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Jewish World Review Sept. 29, 2003/ 3 Tishrei, 5764

Suzanne Fields

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Building biceps for the body politic | Given all the vicious verbal scandals that have afflicted our politics over the past decade or so, it was inevitable that someone running for high office in the visual age would create a mini-scandal by posing - or more to the point, by having posed - in the buff before an artist obsessed with sex. It was further inevitable that the naked candidate would be a movie star.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has always been a hunk in the eyes of heterosexual women. But when the widely read Drudge Report reproduced a blurry photograph of a nude Arnold taken by Robert Mapplethorpe, the art photographer who almost brought down the National Endowment for the Arts, the self-declared homosexual blogger Andrew Sullivan asked, "Which real Californian wouldn't vote for someone with a body like that?"

Our highly sexualized popular culture was bound to spill over into the political culture. Bill Clinton got everyone, young and old, talking about oral sex at the dinner table. So now we're titillated by images of Arnold's tush.

"Republicans have seldom shied from an embrace of manliness," writes Jay Nordlinger in the American Enterprise magazine. George Bush, like Ronald Reagan before him, epitomizes "political virility." Both wear sweaty T-shirts in public and enjoy the rugged cowboy look in hat, buckle and boots.

But that may be an observation behind the curve(s). If Arnold Schwarzenegger is elected governor of California, Republican manliness will be defined afterward by the size of a man's biceps. This would separate the men from the boys.

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Arnold, who is indeed adept at flexing physical muscle, nevertheless has yet to show much intellectual muscle. He was clever in the debate, but we still don't know much about what he thinks on crucial issues. If he wins, it will be because even in California voters are tired of neutral, if not effeminate and effete, images of men, political and otherwise.

In the photographs in the New York Times fall fashion magazine, it's almost impossible to tell whether the men are men - or women. Many of the models wear dramatic red lipstick. Their hair is coiffed, often at shoulder length, and bangs, either curled or teased, loop across their foreheads. A two-page spread for a male perfume called "Intuition" features a model who looks fetchingly female but for ragged shorthairs on the upper lip.

The designers of "dirt bag duds" for bikers are laid out under the headline "Born To Be Mild." These duds are for precious and expensively chic boutiques. These bikers bear no resemblance to Marlon Brando or his buddies in the movie "The Wild Ones."

Even soccer star Fredrik Ljungberg, who wears a military buzz cut, poses in a garden of tall-stemmed pink roses. He's described as "the dishy, slim-hipped metrosexual fashion plate for our times." When he became a model for male underwear, he says, "all I did was shave my chest."

For comic irony, homosexual designer John Bartlett tells how he tired of "looking like a girl." When he couldn't be one of the Fab Five on the makeover reality show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," he enlisted a heterosexual buddy to give him a "manly makeover" so he could give up his "butch femme" style - tight pink shirt, orange belt and military fatigues. He wanted to look at home, guzzling Schlitz and watching "Monday Night Football" with straight guys without looking like he was there "cruising." Now he wears pleated pants from Men's Wearhouse.

Much of this is amusing as fashion goes. But it testifies to the homosexualizing of our society. Gays are crusading not only to make their "marriages" legal, but to make the popular culture over in their image. They're making headway. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the photographs by Mapplethorpe to the contrary notwithstanding, is a strong antidote to all that.

Feminists call Schwarzenegger a misogynist, chauvinist Neanderthal cad. They're reacting to decades of interviews revealing him as vulgar, off-color and irreverent. "He's the kind of guy, if you met him at a bar, you'd want to push him off his barstool," says Karen Pomer, an organizer for Code Pink, the leftist woman's group.

But he's also a supporter of strong, smart women. "I love American women because they are independent," he told Rolling Stone magazine as far back as 1986. "I like a woman to be smart." He's earned testimonials from Sharon Stone and Jamie Lee Curtis, who have worked with him. Maria Shriver says her husband "is the most gracious and supportive man I've ever met."

Arnold says he's a "different Arnold" today. I believe him. I only wish that while he was building the biceps he thought more about what he would do if he's elected governor.

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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS