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Monday, May 30, 2011

Parlay that body

It is ridiculous that athletic ability plays such a large role in college acceptances. Institutes of higher learning are supposed to be about higher learning, not physical culture. But whether or not you can get up and down a pool in 20.7 seconds rather than 21.7 seconds can make the difference between getting an Ivy League education or not.

Then, once you've gotten that education and degree, your career path will likely be different than it would have been otherwise. 

But there are even more extreme instances of people parlaying their bodies into roles that they might not have originally seemed destined for. The most obvious example is Arnold Schwarzenegger. He grew up the son of a policeman in Austria. At age 14, he became obsessed with bodybuilding, and to that end worked out for several hours a day. That led to Muscle Beach in California, then to his first Mr. Olympia title (with a little pharmaceutical help) in 1970. The Mr. Olympia title led to a starring role in the documentary Pumping Iron, and from there to a Hollywood career. The money from that led to a business career (Planet Hollywood, and countless real estate investments that paid off handsomely). And the movie stardom also led to the Governor's mansion in California. It's pretty obvious that if his biceps and triceps hadn't bulged just so, he would never have become Governor.

So for those of you with gubernatorial ambitions, don't waste your time going to college and studying political science -- lift weights instead! (And juice.)

Think of Bill Bradley, who traded off his basketball ability to get himself into Princeton despite a 490 score on his verbal SAT. While at Princeton he won an Olympic gold medal as part of the US basketball team in 1964, and was named NCAA Player of the Year in 1965. Partly because of his basketball fame, he got a Rhodes Scholarship when he graduated in 1965. After two years at Oxford, he spent ten years with the New York Knicks. He ran for Senator from New Jersey the year after retiring from the Knicks in 1977, and won thanks to his name recognition. He stayed in the Senate until 1997, and ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for President in 2000.

Once again, the message is clear: if you want to be a US Senator, don't spend years getting bogged down in the swamp of local politics. Practice your jump shot instead.

Think of the countless women who have traded off their looks not only to marry rich, but then, once divorced or widowed, use their inherited wealth to buy themselves respectability and occasionally even power. Would Teresa Heinz ever have become so prominent without having married Senator John Heinz? After he died in a plane crash in 1991, she became chairman of the Heinz Endowments and the Heinz Family Philanthropies. Because of those roles, she has received twelve honorary doctorates. (And she gained a further measure of fame by marrying Senator John Kerry.)

Look at her history closely, and ask yourself, what is it that earned her all those doctorate degrees -- her brain or her vagina?

It seems more of a stretch to say that Hillary Clinton capitalized on her looks, but she did trade off what must have started off as a sexual relationship to become First Lady of Arkansas, then of the United States, then a US Senator, and now Secretary of State. If it hadn't been for the existence of Barack Obama, she might even have become President.

The message here is slightly different: if you want to soar high, hitch your wagon to a sociopath.

What were Sharon Stone's main qualifications to become Global Fundraising Chairman for amfAR? A beautiful face, and a willingness to cross and uncross her legs in a movie.

Ronald Reagan followed a route to power which is actually more common among women: he traded off his good looks. He started off as a radio sports announcer, but then a screen test led to a seven year contract with Warner Brothers, which led to movie stardom. That visibility allowed him to become Governor of California, and from there, President.

What are the odds that Reagan would have become President had his facial features been arranged in a less pleasing manner?

This is the way some peoples' careers go - one thing leads to another, and it all starts with something physical. Think of Jesse Ventura. Or Jack Kemp. Had Charlemagne not been 6' 6," would he have been viewed as such a leader of men?

For some, it all starts with a hot bod.

The larger question is, were these people any better or worse at their jobs than those who followed more traditional routes to power? Schwarzenegger's popularity as Governor fluctuated more than most; he came in as a conservative determined to bring fiscal discipline to a notoriously undisciplined state, and was immediately stymied by the Democratic legislature. Bill Bradley was by most accounts a solid Senator. Kemp was respectable enough as a Congressman to be a perennial dark horse Presidential candidate. Jesse Ventura had a Schwazenegger-like term as Governor, coming in on a tide of enthusiasm for budget balancing which was quickly checked by the Democrats in the Statehouse. And at least half the country feels that Ronald Reagan was a great President. Sharon Stone was, for a while at least, an effective fundraiser for amfAR, even if her histrionics ended up embarrassing the organization. And Hillary Clinton, while a slippery politician, has at least proven to be the kind who does her homework.

It seems that traditional qualifications -- a college degree, a law degree, an entire career immersed in the minutiae of political matters -- make little difference in the long run. It all boils down to charisma, personal popularity, a cooperative legislature, circumstance, and luck.

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