It’s not every day that the global media loves Atlantic or Brittany Daily Mail run a full transcript of a celebrity’s social media video. But Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nine-minute video to the Russian people is no ordinary article.
the passionate speech has drawn nearly 35 million views since Thursday. the BBC reports that the video is trending on Russian social networks. According to a Russian opposition leader, “Arnold Schwarzenegger has a unique ability to speak to anyone with persuasion, respect and on an equal footing”.
Schwarzenegger’s words are inspiring and catchy because he doesn’t just provide information he wants the Russian people and Russian soldiers to hear; it’s powerful because it packs information into stories.
Schwarzenegger is a skilled storyteller due to his background in filmmaking, but he was a communications student long before he campaigned for governor of California. It shows in his video.
3 elements of persuasion
Aristotle, the father of persuasion, believed that persuasive speech consisted of three elements: ethos, logos, and pathos.
Ethos is character and credibility. Schwarzenegger didn’t have to spend much time in his speech establishing his credentials because his reputation is already strong with his target audience. Schwarzenegger is one of Russia’s most famous movie stars, thanks in large part to his role in the 1988 film red heatwhich was filmed in Moscow.
Schwarzenegger focused most of his talk on the other two elements of persuasion: logos (logical arguments) and pathos (emotional appeal).
Pathos – making emotional appeal through stories – accounts for 60% of Schwarzenegger’s speech. He told three stories to build an emotional bridge with his audience.
The first story is about personal heroes. “Let me talk about the Russian who became my hero,” Schwarzenegger began. “In 1961, when I was 14, a very good friend invited me to come to Vienna to attend the World Weightlifting Championships. I was in the audience when Yuri Petrovich Vlasov won the championship title world, becoming the first human being to lift 200 kilograms above his head.
Schwarzenegger was able to meet Vlasov backstage after the event. He came home with the weightlifter poster and put it above his bed. This simple act angered Schwarzenegger’s father, a former Nazi soldier, who wanted his son to replace the image with that of a German or Austrian hero.
“But I didn’t take the picture down, no,” Schwarzenegger said defiantly. “I didn’t care which flag was carried by Yuri Vlasov.”
The second story was about his relationship with Russia. “My ties to Russia didn’t end there,” Schwarzenegger continued. “It actually deepened when I traveled there, with bodybuilding and for my movies and met all my Russian fans.”
On one such trip, Schwarzenegger met Vlasov again while filming Red Heat, the first American film allowed to shoot in Red Square. “He and I spent the day together. He was so caring, so kind and so smart.
Schwarzenegger tied the stories together: “Now the reason I’m telling you all these things is that since I was 14 I’ve had nothing but affection and respect for the Russian people. The strength and heart of the Russian people have always inspired me.
The third story was about Schwarzenegger’s father. “When my father came to Leningrad [fighting for the Germans in World War II], he was all inflated by the lies of his government. And when he left Leningrad, he was broken, physically and mentally. He lived the rest of his life in pain. The pain of a broken back, the pain of shrapnel that always reminded him of those terrible years. And the pain of guilt he felt.
Speaking directly to Russian soldiers who might be listening in, Schwarzenegger said, “I don’t want you to be broken like my father. It is not the war to defend Russia that your grandfathers or your great-grandfathers waged. It is an illegal war.
Using the power of a story to make an emotional appeal is essential for persuasion to happen, but it’s not enough, and Schwarzenegger knows it. That’s why he spent about 35% of the speech making logical arguments to reinforce his appeal (the remaining 5% consisted of introductory and transitional material).
“Your lives, your limbs, your future are being sacrificed for a senseless war condemned by the whole world,” he said to build a logical case to end the invasion. “Actually, let me tell you, what you need to know is that 141 nations at the UN voted for Russia to be the aggressor. They asked him to withdraw his troops immediately. Only four countries worldwide voted with Russia. It’s a fact…”
While words can create images in the mind, a well-timed prop can do that too. Schwarzenegger picked up a blue cup of coffee as he described his second meeting with Vlasov in Moscow. After spending the day together, Vlasov gave the cup to Schwarzenegger. “And since then, I drink my coffee every morning.”
Using the coffee mug as a symbol of generosity reminds me of another prop Schwarzenegger used effectively after the attack on the US Capitol in January 2021.
During a video to condemn the action, Schwarzenegger pulled out a giant sword from behind his desk, a prop he had used in a movie. “It’s Conan’s sword,” he revealed.
He then used the sword as a metaphor for democracy.
“Now here’s the thing about swords; the more you temper a sword, the stronger it becomes,” Schwarzenegger said. “Now, I’m not telling you all this because I want you to become an expert swordsmith, but our democracy is like the steel of this sword. The more tempered it is, the stronger it becomes.
Swords and coffee cups are physical things, but in the hands of a skilled storyteller, they become powerful metaphors that resonate with audiences.