Thursday, May 12, 2005

Ain't Got a Motor in the Back of Her Honda

I said I had more to say about Jane Fonda and the eve of the release of her first movie in 15 years seems as relevant a time as any. This blog generally tries to steer clear of weighty issues, but this is one of those instances where the serious is intimately interwoven with the frivolous world of pop culture. It also has to do a lot with personal politics.

Longtime readers know that my politics lean pretty solidly left. However, there are times where I believe that the Left may be as "out of touch" as the Right always accuses them of being. I realized when watching Fonda's appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher that this is one of those times. Maher said something about how thirty years later, if people still have a problem with her, isn't it really their problem? I understand his point, but I have to respectfully disagree. While I'm all about forgiveness, there are some sins that are too severe to be forgiven, let alone forgotten. I'd include Fonda's sins in that group.

The thing is, I wasn't even born until almost a decade after her infamous visit to Hanoi. However, being the son of an Army man, I was raised with a strong appreciation for the armed forces as well as a fairly rare view among people of my generation (and certainly among liberals) that the Vietnam War was entered into with noble purpose. So that's where I'm coming from. Still, even without that background, I think that I would be just as disturbed by Fonda's actions.

The rabid "Hanoi Jane"-haters have harmed their own cause by escalating the charges against her with exaggerated e-mails, engaging in simple spite-filled rhetoric and lumping every outspoken liberal celebrity (or presidential candidate) with her. When young people who haven't been informed about what she really did back then hear her name in relation to Natalie Maines or Sean Penn (dubbed "Hanoi Sean"), they presume that the charges against her are equally silly.

However, there's a very big moral difference between what Penn did (visiting a country we were about to go to war with, meeting with innocent women and children and suggesting that we should not go to war) and what Fonda did (visiting a country we were at war with, not only meeting with but entertaining the soldiers who were killing her fellow countrymen and proclaiming that American political and military leaders were "war criminals"). In addition, her actions seemed to actually make an impact (something that most activist-celebrities' follies fail to do today). Her erroneous reports that American POWs were being treated well while Vietnamese POWS were being systematically abused were accepted as fact back on the divided home front.

I can't pretend to comprehend that period of time in American history without having lived through it. But on a fundamental, moral level, I can imagine a modern analogy. I don't see how it would be any different than if, say, Julia Roberts were to go to Iraq now, posing for pictures with the insurgents who are blowing up American troops on a daily basis. Or if she were to flash her famous smile with her arm around a couple of wannabe-terrorists at a training camp. How many of us would be willing to laugh that off thirty years from now? And if Katharine Hepburn had done the same thing with Nazi troops during World War II, would anyone have forgiven her even sixty years later?

Perhaps the most abhorrent thing is that Fonda herself still doesn't completely get it. She's repeatedly (almost robotically) apologized – but specifically only for the pictures that were taken of her atop the enemy aircraft gun. She has no regrets about endorsing America's enemy (which is very different from being anti-war or even anti-American) or spreading false propaganda about the treatment of American POWs that further contributed to their very real suffering.

I've been following her current press tour fairly closely, and what's sad is, if it weren't for this one, gaping lapse in judgment and character, I would probably admire this woman. She has done, and continues to do a lot of good, charitable things for people. I agree with her on many of her causes. She seems like an incredibly intelligent person, which makes her crimes that much more egregious in my eyes. As a 34 year-old, she knew exactly what she was doing, and at 67, she would do it all (almost) again.

I'm a little curious to see her performance in Monster-in-Law, however I can't in good conscience support anything she does with my money. I've never "boycotted" a film on principle before. Not Seven Years in Tibet (after it was revealed its subject had Nazi ties) and not The Pianist (though I didn't learn until after I'd seen it the details of the disgusting charges against Roman Polanski – I'll never put money in his coffers again). But I feel I have to take a stand here.

Before you dismiss the venom directed at Jane Fonda as yet more self-righteous rancor spewing forth from the fire-breathing, war-mongering radical Right and before you plunk down your ten bucks for a ticket to her match-up with J. Lo, I suggest you take a look at the facts (here and here are good places to start) and then follow your own feelings.

Okay, I'm done with my soapbox. Now, let's talk about Bennifer II getting knocked up…


Anonymous Thud said...

I think you're absolutely right on this. Sometimes people who call themselves liberals do things that are inexcusable, and we don't need to accept that behavior just to disagree with the right-wing nutjobs who work themselves into an unholy lather about the issue. I'm not sure where exactly the line is between "trying to get the whole picture" and "aiding the enemy," but Fonda clearly left that line, wherever it is, far behind.

May 13, 2005 4:29 AM  
Blogger econoclast said...

I would say that if your "enemy" happens to be in the right, then you should just go ahead and be unpatriotic. Logic dictates. I mean, imagine some movie star in 1940s Germany -- say, Marlene Dietrich. (I don't know whether she was in Germany then or not, but you get the point). You think it would be wrong of her to come over to the US and condemn the Holocaust?

May 18, 2005 4:04 PM  
Blogger The Pop Culture Petri Dish said...

I believe in the case of Marlene Dietrich, she so differed with the path her country was taking, she fled the country and became an American. Jane Fonda remained an American citizen, enjoying all the privileges that entitled her. If she truly believed that Nixon was as bad as Hitler and that American soldiers were as bad as Nazis, then she was free to leave the country (something that would not have been so easy for a German dissident).

I wasn't trying to say that dissent is inherently patriotic. There are many ways to protest that are entirely patriotic in the American sense. Trying to persuade the country's leaders to change their policies is not an act of treason. Demonstrating opposition is not an act of treason. Praying for a peaceful resolution that will result in as little bloodshed as possible on both sides is not an act of treason. Rooting for the killers of your neighbors' sons is not, however, something I consider patriotic.

I don't pretend to grasp all the details or complexities of the Vietnam War. I'm just a pop culture blogger, expressing my own personal beliefs regarding Ms. Fonda's actions. I welcome opposing views, though in this case, I don't happen to agree with your logic.

God bless America.

May 19, 2005 1:19 AM  

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