Jane Fonda, currently promoting a new book, has told the press that she is starting a cross-country bus tour to demonstrate against U.S. military operations in Iraq. The articles I read also mention the bus she will be traveling in, as an uninteresting side note, will run on vegetable oil. The articles fail to explain what the bus driver will be running on, unfortunately. Anyway, she has made the decision to respond to the Iraq war because of the encouragement of war veterans she has met on her countrywide book tour. We have already heard from Sean Penn. It’s only fair that Jane Fonda has a chance to speak up, as it may be awhile before Paris Hilton gathers her thoughts on the matter.
I suppose that simply belonging to ‘Generation X’ makes me too young to remember her perceived transgression regarding military matters. I am aware enough to know “Hanoi Jane” remains an emotional button for many in the generation previous to my own, even before the relative calm experienced before Sept. 11th. I even remember the Republicans trying to harvest that negative energy during the 2004 Presidential campaign. A photo of her sitting near Senator John Kerry was circulated in the media, with its obvious intent to encourage those with negative feelings about Miss Fonda to extend them to Bush’s opponent in the 2004 elections. As patriotic fevers run high again with our presence in Iraq, old debates gets stirred in with the new ones.
From what I have been able to tell, Jane Fonda traveled to Vietnam during the conflict, toured some limited section of North Vietnamese sites including POW camps, posed for some pictures on an anti-aircraft cannon, and adamantly spoke out about how American prisoners were not tortured. She is also credited, to some extent, with having exposed the bombing of dikes in the Vietnam Red River delta; a tactic the government used in hopes of speeding up the possibility of a truce with Vietnam. The government at the time of the bombings not only denied the action, but even the U.N. Ambassador at the time (George H. W. Bush) called her a “liar.” The use of torture, even though there doesn’t seem to be agreement on how extensive it was, still occurred. Regardless, she continued to spend much of her time touring to speak out against our presence in Vietnam. After the war, her activism shifted to many other issues, in between television and movie appearances.
The only regret she says she has was the photo shoot at on their anti-aircraft cannon in Vietnam. After seeing the footage of that event, I would think her regret might extend well beyond that incident. The camera shows a happy, animated woman prancing around in front of foreign soldiers, appearing to be soaking in the reality presented by a military enemy we had at the time. Presented along with her vocal disbelief of mistreatment of American soldiers held as prisoners, this set of images makes me wonder how detrimental her role was. I understand the need for finding answers, especially when armed conflict is on the table. However, I think it should be a matter of sending the right person to do the job and letting them do it. For example, if I am building a house and require a plumber; I don’t look under ACTRESSES in the phonebook. I am looking for someone skilled in the industrial art of plumbing, not someone might be nominated for an Emmy for their role as a plumber. I am also not interested in having a merely curious onlooker wander into my house and just start offering advice either.
Do I have a problem with celebrities speaking out about issues? In general, I would say that isn’t the case. Some people are passionate for a particular issue, and that shouldn’t have to stop if you become a celebrity. However, there has to be some limit to that. For example, we send SOLDIERS to fight war. We don’t randomly deploy all Americans to enter battle. We send some citizens who are specifically trained for that task. After all, there are weapons involved. There is risk involved. There are good reasons not to have a bunch of extra people standing around while war is being waged.
I think celebrity involvement should stay within its comfortable realm of product endorsement. Once again, we don’t look to celebrities to know the exact science behind why the Thighmaster works or what makes their skins appear so young-looking. It is the use of “star power” to sell a product. They may be trying to convince us that they enjoy using the product. The reality is that we, as consumers, are going to buy the product because of the warm, tingly feelings we get when we think of the roles that actor has played in the past. It could also be that warm, tingly feeling you get when you see that actress in a slinky evening dress. Either way, it’s image we are buying; not substance.
Occasionally, it is nice that celebrities lend their fame to help with causes, but even that seems calculated strategy to keep them in the spotlight. In Hollywood, having the public’s attention is what it’s all about. Whether it’s boredom on their part, restarting a dying career, or just trying to refill those coffers; it’s no surprise that celebrities hire publicists and agents to hold onto that fame. It is difficult to face the end of that fame. It can hit hard. +In the 1970s, a celebrity would know that his/her career was flagging by appearing in the weekly cast of the television show, Love Boat. The sign that it was completely over would then be an appearance on the television show, Match Game. Today, the world is a harsher place. The career death knell in 2005 is, of course, infomercials. I think that Jane Fonda is trying to cash in on whatever she can now before she’s pedaling air filters at 3 a.m. Maybe she thinks that she doesn’t have anything to lose. With movies like Barbarella on my resumé, I would probably feel that way, too.