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Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Oldest Story in the World
Why the right was, and still is, so obsessed with Jane Fonda. Fantastic book review which explains not just the Fonda thing but rather a lot about how the country got to be in the sorry state it's in today. The short version: it's all Nixon's fault.
America was no longer fighting for anything palpable – let alone to contain China, the superpower with which Nixon had just, with great fanfare, established a friendship. The new rationale was entirely circular: we were fighting in order to protect those pows the war was creating. ‘Following the president’s lead,’ Jonathan Schell has written, ‘people began to speak as though the North Vietnamese had kidnapped 400 Americans and the United States had gone to war to retrieve them.’ The Eden this scenario presented to a guilty American conscience was too tempting to pass up – children began wearing bracelets with the names of pows stamped on them. Fonda was the Eve that threatened it.
And here's a figue you might recognize from contemporary America:
In 1973, the Maryland Legislature proposed what would have been the first bill of attainder in its history to ban Fonda from the state and grant the government power to seize all money made from her films. ‘I wouldn’t go so far as to execute her, but I think we should cut her tongue off,’ one legislator argued. The floodgates had been opened. The urinal stickers would not be far behind. Every time Nixon ratcheted down the US commitment to the war, he launched an attack on the people who called on him to ratchet down the commitment. Che Guevara spoke of creating a New Socialist Man. The president’s upright vanguardists in the Operation Homecoming travelling circus did a much more effective job of inventing a new sort of capitalist subject: New Republican Man, willing to believe anything to preserve some semblance of faith in American innocence.
In other words, a Bush voter, a connection Perlstein himself makes early in the article:
Last year, the Fonda cult allowed thousands, even millions of anguished veterans and their sympathisers to hold onto their shaky faith in American innocence, while acting as the conduit for the character assassination of the Democratic presidential candidate. ‘They’re the men who served with John Kerry in Vietnam,’ the announcer said in the notorious TV commercial produced by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. ‘And they’re the men who spent years in North Vietnamese prison camps. Tortured for refusing to confess what John Kerry accused them of . . . of being war criminals.’ The tropes come straight from the Fonda mythology. A doctored photograph was circulated (it showed up in several newspapers) showing Kerry on a speakers’ platform with Fonda. The picture was found to be a fake, but the association had already been planted. ‘[Jane Fonda:] John Kerry with Tits’: five syllables full of implications for the politics of gender, power and anxiety in America.
Definitely a good read, and much more balanced than my selective quoting would suggest -- while it's generally sympathetic to the anti-war movement, the ending in particular takes on the notion that Fonda herself is blameless in all this. Check out the whole thing. (Also via A&L Daily)

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