Please, please read all quotes aloud in an ‘Arnie’ voice!
Last week a Facebook friend posted a short documentary film about the early years of one of my favorite Austrian philosophers: http://youtu.be/wJPRj19OU-w
As a kid growing up in the nineties, it was impossible to escape the mighty grip of VHS tapes featuring violent male heroes like Schwarzenegger and Van Damme, guys who proved that you don’t have to be able to act or string a sentence together (or even be American) to portray the quintessential All-American badass: blue-collar guys who won the day not through wit or intelligence or any other discernible life skill that careers advisors try to drum into people, but through rippling muscles and a huge arsenal of weapons that they are constitutionally entitled to. There were many sweaty, white, aggressively heterosexual heroes at that time, but nobody did it better than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
There are many films that show us the tenets of Schwarzeneggerain philosophy: End of Days remains a particularly quotable favourite. He tells Rod Steiger’s priest “between your faith and my Glock nine millimeter, I’ll take the Glock!” He shows his respect for the hallowed institution of the Vatican by shooting a cardinal in the manner of the stigmata. When the cardinal professes that he’s not afraid to die, Arnie responds “Good. Because I’m not afraid to kill you!” And, if that isn’t all philosophical enough for you, he then goes on to loudly berate Satan (yes, the Satan), “you’re a fucking choir boy compared to me. A CHOIR BOY!” before blowing him away with a combination of grenade launcher and prayers to Jesus.
My number one piece of philosophical wisdom from The Austrian Oak, however, remains the exchange between him and a villain from another movie, a guy who keeps cloning his dead self for reasons that are never quite adequately explained. “You should clone yourself while you’re still alive,” advises Schwarzenegger. When the villain asks why, Arnie pops metaphorical cap into metaphorical ass by shouting “So you can GO FUCK YOURSELF!”
I like Arnold Shwarzenegger. I like him because whatever his faults as an ‘actor’ and (let me make this absolutely clear) philosopher, I think he’s led an amazing and inspiring life that has proved if there is such a thing as the ‘American Dream’, then it’s possible, with an industrial amount of hard work and self-belief, to grab a little slice of it.
Ānuò Shīwaxīngé is popular here (possibly because many young male Bejingers like watching stuff explode for absolutely no reason). Yonganli and Sanlitun are chock full of knock-off DVDs bearing his grisly visage, and I recently watched one where he spent the whole film stubbornly refusing to shoot Little Miss Sunshine, even making a valiant effort at bursting into tears at one point (imagining him, three takes in, breaking down and wailing “I can’t do it, I am not a girly-man!”, nearly brought tears to my own eyes).
Before watching the documentary film, though, I had no idea just how hard Schwarzenegger had struggled during his national service in Austria, surrounded by friends and family who told him he was crazy for wanting to be a bodybuilder, and having to go AWOL (and therefore suffer dire consequences) in order to enter a bodybuilding competition that he’d be too old to enter the following year. It was clearly a very tough decision for him, and if he’d refused to make it then his story would have ended very differently.
One of the reasons he was able to make the choice in the first place, is because he had a plan. A template. Someone to look up to: the bodybuilder and ‘actor’ Reg Park, who played the same role that Ānuò went on to play in his debut feature: Hercules. “It is possible,” said the young Schwarzenegger to himself, “Reg Park did it, right?”
Since watching the documentary several days ago I’ve started employing the practice of setting an alarm on my phone for one hour (I don’t believe that anyone is busy or lazy enough that they can’t find one single hour out of twenty-four). Don’t get excited, because I haven’t suddenly taken up power lifting, or even regular exercise! For that hour I focus on nothing other than the project I’ve been writing in my spare time (inspired also by the fact that November is National Novel Writing Month in the UK, the time that writers traditionally pull thumb from arse and get their latest magnum opus finished).
It’s nothing short of amazing to me, how many people use the word ‘impossible’, especially when other people are discussing a dream of theirs. Before Roger Bannister ran the one-minute mile, or Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, people said that was impossible. Nobody believed in electricity (electricity, for fuck’s sake!) until Benjamin Franklin burned the arse of his trousers in a thunderstorm**, or gravity until Isaac Newton was smacked in the head by it.
People don’t like other people rocking the boat, saying things like “I wonder if I can run a mile in under one minute,” I wonder if I can travel at the speed of sound”, “I wonder if I can tell Satan he’s a girly-man”.
Of course you can. “Reg Park did it, right?”
Can you imagine a world where Schwarzenegger said “everyone else is right. I’ll never be a bodybuilder. Better knuckle down and drive this tank.” The Terminator would have been played by OJ bloody Simpson! Yes, seriously.
When I started admitting to people that I wanted to be a writer, someone said to me “Come on! How many famous people do you know who come from Northampton?” Luckily, like any aspiring writer, I’d done my research. “I never said I want to be famous,” I replied. “I said I want to be a writer! But Matt Smith is pretty famous. He comes from Northampton. There’s Alan Moore. John Clare. H.E Bates. Even Errol Flynn did his repertory training here. Three of those famous people are writers.” “Alright, alright”, sighed my conversational companion, “go and fucking do it then!”
When I started telling people I was going to China for a year, a lot of people’s replies used words like “seriously?” and phrases like “Do you really want to go?” or “Are you looking forward to it?” All of these replies, like many other questions that people ask about other people’s dreams, are synonymous with “well, I wouldn’t do that, not in a million years!”
People seem to forget that I’m not asking them to (and that, quite frankly, I couldn’t give a tinker’s motherfuck what they do with themselves!)
I want to be a writer.
I’m going to China.
You can stay at home and watch Strictly Come Dancing or the new season of Doctor Who. Don’t fret!
Arnold Schwarzenegger is someone who shows us what can happen if you’re brave enough to put the effort in and hunt your dreams down with the AK47 of hard work and the RPG of determination. Not what will happen. For every Ānuò there’s a Mike Katz, someone working just as hard who ends up relegated to the ‘also-ran’ section of bodybuilding history, but as a certain Austrian philosopher once said, “you can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets!”
Or, in simpler terms, “do it. Do it NOW!”
**There’s a Doctor Who story set in the early days of electric lighthouses, where an old-school lighthouse keeper only trusts oil lamps. “In the early days of oil,” says the Doctor, “he’d have said there’s notthing like a really big candle!” Everyone knows someone like that keeper, because the world is not exactly short of arsewipes.