People Obsess Over Arnold Schwarzenegger And Spiderman. But Why? Machine Learning Has An Answer
Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in a village in Austria named Thal. Don’t worry, I’d never heard of it either. And if it wasn’t for Arnold I never would have. For all practical purposes Thal is as remote as the planet Krypton.
In Thal, Arnold’s childhood chums would grow up to live a simple village life. The life their parents lived. But that was not the life Arnold dreamed of.
As a teenager, he read bodybuilding magazines. But he didn’t only want his eyes on their pages. He wanted his image on their pages.
If he didn’t have the right gym equipment he would build it himself. Then having built his equipment, he built his body.
But Arnold wanted more than a bulging body.
He made it to America. Like most immigrants, he wanted to get rich. Not Austrian rich. American rich.
But rather than waiting for bodybuilding to become as popular and lucrative as it would later become (thanks to Arnold), he also took action outside his uncomfortable comfort zone, the gym.
He worked hard as a ‘European masonry expert’. Calling himself ‘European’ was honest, ‘expert’ was a stretch. He was hustling. He invested his money into an apartment block. Austrian Arnold was becoming American rich.
Was money enough? You know it wasn’t. He wanted to be a famous film star. Yet Hollywood agents, or at least those returning his calls, told him he was “Too muscular”. They told him his accent “Couldn’t be understood”.
Apparently, Arnold couldn’t understand them. He acted anyway. And his muscularity and Austrian accent became the keys to the success of Terminator. In fact, James Cameron said the movie Terminator wouldn’t have worked without his accent. As he did in the gym, he transformed any weakness into a strength.
Arnold could easily be a fictional character.
That’s the point. Researchers discovered something about the fictional characters we care about. And Arnold Schwarzenegger is like the characters in popular best-selling novels. We’ll get to why shortly, but first let’s look at another lovable non-fictional character.
In 2016, The movie Bleed For This was released. In IMDB’s sports genre, it is the 14th highest rated movie ever, while on Rotten Tomatoes it is the 45th highest rated sports movie ever. While Miles Teller plays the lead, it is a true story based on the life and career of the former world champion boxer; “From Cranston, Rhode Island, weighing in at 154 pounds… Viiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinny Pazienza”.
Vinny was excited about an upcoming title fight. Driving down a highway a car swerves in front of him. There are no airbags.
Vinny’s neck breaks.
He wanted to have a risky surgery that would give him a chance to fight again. The doctor tells him “It’s not that simple.” He wants to train before he’s fully recovered, his trainer tells him “It’s not that simple.” He wants any fight, his agent tells him, “It’s not that simple.’”
But to Vinny it is that simple. He doesn’t wait for permission. He takes the risky surgery. He begins training on his own. And he promotes himself through the press to get him a fight with the unified world champion.
He fights. He wins. Vinny did not let his circumstances – his broken neck and the doubt of those around him – stop him from pursuing his dreams.
Vinny cared about his dreams. And we care about Vinny.
You can see Vinny’s attitude for yourself. Here is the transcript of his conversation with a reporter at the end of the movie:
Reporter: People are calling this one of the most unlikely comebacks in sports history. What do you attribute it to?
Vinny: Um… yeah, I don’t know. I had a lot of help.
Reporter: But you’ve also had a lot of adversity. You’ve had issues with management, conflicts of interest.
Vinny: Yeah, well, the boxing world looks… looks shiny from the outside. It’s filled with promises that… most of ’em turn out to be lies. You can’t rely on anyone.
Reporter: So what would you say the biggest deception was? What was the biggest lie you were told?
Vinny: It’s not that simple.
Reporter: Why not?
Vinny: No, that’s the biggest lie I was ever told. “It’s not that simple.” And it’s a lie they tell you over and over again.
Reporter: What’s not simple?
Vinny: Any of it. All of it. It’s how they get you to give up. They say, “it’s not that simple, Vinny.”
Reporter: So what’s the truth?
Vinny: That it is. That if you just do the thing that they tell you you can’t, then it’s done. And you realize it is that simple. And that it always was.
Arnold and Vinny’s attitude explains our admiration for them. They weren’t acted upon by the world. They acted on the world. To them, transforming dreams into reality was that simple.
As the researchers Jodie Archer and Matt Jockers shared in their book The Bestseller Code, which uses complex algorithms to identify why fiction books become best-sellers, “Best-selling protagonists have and express their needs. The protagonists want things.”
Fictional characters we love have direction, capacity and surety. They assert themselves on the world. While others are reacting, they’re acting.
Do best-selling protagonists remind you of anyone? Exactly. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vinny Pazienza.
We care about people who want things. We care about people who go after what they want. Unapologetically.
In fiction and real life, we care about people that care about themselves.