Billy Jack Is Ready to Fight the Good Fight Again – New York Times

In a fascinating interview with the New York Times Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor, the husband and wife team that brought us Billy Jack – the classic outsider hero of the 60s/70s – says they are going to make a new film. They are looking at combining the film with political activism around the Iraq war:

“We despise both political parties, really loathe them,” he said. (“We” might be Mr. Laughlin and his alter ego, or it might include his wife, Delores Taylor, who played Billy Jack’s pacifist partner, Jean; but one doesn’t interrupt the man lightly.)

“We the people have no representative of any kind,” he continued. “It’s now the multinationals. They’ve taken over. It’s no different than the 70′s, but it’s gotten worse. And if you use words like ‘impeachment’ or ‘fascist’ you’re a nut on a soapbox.”

So Mr. Laughlin and Ms. Taylor are planning to bring their characters back to the big screen with a new $12 million sequel, raising money from individuals just as they did to make their films three decades ago.

In this new film, they say, they will take on social scourges like drugs, and power players like the religious right. They say they will also outline a way to end the current war and launch a political campaign for a third-party presidential candidate.

They have already formed a 527 nonprofit committee with the aim of ending the war, and say they will run full-page ads in major newspapers beginning next month explaining their plan to withdraw from Iraq. (Money raised for that committee is separate from the film project.)

There is a sense that they are “Billy Jack” lots of talk about thier triumph outside the studio system and Taylor concludes:

“This is something we have to do. We don’t know if it will be successful, but we’re committed. We have to do it. Just like ‘Billy Jack.’ ”

Robert Sklar, professor of cinema studies at New York University notes the seminal importance of the Billy Jack films both in terms of the genre and in terms of the self-releasing model:

“He was the model for Rambo, for ‘Walking Tall,’ When you think of what ‘Rocky’ meant for the culture – Laughlin was ahead of all that. He represented the indomitable outsider, and he was the first one in that era. It was also true in the sense in which he fought to make the film, and fought to get it distributed with this terrific idea of self-releasing.”

We see here an early example of fusion between outsider hero character and outsider hero actor coming together as a political and business statement. A model that has been developed very differently by Arnold Schwazenneger and Mel Gibson.

The Governator

One of the fascinating sessions in the Superheroes conference was the keynote by Louise Krasniewicz about the Arnie factor (check out her Arnie hypertext project). Titled “True Lies Superhero: Do we really want our icons to come to life?” it rehearsed many of the themes from her great book Why Arnold Matters?

She made the point that even the serious media was obsessed with merging the movie characters Arnold has played, his movie star persona and his emergence as a politician in coverage of his campaign in the Californian recall election. They did this by relying on easy recourse to “Governator” imagery and commentary. This is still the case, as she showed with a recent clip from a California daily on the governor’s falling poll ratings. After 12 months in office this story – which has nothing to do with movie star Arnold – is still illustrated by a Terminator still.

An article in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald showed this very clearly and even imposes the action man figure into local NSW politics.

What can NSW learn from Arnold Schwarzenegger? When it comes to energy it may be a fair bit. After booting out the Democrat governor Gray Davis for taking California’s energy system to near collapse, The Governator stormed in and has begun the essential rebuilding of the state’s electricity system….With the focus and vigour of his most famous screen character, Schwarzenegger recently made public a 10-point plan for a modern 21st century energy system. Some in the old guard urged him to focus only on supply oriented alternatives for keeping the lights on in the country’s biggest state. However, his plan relies on a combination of new and old, of supply and demand.

The story is actually about the success of sophisticated multiple rate devices which encourage consumers to use cheaper energy during off peak periods but what is fascinating about the piece is the portrayal of governor Schwarzenegger as an action hero: it’s all about his kinesthetic body: he “booted out” Gray Davis then he “stormed in” and started “rebuilding”. The inescapable paradox of this language comes in the next sentence which explicitly references “the focus and vigour of his most famous screen character”. What was the result of this Terminator like vigour: a ten point plan, which is not an action response but a typical bureaucratic response. So while we are treated to an image of the heroic Schwarzenegger doing something new this action sequence masks his actual response which is typically cautious and orderly.

The other fascinating thing is that this op-ed piece is written by someone who has an interesting pedigree herself: “Cathy Zoi is group executive director of Bayard Capital, a private investment group. She was previously chief executive of the NSW Sustainable Energy Development Authority and chief of staff of Environmental Policy in the Clinton White House.” The Bayard group is now running a trial of the metering devices in NSW. So while this is situated as an op-ed piece on policy options from a former government policy advisor it is essentially using the Arnie factor as a celebrity endorsement for a scheme her company hopes to convince the NSW government to take-up.

Both Zoi’s position with the group and Bayard’s involvement in NSW are mentioned in the article and the connection is there to be made by careful readers. But like the contradiction between the imagery of the governator and the reality of his political actions, the blur between Zoi as policy wonk and policy salesperson are also blurred by this kind of journalism