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Jewish World Review July 11, 2001 / 20 Tamuz 5761

Don Feder

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Little Jane, sappy to the last -- CALL it Anti-American Heritage. In its July/August issue, American Heritage magazine has a cover story on Barbarella, the Viet Cong pinup girl ("Why Jane Fonda is a mirror of the nation's past 40 years").

The article concludes with the stunning observation, "The larger message of Jane Fonda's life may just be: Jane Fonda is America."

Now that you've recovered from momentary nausea, two observations -- the piece is a whitewash of one of the most contemptable figures in popular culture, and Fonda is an avatar of sorts. Her activist career illustrates the follies of the left from the era of revolution to the age of condoms.

During the '60s, Fonda was an avowed Marxist. In the '70s, her activism took an anti-business turn. In the '80s, she embraced the so-called greed of the decade. And in the '90s, Fonda morphed again, this time into a crusader for population control and abortion.

The article presents the actress as a well-meaning cultural chameleon whose life reflects the postwar era's passing fads. Actually, though her emphasis shifts, she has remained remarkably consistent in her allegiance to the cause of remaking society.

The piece mentions her 1972 pilgrimage to North Vietnam, which earned her the sobriquet Hanoi Jane. The author, Peter Braunstein, notes Fonda posed with an anti-aircraft battery. This is presented as celebrity naivete.

But Fonda knew exactly what she was doing. The article omits any mention of her propaganda broadcasts for the communists (urging Americans soldiers to betray their country) or her role in trying to cover up the torture of American POWs -- whom she said were treated "amazingly humanely." Sen. John McCain was beaten and starved for refusing to meet with her.

Henry Fonda's baby girl (at the time, Papa, a World War II vet, referred to her as "my alleged daughter") went to Hanoi committed not to the anti-war movement, but to what ex-communist Arthur Koestler called "the god that failed."

In 1969, the Beverley Hills bolshie told a college audience, "I would think that if you understood what communism was, you would hope, you would pray on your knees that we would someday become communist." Does that sound like Joan Baez?

By the late '70s, Fonda's leftism achieved a degree of sophistication. She and then-husband and former new-left icon Tom Hayden were pushing something called "economic democracy" (socialism with a Jeffersonian face): corporations are bad, oil companies caused the energy crisis, landlords are greedy, etc. Their answer was taxation, regulation and price controls.

Realizing that her acting career wouldn't last forever, and funds were needed to bankroll other radical causes, Fonda cashed in on the '80s fitness craze with health clubs and exercise tapes.

Her 1990 marriage to Ted Turner gave her the leisure to pursue other causes. As a resident of Georgia, she threw herself into the population-control crusade with typical arrogance. In north Georgia, "children are starving to death. People live in tar-paper shacks with no indoor plumbing, etc. "

The Hollywood humanitarian would help these ignorant rednecks plan their families. "We must fight to ensure universal access to contraception backed up with safe abortion," the actress insisted.

In Fonda's dialectic, there's always an antagonist. This time, the villain wasn't the U.S. military or Exxon, but the Vatican. "Powerful vested interests -- including the Catholic Church -- want us to ignore contraception as a necessary part of family planning," Clinton's "goodwill" ambassador told the United Nations Population Fund in 1998.

Fonda's own family life could have used a bit of forethought. When he divorced her, director Roger Vadim remarked, "I prefer to be married to a soft, vulnerable woman rather than to an American Joan of Arc." Tom Hayden decided he'd prefer to be married to a younger woman. Her split with Turner was inevitable. Their egos can't occupy the same room, even Madison Square Garden. Perhaps her activism is the sublimation of a frustrated search for love.

One can hardly wait to see where ideology will lead La Belle Jane in this decade -- animal-rights, anti-globalization, euthanasia or the reincarnation of proletarian heroes?.

Little Jane, sappy to the last.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate