Thursday, November 24, 2005

Operation Barbarella

London Review of Books as an insightful review of Jane Fonda's War: A Political Biography of an Anti-war Icon by Mary Hershberger:

"You don’t know America if you don’t know the Jane Fonda cult. Or rather, the anti-Fonda cult. At places where soldiers or former soldiers congregate, there’ll be stickers of her likeness on the urinals; one is an invitation to symbolic rape: Fonda in her 1980s ‘work-out’ costume, her legs splayed, pudenda at the bulls-eye. Every night at lights-out midshipmen at the US Naval Academy cry out ‘Goodnight, bitch!’ in her honour. They’ve learned, Carol Burke writes in her study of military folklore, Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane and the High-and-Tight, what you learn at all the service academies: ‘that being a real warrior and hating Jane Fonda are synonymous.’* When Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial was built on the Washington Mall, well-organised veterans who criticised it as the ‘gook monument’ – Lin is Chinese-American – were allowed to open their own kiosks nearby. These became the cult’s temples, the places to buy its sacraments and phylacteries; bumper stickers, for example, saying ‘Jane Fonda: John Kerry with Tits’. Phyllis Schlafly and Tom Wolfe have both described the memorial wall as a ‘monument to Jane Fonda’.

A set of urban legends has sprung up around her visit to Hanoi in the summer of 1972: a prisoner of war, ordered by his captors to describe his ‘lenient and humane’ treatment to the visiting actress, spat on her instead and was beaten almost into blindness; prisoners secretly gave her their social security numbers to prove their existence to the outside world – Fonda turned the numbers over to their captors and men were supposed to have died from the beatings that followed. The reliability of such tales is suggested by a piece that appeared in the Washington Times, a right-wing daily, in 1989: a former pow, Air Force Major Fred Cherry, recalled Fonda’s voice ringing out over the prison public address system during an ‘extended torture siege’ in 1967. Fonda didn’t speak out against the war until 1970.

The cult matured in the 1980s when America finally began to accept that it had lost a war which hadn’t been worth fighting in the first place. This was around the time Ronald Reagan observed: ‘Boy, I saw Rambo last night. Now I know what to do next time this happens.’ The moment had come to fix the blame where it properly belonged: not on Lyndon Johnson, not on Richard Nixon, but, as Burke points out, on the oldest story in the world, ‘the seductive woman who turns out to be a snake’."

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