American Hero: Arnold vs. Michael J?

June 26, 2023

American Hero: Arnold vs. Michael J?

May 29, 2023

As you all know, I’ve had lots of extra time these past two weeks to become a binge watcher (not a weight watcher, though, as this surgery naturally adds 10-20 pounds within a few days). I think it’s ironic that two American film celebrities came out with documentaries telling their stories at almost exactly the same time: “Arnold” Schwartznegger on Netflix and MIchael J Fox in “Still” on AppleTV.

Two similar stories - an immigrant makes good in Hollywood, but in the end, Arnold’s story is about movement climbing the next peak without much reflection and Michael’s story is about getting comfortable with stillness.

If you can make the time, I highly recommend you spend a half-day watching both films on the same day as there are as many similarities as there are differences. I watched Arnold first, who doesn’t accept the label “self-made man” and, yet, his three-part series defines himself that way: Athlete, Actor, American. Arnold’s story is both impressive and seemingly-unattainable. He seems as Cyborg as his character in “The Terminator.” I can only imagine how challenging Maria Shriver would have found him as a husband because he even admits that he’s a grown-up boy who loves his toys.

Like Arnold who is from Austria, Michael ventured to Hollywood from Canada to pursue his American dream. A deeply ambitious actor - with nothing like the physical stature of Arnold - his workaholic tendencies allowed him to both be filming the popular TV series “Family Ties” at the same time he’s filming the hit movie “Back to the Future.” Whereas Arnold’s alliteration is athlete, actor, American, Michael’s might be shorty, sweet and silly, and super human (as in a role model for humanity). Both of them acknowledge that they’re master manipulators and that much of their life is pretending. As Michael says, he finds “pure enjoyment of the competition” which is simpatico to Arnold whether it comes to bodybuilding, acting, or becoming Governor of California. Michael even calls his life pre-Parkinson’s a “festival of self-absorption.”

But, it all gets very real for Michael when he realizes he has Parkinson’s disease around 30 years ago. He tries to hide it. He’s unwilling to acknowledge it and, yet, from this terrible diagnosis, a new stillness or presence starts to emerge in his life. What’s beautiful about “Still” is that you see a human taking off their armor, something Arnold doesn’t do in his film. You see the Hero’s Journey as a human journey.

Michael says that he loves when his wife and others “have a way of seeing right through me” such that he can no longer hide. So many MEA alums have said that one of the greatest gifts of a workshop is accepting that their “impostors syndrome” doesn’t have to be a lifelong affliction. To be real is a gift.

I highly recommend watching these films back-to-back and adding a “chaser” of these two YouTube clips - one focused on Arnold and Michael talking about what they would do, early in their careers, if they had a million dollars. And, the second one being a Spiderman clip in which Michael doesn’t live up to Arnold’s expectations.

In sum, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Arnold at 75 versus Michael at 62. If you’ve watched these shows, what wisdom did you hear from both of them?

P.S. I’m honored that Oprah’s digital site (O Daily) and her magazine in August (O) will feature this story from me that just went live, “Welcome to the New Midlife—No Crisis Required.” Hope you enjoy it.

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