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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Building a body for governance : embodying power in the shifting media images of Arnold Schwarzenegger Boyle, Ellexis


When Arnold Schwarzenegger muscled his way into the competition for the governance of California in October 2003 many thought it was a joke, or worse, a sign of the devolution of American politics into the lowest form of populism (Louw, 2005; Baudrillard, 2005; Indiana, 2005). Yet, Schwarzenegger’s victory in the recall election is indicative of a history of celebrities in American politics as well as a more widespread ‘culture of celebrity’ that has burgeoned beyond entertainment and into all forms of public life (Andrews and Jackson, 2001; Holmes and Redmond, 2006). While much has been made of celebrity in aiding Schwarzenegger’s successful governance campaign (Hoberman, 2005; Indiana, 2005; Mathews, 2006) remarkably little has been said about the role of his hypermuscular body in facilitating his move into politics. Drawing on theoretical approaches to celebrity, the body and masculinity, I go well beyond the recall election to make connections among Schwarzenegger’s media representations as an exemplar of muscular masculinity and his accruement of immense cultural, political, and economic capital. By analyzing his celebrity images across his career (i.e. bodybuilding, film and politics) I show how he has been depicted as a ‘body of governance’ in various media such as bodybuilding magazines, autobiography, film and the popular press. This longitudinal approach enables me to show how Schwarzenegger’s celebrity images have shifted over time as well as how they have shaped and been shaped by the particular promotional contexts in which they have been created. Moreover, I examine these depictions in relation to discourses about bodies such as race and gender that organise hegemonic concepts of masculinity and shape notions about citizenship and leadership in American culture. By providing insight into the complex discourses that enabled a modern day strong man to barter his body for power, this study enriches understandings of how idealised body images in popular culture disseminate much more than measurements for beauty and success. They shape and are shaped by gendered, racialised, classed and sexualised discourse about what it means to be powerful and carry deeply embedded historical and cultural notions about who is perceived as most fit for American citizenship and best built for governance.

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