Will History Remember Schwarzenegger?

09/09/2005 07:45 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Here’s a guess about what’s going on in someone else’s brain. I bet California Governor Schwarzenegger wants to be remembered as a historic figure. He is probably confident he has achieved his goal. He’s starred in some big movies and become governor, after all. My best guess, however, is that his position is not secure, and he ought to think about my argument before he decides whether to be a yes-man wimp or a courageous pioneer in office. This is no time to take the safe route if you want to be immortal!

Have you heard of any of the following people?

Max Aronson

Richard Burbage

Peter Burnett

William Shakespeare

My guess is that most readers will only have heard of Shakespeare. Richard Burbage was the top stage star who played most of the great Shakespearean roles for the first time. Max Aronson was the first great movie star, the guy who invented the idea of movie star. Peter Burnett was the first governor of California. Shakespeare was Shakespeare.

Will anyone remember Schwarzenegger? Here’s my guess. He’s going to be forgotten.

Right now, we still think of movies as indivisible monuments to the lucky actors who get the big parts, but that’s going to only be a temporary phase. Movies are going to be even more subject to remixing than music has been.

Back in the 1990s I played around with remixing the identities of movie actors. It was already possible then to recast a movie after it was shot. We’d extract the performance of one actor in a scene- the facial expressions and body motions- and apply that data to the facial features and body of another actor. In fact you could have your own face act the part. People loved that! Narcissism is the one force that could trump celebrity.

I showed some of this stuff to Steven Spielberg during the brainstorming of the Minority Report movie and he chuckled that he had never felt his “Moral Rights” as an artist so violated. (The put-yourself-in-the-scene demo showed up in the movie as the Gap store advertisement which spontaneously placed a shopper in an ad, wearing new Gap clothes.)

While the square-jawed tough guy archetype and the Terminator character are likely to be enduring elements of a remix movie culture, the particular individual of Mr. Schwarzenegger is unlikely to survive. His face will be replaced by a million viewers’ faces or Ms. Piggy or whatever else pleases kids in the future. His name will fade as soon as the copyrights run out.

Unless he does something surprising, creative, courageous, and historic. The tough macho Republican guy who stood up to his party and supported same sex marriage... Now THAT would be memorable.

So, Mr. Governor, which will it be? Legacy or oblivion?