AMERICAN SURVIVOR ISLAND
Jonathan Alter and Karen Breslau compare the California recall to a high stakes reality TV show.
It turns out reality TV was a little tam–the stunts too predictable, the stakes too low. So someone had to conjure up a whole new genre of complexity and absurdity, where the contestant who “wins” doesn’t necessarily win and the cool if scary grand prize is not a Land Cruiser or a million dollars but leadership of the sixth largest economy on the planet, just behind France, a state of anarchy called California.
THAT SOMEONE WAS a fiery Progressive Era reformer named Hiram Johnson, who could never have imagined that his well-intentioned but poorly reasoned recall process would be reincarnated 92 years later as High Chaotic Concept: “Survivor” on steroids, “American Idol” with consequences just a tad more serious than whether Ruben will outsell Clay.
And, frankly, a lot more entertaining.
SchwarzeneggerÃ¢€™s entry makes it hard to portray the whole thing as a right-wing plot. “He did to the Democratic Party what Rumsfeld wanted to do to the Baath Party–‘shock and awe’,” says longtime party activist Tom Hayden from the sidelines. Only someone unfamiliar with Schwarzenegger’s cunning and competitiveness would underestimate him.
Team Arnold is banking on a repeat of what happened in Minnesota in 1998, when Jesse Ventura brought thousands of young people to the polls who had never voted before (new registration closes Sept. 22). “Movie stars have constituencies like politicians. Arnold’s is 19-year-old Hispanic males. They’re the first in line to see his movies. If he gets them to the polls, watch out,” says Bill Whalen, a onetime adviser to former GOP governor Pete Wilson, whose team is helping pump up Schwarzenegger.