American Journal of Cultural Sociology

, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 96–124 | Cite as

Pomp and power, performers and politicians: The California theatre state

  • Elizabeth Helen Essary
  • Christian Ferney
Original Article


The year 2013 marks the 10th year anniversary of the California gubernatorial recall election that replaced Grey Davis with Arnold Schwarzenegger and reinvigorated debates about celebrity politics in the United States. While critics argue that politics has become about entertainment, rather than statecraft, this article challenges the notion that performance can be separated from politics. Instead, symbolic action is a central feature of political processes. Specifically, the cosmology of the state dictates the animating centers of society, within which politicians must perform for the sake of reanimating the myths and reconstituting the people. Using case studies of the initial gubernatorial campaigns of Ronald Reagan, Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, this article highlights the elements of California's sustaining mythology and the various ways in which it defines political behavior. The results highlight two constants across the campaigns: the invocation of crisis and the rendering of candidates as heroes. These components enable the successful – if dramatic – transfer of power.


politics California symbolic politics performance myth 


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Helen Essary
    • 1
  • Christian Ferney
    • 2
  1. 1.Social Science DivisionPepperdine UniversityMalibuUSA
  2. 2.Duke University, Kenan Institute of EthicsDurhamUSA

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