indicating that the hero’s lovemaking is simply unearthly—despite that fact that it is technically his first time in the sac. However, at the end of the sexual act, Conan throws his lover into an open fire. This violent climax is congruent with his treatment of a group of women in a latter scene when he exclaims: “you’re all sluts!” Here we are given a primary indication of the Schwarzenegger hero’s view on women: he “loves [them] long time,” but has ultimately no regard for them (the scene in Total Recall where Quaid shoots his wife in the head and says “consider this a divorce” seems to support this thesis).

However, to get a better sense of the Schwarzenegger hero’s attitude towards sexuality, we have to dig a little deeper. In an article for the German weekly newspaper, Die Zeit, Peter Kümmel writes that in porno movies, the cumshot is the “vulgar visualization of the last belief the educated western man can cling to. The belief in his virility, in the death defying value of his own potency.” In our capitalistic world, “the orgasm is our most valuable commodity: it symbolizes the stoppage of time, a tear of eternity. I live for I am aroused. I am here for I reach the climax.”* If this diatribe holds true for pornography, Arnold’s movie characters live and breathe by the same modus operandi. The cumshot is simply substituted by the explosion, the blood spurt and the death inducing power move. Therefore, acts of violence literally outgun communication and/or god forbid, thinking. Schwarzenegger’s infamous one-liners symbolize the shoot-first-then-ask mentality of his films. “Bleed, bastard,” “Let off some steam” and “consider this a divorce,” are all triumphant macho expressions that follow an explosion or a terminating shoot-out confirming his “death defying potency.”* If the fight scene stands in for the sexual act, and the destruction of an enemy symbolizes the cumshot, the Schwarzenegger one-liner is nothing more than the self-affirming “how was I?” after the sexual act. Mind you, the robot-like delivery of said one-liners imply that sexual expertise is not being called into question; it is guaranteed.

It is the final act that is important. In the opening sequence of Raw Deal (1986), Schwarzenegger drives a car as sheriff Mark Kaminsky, He is in hot pursuit of a suspect on a motorcycle and the chase is dangerous and tedious. However, like most of these Arnold heroes, this man knows what he is doing; we never get the impression that Kaminsky could make a wrong move or lose sight of the suspect. After a while, he cuts through the woods, stops his car, splashes the road with gasoline, and lights up a cigar while the suspect drives up the road. Kaminsky takes a puff or two, throws the cigar on the gasoline just at the right moment, causing an instantaneous explosion that violently knocks the criminal off his bike. It is this last pose that warrants highlighting due to the coolness with which the man finishes his handiwork. Like the chase, the sexual act is a mere accessory to the truly masculine act of ejaculating or crushing an antagonist with an explosion. In this sense, the Schwarzenegger hero is truly a sex machine.

The question then becomes if the ideal man should really exhibit this type of chest-beating sexuality. As a contestant on the New Dating Game in 1973, a young Arnold Schwarzenegger describes his measurements to one female contestant: biceps: 22 inches, chest 57, and waist 33. “What do we have in common?”, he asks her. “You get smaller as you go down”, she answers laughing. Trying to regain his masculine dominance, Arnold stutters, “by the way, this is not true!” But it appears that outside of movie parallel reality, the Schwarzenegger hero might kill the bad guys and save the planet, but probably wouldn’t get the girl.

text by: Joseph Isho Levinson










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