Arnold Schwarzenegger launched a new think tank at USC on
Monday devoted to “post-partisanship,” but what was clear was that he
will draw on Hollywood in his foray into academia.
The inaugural symposium of the USC Schwarzenegger
Institute for State and Global Policy included a dose of policymakers and
politicos, but also a panel devoted to innovation included all entertainment
industry figures, including Schwarzenegger, Lionsgate co-chairman Rob Friedman,
Imagine Entertainment chairman Brian Grazer, Interscope Geffen A&M chairman
Jimmy Iovine and U Studios president and COO Ron Meyer.
The participation was significant in that moderator Ben
Smith cited the growing influence of Silicon Valley not only as an economic
engine but in politics. He noted that a recently released list of Obama campaign
bundlers showed the tech industry outpacing Hollywood when it came to raising
Asked whether he was concerned about this, Meyer said,
“They certainly have a lot more money than we do.”
But he said that “there’s a lot of advantages” for Hollywood when it comes to Silicon Valley, as tech needs content.
“We just need to find a more symbiotic
relationship,” he said.
Said Friedman, “It is symbiotic. There are just
certain issues we don’t have in common, like piracy.”
Iovine said that the industry shouldn’t be afraid to use
its leverage in dealing with tech companies, even to the point of withholding
content from sites like YouTube, in order to extract more favorable terms.
“We have to be smart about this now, not be
intimidated, and build our own platforms,” said Iovine, sporting a backwards baseball cap and T-shirt with a photo of Bruce Springsteen from his Born to Run album.
He pointed to his own success in the launch of Dr. Dre
headphones, a venture inspired in part by the rampant piracy that was crushing
the music industry. What he was able to do, he said, was to “market it
though our culture, that we designed, that we built, that we control.”
While the movie business has learned lessons from music,
Meyer noted, a vexing problem is the changing nature of piracy. There’s also a
difference in cultures that has bought the film business more time.
“People are used to getting music for nothing,”
he said. “Movies are different.”
As Friedman said, “Our ice cube is melting a lot
slower than the music business.”
In a diversion from the topics at hand, Meyer was asked
about “chatter” that plans are in the works for his retirement from
U, a company he has led since 1995 through six different owners.
Meyer said he has “I wouldn’t know what to do
retiring, so no. I have no plans to retire.”
“I like what I am doing, and as long as they will
have me, I can stay.”
The panel inevitably focused on the role of entertainment
in shaping political opinion, including in some of Schwarzenegger’s signature
initiatives as governor, like climate change.
During the recession, public opinion may have tilted away
from a sense of urgency on climate initiatives, but Schwarzenegger said that he
held out hope that the power of movies could help draw attention as it has in
the past. He said there needed to be a sequel to “An Inconvenient
Truth,” perhaps with “different people who can jump in” and take
Al Gore’s role in making the case for action.
“The power of films and television is
enormous,” Schwarzenegger said. “It is much more powerful than
politicians could ever be” in convincing the public of a need to solve a
He cited efforts in the 1970s to promote fitness. Despite
endless studies and expert panels, it took “Saturday Night Fever” and
the subsequent launch of the disco craze to get people off their feet, he
noted. “All of the policy and debates couldn’t come close to the calorie
counts that (disco) can burn off.”
Schwarzenegger’s institute will operate under the Sol
Price School of Public Policy, with Bonnie Reiss as global director and Nancy
Staudt as academic director. The former governor also will have a
professorship. His unlikely career trajectory was perhaps evident when USC
President C.L. Max Nikias, in delivering a glowing introduction to
Schwarzenegger, mistakenly said that he was once the winner of the Miss
Reiss indicated that the institute would cover the media’s
role, as well as the impact of celebrity in drawing attention to issues and
causes, as Sean Penn has done with Haiti, George Clooney with the Sudan and
Brad Pitt with New Orleans.
Schwarzenegger has returned to acting with “The
Expendables 2″ and the upcoming “The Last Stand,” and he
frequently promotes fitness on Twitter.
So it was apparent through the daylong symposium that the
institute will play a big role in carrying out Schwarzenegger’s legacy as
governor, in particular efforts that he said required him to reach across the
aisle or to challenge the status quo. He cited not just climate change but
healthcare and redistricting reform.
At a morning panel, moderated by Cokie Roberts, he
appeared with three former governors — Tom Ridge, Bill Richardson and Charlie
Crist— as well as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and current Sen.
John McCain (R-Arizona).
They all bemoaned the hyperpartisanship in Washington,
and even the role that the media plays in delivering not so much what the
public needs to know, but what they want to know.
A bit provocatively, McCain also cited the influence of
money into politics, singling out the Obama campaign and SuperPAC expenditures
on negative ads over the past summer about Mitt Romney. Citing an estimate of
$9 billion being spent overall this cycle, from both parties and interest
groups, he predicted “major scandals” from all the money flowing in,
and then new calls for reform.
He suggested that the urgency for Congress to change will come from record low approval ratings, down to 11% in some polls.
“We are down to paid staffers and blood relatives,” McCain said.
While the institute will be dedicated to
“action,” as Schwarzenegger said, perhaps the most urgent test for
Washington will be the “fiscal cliff” looming, something that could
send the economy into a new tailspin.
But McCain said that there was no need to organize new commissions or create new studies.
“The answer to our fiscal cliff is out there,” he said. “It’s called Simpson-Bowles.”