By Karen H. Pittman
web posted April 11, 2005
Hey, guys, quick, before you miss it -- look up: I'm about to step
out onto the ledge here and say something terribly controversial.
I'm about to break ranks with my conservative brethren.
Yes, Jane Fonda did some horrible things in Hanoi. Yes, she
was a wild child, an hysterical 60's flower-power flouter of the
first order. But that doesn't change the fact that she herself may
have changed. Whoever the girl was, the grown woman is now
someone else entirely -- a mature, thoroughly mellowed 67-
year-old grandmother in need of artificial hips.
Try as I might, for the sake of the cause, I cannot dislike her. For
despite her faults, she brings one sterling quality to the table
which your typical Hollywood socialite does not, and that is
substance. Jane Fonda herself is silver-minted. And let's face it:
No airhead would have dared perch her derriere atop an enemy
anti-air battery just for the sake of publicity.
Whatever we may think of Ms. Fonda's activism in Vietnam, we
cannot seriously think she did all of that for attention. If nothing
else, we must at least be intellectually and morally honest enough
to admit that Jane Fonda, the girl, did the things she did for the
same reasons we do -- because she truly, acutely, radically
believed. To assert anything less is to do ourselves and our cause
a disservice, to say nothing of her and hers.
And if we, some thirty-five years later, still can't get over it, that's
our problem. If more of us would do what I'm trying to do in
making the effort to look past this woman's tempestuous past --
if we would all just chill out long enough to suspend judgment for
five whole minutes and actually listen to what she has to say --
we would happily discover, I believe, that much of what she says
has merit. Her words are, at times, even profound. Agree or
disagree with her political ideology, embrace or disavow her
evolving brand of Christianity, at least Jane Fonda is herself
evolving, and is committed to some cause larger than her own.
At least she is earnestly searching.
I mean, my God, if the Pope could forgive Mehmet Ali Agca ( http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7381043/), can't
we forgive Jane Fonda?
That said, let me be crystal clear on one point: I do not expect
veterans of her crazed, callow crusade to be so magnanimous. I
do not expect that all those valiant Vietnam POWs, who were so
brutally and viscerally betrayed, can or will or even should
forgive her. For them, the injury was and is too deeply personal;
for me, it was, and remains to this day, mostly a black and white
photograph in a history book.
I was all of nine or ten years old when Ms. Fonda cozied up to
the Viet Cong, and being a kid, I was riddled with the same
ambivalent impressions of that conflict that all the kids were back
then. That did not mean, however, that I expressly condoned
what she doing; truthfully, I knew too little about the whole affair
to know how I felt. But it did mean that part of me understood
and even empathized with what she was trying to do, because --
in the context of that turbulent era, our turbulent era -- she was
merely aggressively following the dictates of her conscience,
misleading as they were.
What a rabid disciple and proselytizer this woman would make!
And as far as I can see, that's all she's doing now -- following
At the end of the day, this is what we most need to take away
from all this. If we are to achieve any kind of clarity in the midst
of this hullabaloo, the one maypole around which we must wrap
ourselves is the mortal recognition that people can and do
change, especially as they age. They evolve. Only God and truth
are unchanging, but we mercurial human beings tend either to
develop or regress in terms of our ability to recognize and
At least give the lady credit for developing! Okay, so she hasn't
fully renounced her stance on Vietnam. But she is clearly inching
ever closer toward some sort of healthy, heartfelt finality on the
matter. I mean, it's not like she's going backwards. For Ms.
Fonda to even embrace Christianity at all, in any capacity, given
her starting point, is itself a miracle of beatific proportions.
When I lean back and let myself luxury-cruise right through Jane
Fonda's life so far as recounted in countless TV interviews, a
remarkable thing occurs. I find I'm not on auto-pilot at all, for
then I begin to remember why I bought into this feisty, spunky,
energetic lady's charisma in the first place. This is the same allure
that led me to buy her leg warmers and workout tapes by the
armfuls in the late eighties. I remember why I was drawn to her
-- because for one thing, she admitted to having daddy problems
(read: authority problems), and for another, she had the good
sense to realize that the real reason she was binging and purging
was to sate a higher hunger, and, more importantly, the courage
to acknowledge it.
Now she says that hunger is being fed, wholly and completely,
by the body and blood of Christ. Who are we to say otherwise?
It seems to me only Christ Himself can make that call.
In the spirit of Pope John Paul II's passing, we must at least try
to give Jane Fonda the benefit of the doubt. Her newly
professed faith and our desire to believe in its redemptive power
encourage us to take her at her word. For those of us who
aren't veterans and weren't mortally wounded by the cavalier
acts of her youthful folly, it's time to contemplate letting go.
And besides, I just can't help myself -- I identify with her. Would
that I would glide so gracefully into my sunset . . .
Sorry, guys, but I just jumped. For me this story isn't about
politics. It's about redemption and rapprochement. No matter
what the girl did then, the grown woman, the grandmother, has
me in her corner rooting for her now.
Call me crazy, but I'm kinda Fonda Jane.
Karen Hathaway Pittman is a freelance writer and poet whose
political commentary is widely featured on the web. You may
read her articles and poems online at
http://karenhpittman.blogspot.com. She divides her time
between New York and Georgia. Contact Karen at
Enter Stage Right -- http://www.enterstageright.com