Pumping irony

Sanitized for your protection: Bites had a college friend who used to justify his personal tendency toward lying as being nothing more than “a creative version of the truth.” It was a troubling rationalization back then, and even more so a few years later, when said college friend’s byline began showing up in places like The New York Times. So, this weekend, it was like déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra used to say, when Bites tuned in to the media hype surrounding See Arnold Run. Advance word on the A&E biopic suggested it was a “benign and amiable” take on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s multiple rises to fame. Bites was especially impressed when a defensive A&E general manager,

Abbe Raven, told USA Today’s Ann Oldenburg that, even though the goal of the docudrama was to “celebrate” Schwarzenegger’s fantastic personal characteristics, “it’s not totally sanitized to the point of being untrue.”

Or is it? Writing in The Sacramento Bee on Sunday, LA Weekly columnist Bill Bradley (who—let’s be clear about this—used to write for this paper, but is not Bites’ aforementioned college friend) brags about his role as consulting producer for See Arnold Run.

Bradley is particularly proud of his solution for dealing with Arnold’s legendary pot-smoking proclivities. In order to leave their options open, the scene of Arnold’s youthful indiscretion was shot in two different ways: One mirrored the enthusiastic toking previously chronicled in Pumping Iron. In the other, Bradley explains, the faux Arnold “makes a sarcastic comment that I suggested—that his body is a temple and he will not smoke the evil weed.” Turns out Bradley’s clever evasion saved the day when, after the election, the filmmakers “decided that red-state voters would be spared the sight of youthful gubernatorial pot smoking, receiving a dose of irony instead.”

How ironic, also, that See Arnold Run ignores his meeting with Ken Lay at the height of the California energy crisis, sidesteps his pandering to big-money special interests and portrays him as a victim in the groping controversy. But, then again, why hold a TV biopic to standards exceeding those of the mainstream media?

What Bradley fancies to be an “incisive, at times edgy” pop-culture excursion turns out to be pretty much a standard TV-movie whitewash, but Bites did enjoy the scene in which a handler decides some anti-Arnold protesters look dangerously suspicious. “Let’s get back in the car,” the Sean Walsh character tells Mariel Hemingway’s Maria with grave concern. “They’re professional actors!”

The best ironies are always unintentional.

What’s in a name? California State University, Sacramento, soon may be home to the Racist Money-Bags Arboretum. A new Internet site and petition to rename the university’s C.M. Goethe Arboretum is reviving the controversy over the eugenics-loving philanthropist that first was detailed in our pages last year.

Visitors to www.changethesign.org will find not only a petition to do just that, but also fun facts about the university’s favorite racist millionaire and links to the original SN&R story and to the Sacramento Bee piece that ran two weeks later.

Except that instead of linking directly to the Bee story, the new site links to a reprint of it from the History News Network (HNN) Web site. Ironically enough, in its own bit of historical revisionism, HNN changed the name of the Bee piece, as well—from “Curious Historical Bedfellows” to “The Racist Money-Bags Behind Sacramento State University.”

Brand America: Speaking of public-relations challenges, Bites was comforted to find in the mailbox last week a bit of national hubris courtesy of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Just in time for tsunami season, the agency’s colorful periodical FrontLines informs us in a page-one story that, from this day forward, a new “brandmark” will be required for all foreign-aid projects.

The article, headlined “Branding Credits American People,” goes on to explain that a new tagline, “From the American People,” now will be obligatory on all aid projects. This long-overdue measure will ensure that U.S. taxpayers finally get full credit for their funding of foreign-assistance projects.

Of course, there are nice, if unintentional, ironies throughout the article, but Bites’ favorite is the part about the branding tagline appearing on all current and future projects, except for “those with security or political concerns such as Iraq.” Branding shrapnel, it appears, is a bridge we have yet to cross.