MOYERS: You couldn't have missed it if you wanted. It was all media all the time, as America's political capital moved for the moment, and maybe permanently, to the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Arnold Schwarzenegger whoever he is won big, and nobody was happier about that than his celebrity friends who escorted him to the winner's circle. John Ridley is here to review the new movie, "Mr. Schwarzenegger goes to Sacramento" and the prospect of a sequel to come.
John Ridley is a novelist and screenwriter...the perfect combination of talents to make sense of this new political order. He wrote the story for the movie THREE KINGS, is a consulting producer to NBC's THIRD WATCH, and has just written his fourth novel, THOSE WHO WALK IN DARKNESS. You hear him on NPR and you've seen him on NOW. Welcome back.
RIDLEY: Thank you very much sir. Nice to be back.
MOYERS: How do you explain that the big media, the celebrity media gave Schwarzenegger a free ride? They focused on him at the exclusion of everyone else. They turned Maria and Arnold Schwarzenegger into the king and queen of the media. Look at this excerpt.
TOM BROKAW: Arnold, we can't pretend like we don't know each other. We've known each other a long, long time.
LARRY KING: It's always a great pleasure to welcome Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's been on this program frequently in the past...
OPRAH WINFREY: Arnold will be out in a few minutes, but first please welcome my dear friend Maria Shriver.
To have come from another country, building yourself up from zero, and to end up on the cover of TIME and NEWSWEEK in the same week, and you hadn't committed a scandal, that 's pretty darn good.
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I know.
MOYERS: I mean, he is one of them.
RIDLEY: He is one of them. But, you know, I'll tell you something… if a bald-headed black guy was running for President, I'd be all over that. You know, part of this is about ratings. And there's so much competition out there to get ratings to pull some kind of an audience. I mean, you've got CNN, MSNBC, you've got Fox, you've got all of the networks. You have all these syndicated shows like OPRAH.
You know, you have DATELINE going against 20/20. How do you get people to watch? What's the story? Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver are the story. Cruz Bustamante is not gonna get you a couple extra eyeballs. Tom McClintock is not gonna get people to tune in and tune away from, say, THIRD WATCH to check out what's on another network.
MOYERS: But what does this say about democratic politics? Small "d"... what does this say about democracy when the rulers of mass media control our images, control our agenda?
RIDLEY: Well, you know, is this really that much different than the Hearst era when you had individuals who were controlling the media back then? You know, major newspapers or, say, the NEW YORK TIMES or things like that.
MOYERS: But this is wall to wall. This is 24 hours a day.
RIDLEY: It's 24 hours a day in our world because we're used to this now. I mean, back in the days when you only got the newspaper, well, you got the newspaper three times a day. You know, that was wall to wall coverage. I think that there is a sense that it's this, "Oh, my gosh, how can this thing possibly happen in the greatest nation on the planet?"
But to me, as someone who works in and around the media, I'm never surprised when the media grabs a story and holds onto a story. I mean, it's all about getting people to watch. It's, for example, this rise in what people are saying, conservative talk and things like that.
Let's not forget that… I can't even remember his name… Bill whatever-his-name… Bill O'Reilly, that's how much I sort of tune out. Bill O'Reilly…
Ladies and gentlemen, that was not at all a scripted forget. I forgot that. It's out of my mind. But this is a guy, he hosted INSIDE EDITION, I mean, one of these sort of tabloid TV shows that was doing, you know, GIRLS GONE WILD in, you know, in New Orleans. And now he's a conservative spokesperson.
I think people's ideology right now stretches to the end of a dollar bill. People always talk about, you know, the liberal media or the conservative media. The reality is it's the rich media that needs to maintain its wealth. And it's all about ratings. So me, working in television, I'm not surprised.
MOYERS: What does it to do sorting out our priorities, solving our problems, getting to the core of the realities that we have to wrestle with?
RIDLEY: I don't know that in and of itself Arnold Schwarzenegger being on OPRAH really does anything to solve any problems. I mean, clearly, even the Brokaw interview on DATELINE which was just days before the election, there were a lot of softballs about…
MOYERS: And no follow-up questions.
RIDLEY: No follow-up at all. You know, for someone to say, you know, "I will deal with these issues after the campaign." Okay, well, then how are you gonna deal with them specifically? Which one of these allegations are true? Which are they not?
These are questions that I think deserve to be answered whether the public decides that they don't care about it, whether it's not important. The public has a right to not care. But the public also has a right to know. And I don't think it serves anyone's interest when any of these networks, when any of these news organizations, be they conservative, be they liberal, be they moderate, by they whatever, when all they're concerned about is getting those ratings. And, believe me that is paramount. It's getting the ratings.
MOYERS: NBC actually helped elect one of their own. I mean Brokaw and Maria Shriver work at NBC. Jay Leno works at NBC. Leno let him announce on his show, and then…
MOYERS: …celebrated his victory on Tuesday night. I mean NBC helped elect this guy. GE.
RIDLEY: Well, absolutely. And it's not a bad thing for, say, like Jay Leno, at least in NBC's point of view, to be so close with the governor of California and get that story. I mean, when Mr. Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy on the Leno Show, second highest rating of the year.
RIDLEY: That's a good thing. That brings in money. That puts that distance between himself and NIGHTLINE and LETTERMAN. So, not that you do, but if anyone thinks that politics is not about entertainment, that news or information is not about ratings, they're sadly mistaken.
MOYERS: Let's show you this clip. We've got that clip.
SCHWARZENEGGER: This is why I'm going to run for governor of the state of California!
LENO: Tonight is a testament of just how important one appearance on the TONIGHT SHOW can be, ladies and gentleman. Ladies and gentlemen, the Governor of the great state of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger!
[END VIDEO EXCERPT]
RIDLEY: They're good-looking, aren't they, though? I mean, wouldn't you want them in charge of your state? I mean that is a good-looking couple. I don't care what they do, as long as they stand there and look good. I think it's like the Kennedy era all over again.
MOYERS: Pataki he's not.
RIDLEY: No. You guys, you know, he may be a good governor, he's not the best looking governor in the…
MOYERS: Yep. And look at this. It's not just television. This is how THE WASHINGTON POST…
RIDLEY: Oh my goodness.
MOYERS: "Lord of the Rings."
MOYERS: This is… Arnold Schwarzenegger is…
RIDLEY: He's all over the place.
MOYERS: Yeah, all over the place. "The Arnold Dress Watch." It's big. I mean…
RIDLEY: Look at this. Vanessa Williams is in here. Who is that? He's with all the hotties and everything. Who doesn't want to be this guy, though? Smokin' a stogey, hangin' out with beautiful starlets. I mean it really is.
I think this is sort of what California, what the country needs right now. May not be the best thing for us. But that feeling again like with Reagan, it's morning in America. Everything's gonna be okay. The Terminator is here. Your problems are gonna be terminated. We don't know how. We're not gonna have a budget increase where they're getting rid of the license fee on cars.
All of these things. You know, there is no money. There are no jobs. But everything is gonna be okay. Listen, if the robots come, I feel great.
MOYERS: But all they know about him is that he's an actor and what they see on the screen.
RIDLEY: He's an actor. He's married to a Kennedy. He talks tough. There were things that he said, you know, he said he was gonna go after the Indian gaming revenue which sounded really good except that money's protected by federal law. I mean, he can't go after it if he wants to.
So, the facts played no part in this election.
MOYERS: Why isn't Gary Coleman as qualified to be governor? No, seriously, except that he's short.
RIDLEY: Well, you know what? As far as qualifications, I mean, look Cruz Bustamante or McClintock probably were clearly the most two qualified of all the other individuals who were running. Gary Coleman didn't win because he doesn't have a hit show right now, you know?
Had he been more popular, had this been 1982 when DIFF'RENT STROKES was still on, he probably would be governor right now. What people want, I think, is that belief that someone is gonna affect change.
MOYERS: There are several paradoxes to this. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a fortune out of portraying anti-social behavior. I mean, the themes of his movies were beat them up, shoot them up and knock them up, right? And yet he is a hero.
And in real life, Schwarzenegger has views. You know, he's pro-gun control. He's pro-gay rights. He's pro-choice. I was watching on election night. There he was hugging his father-in-law, an old friend of mine, Sergeant Shriver, who was George McGovern's running mate in 1972. I mean, isn't this really a victory for the values of Hollywood? Not conservative ideology?
RIDLEY: Well, you know, it's funny. I think it depends on how you put that R in Republican. You know, I mean, if you change that R to a D, I think he would be assailed for everything that he's done. I mean, the movies that he's made, the other types of individuals as you're saying, this sort of Kennedy clan that he hangs out with, a lot of these stances in terms of, you know, gay unions and abortion, all those things are extremely liberal or at the very least moderate points of view.
But I think the idea right now for the Republicans to be able to land a governor in this state that is so important to the election, to fundraising, to all of these things.
MOYERS: Yeah, well, wrestle with this for a moment. Because what the conservatives have done, 1964 with the defeat of Goldwater, it was the beginning of the resurgence of the conservatives because their main argument was high moral standards, you know? Traditional family values, the role of a woman in society, the law and order. Now they have embraced right-wing talk shows out in California. They have embraced a man who hasn't taken the high moral road in both of his movies or in his private life.
RIDLEY: You know, I have to be… I think that that is not gonna matter. You know, working in television, there are really three main networks. And somebody every season's in third and they're all freaked out and people get fired. But, you know, it's cyclical. One day number three is gonna be number two and then number one and then number three is gonna be number one again.
So it's really not worth getting all upset about. To me, you've got the Republican Party, you've got the Democratic Party. Whoever is in power is gonna do some good things then gonna make a bunch of mistakes and get tossed out of office. And someone else is gonna come in from this other party and do the same thing back and forth.
Right now I think Arnold Schwarzenegger is in that middle ground. And I think that's what makes him so attractive conceptually. He doesn't have a track record. He hasn't per se messed up a lot in the past. He hasn't tainted his future with ideas that are repugnant to one party or the other. There are things about him that everybody can kind of like and sort of find interesting.
And, you know, he was a self-made man coming from another country. I mean, this is where Davis, Gray Davis was trying to sort of buy the immigrant vote, this guy is the immigrant vote. He's saying, "Anybody can come here and do well." You can be a bodybuilder, you can be, you know, quote, unquote, "the big dumb guy," and ending up running the fifth largest economy in the world.
What's not to like about Arnold Schwarzenegger? And having met him and having met his wife, they're really, really nice people. So, you know, there aren't a lot of politicians you can just say, "Well, gosh, if nothing else, they were really, really nice people weren't they?"
MOYERS: Buried at the bottom of a long story in the NEW YORK TIMES was the most revealing glimpse to me in the reality of American politics today. Let me read it to you. "At the victory celebration" Schwarzenegger's victory celebration "men in tailored suits drank Scotch and smoked Cuban cigars in the Century Plaza Hotel while Schwarzenegger swaggered around the penthouse surrounded by hangers-on." I mean, aren't we in this country just simply voting to change the levers of power from one set of privileged hands to another set of privileged hands?
RIDLEY: Well, unfortunately, if you look at the reality of politics it's always privileged hands. I mean, from my perspective it's always, you know, rich, old, white guys who are running the world. It doesn't matter if it's Democrat, Republican, whomever.
The next guy who's gonna be President of the United States is gonna be a guy. He's probably gonna be white. He's probably gonna be making more money than your average American individual. So the idea that there are going to be these sort of big shifts in policy and things like that, I don't think that's gonna happen.
MOYERS: If you were writing the great American novel now, as I know you will one day, or a screenplay for a movie that you wanted to get to the truth of politics, what would be your theme? What would be your plot?
RIDLEY: You know, I think my theme and my plot would be much like THE CANDIDATE, the Robert Redford movie from years ago, where you have a guy who wants to make a difference, but the idea is, "I'm just gonna go in and I'm gonna lose. I just wanna have my voice heard."
I think there are a lot of people, you know, had I think 135 registered candidates on the ballot in California. There may have been a total of 160. Clearly, a lot of those people didn't think that they were really gonna be elected. But I think the hope was that some small part of their agenda could be heard.
The great idea in this country is that like with Mr. Schwarzenegger, anybody can come from anywhere and become governor. No clearly, he's not just anybody from anywhere. It was a long time ago that he was an immigrant from Austria. He is not an indigent individual running for office, by any means.
MOYERS: And he arrived here Mr. Universe, you know. And…
RIDLEY: Mr. Universe on THE TONIGHT SHOW announcing your candidacy. I would like to think that out of this election somewhere there was the little guy who could put forth some kind of an agenda, and be heard in some fashion.
You know, would be great to do a Capra-esque kind of movie, where the guy that nobody thought had a chance in all of this says that one thing that the populace actually takes hold of. You know, where everybody else is saying, "I'll take care of it after the election, I'm gonna terminate this or terminate that."
Somebody says something that has resonance. Of course you'd have to get into the machinations in a movie of, you know, what happens with this individual, and when the power brokers come in. But I think there is as long as we're talking about sort of that spirit of feeling well, where we're talking about something beyond the reality of the situation that there is the little guy who can say something that really does strike the chord, and gives people not just the false sense of hope that they need, but that hope that inspires people to work harder and do better.
MOYERS: You think the little guy really has a chance?
RIDLEY: No, I don't think for a minute that the little guy has a chance. I think the days of the little guy are pretty much over, unless the little guy can get the backing of a large media corporation.
Somebody picks up that story and decides, "This is the story we're going to run with." The little guy can make it, but the little guy really needs AOL Time Warner, or Viacom, or somebody else behind him, saying, "We love the little guy. Give the little guy a five-year contract. We're making something out of this kid."
MOYERS: All the world's a media stage.
RIDLEY: The idea that politics and entertainment, this is some kind of a new thing and it's never happened before, I don't think that's true. I think, like a lot of things, every year, we're more and more frightened.
It used to be, you know, Elvis Presley was the worst thing that could possibly happen to America. Now it's Britney Spears. There's always that sort of doom feeling. You know, California's gonna survive this. I'm not particularly all that excited about the survival process. But we're gonna survive.
The country's gonna survive. There's gonna be somebody else. You know, Brad Pitt, you know, 25 years from now, is gonna be stumpin' with Jennifer Aniston. And my kid'll be going, "Oh my gosh, what's happened to this country?"
But I think we'll be okay. I don't think politics and entertainment are anything new. I don't think it's particularly helpful. But I do hope that when something like this happens time from now, four or five years from now, people will look back and say, "Well, we made a horrible mistake. We should change things." Or say, "You know what? The system really did work. Whether he was great or whether he was okay, we're still here, and everything's fine."
MOYERS: It is certainly a relief to meet an optimist.
RIDLEY: It's unusual for me to be one. But since I've got to go back to California in a couple a days, I've gotta be one.
MOYERS: John Ridley, thank you very much for joining us on NOW.
RIDLEY: Thank you, sir. Thank you.