Photo: REX USA.
Today's youth might link Jane Fonda to mere exercise tapes and Barbarella, but in her earlier years, the megastar was actually the source of some major controversy — a controversy that has been brought back to life in conservative circles because of Michelle Obama's mention of Fonda as a role model in a recent interview with People magazine.
Here's the backstory: After visiting Hanoi, Vietnam in 1972, Fonda earned the nickname of Hanoi Jane. Her trip took place at the tail end of the Vietnam War, and she quickly became embroiled in the many controversial discussions of patriotism, dissent, and protest that abounded at the time. And, on top of all that, her trip has been eternally memorialized in a photo that, in some circles, has become an example of un-Americanism.
Jump ahead 30 years, and apparently, the incident is still a pretty dark spot on Fonda's legacy for some. Fox News didn't hesitate to point out Obama's perceived gaffe, citing a number of tweets questioning the FLOTUS' support of someone who "betrayed" the United States during wartime.
Obama didn't mention the trip in any way, and simply praised Fonda as "a beautiful, engaged, politically savvy, sharp woman." For her part, Fonda, now 76, has expressed regret about the visit and the photo, taken when she was 35. One famous acknowledgement of the instance happened in this interview with Barbara Walters (skip ahead to 29:00):
We have to agree that she comes off as a well-adjusted person who has a lot of thoughtful things to say and who has clearly analyzed her role in Hollywood, as a female icon, and as a political activist in a very deep way. And yet, the controversy remains, many years later, so much so that Obama herself has been painted in a negative way for simply mentioning Fonda's name. Says Fonda, "It's sad — and in a way, it's pathetic — that these many years later, these people have not made sense of the war. They're off base in terms of where the anger needs to be placed, and I'm a lightning rod. The right wing has been very assiduous in fanning the flame of the myth of Hanoi Jane."
We tend to think that at her age, Fonda is bound to have regrets and things she's proud of, and that overall, what counts is that she is politically engaged and willing to hold her ground where she sees fit while still conceding that she made actions that she doesn't necessarily agree with or identify with today. In fact, almost anyone who came of age during the '60s and '70s has experienced a transformation of their views and methods regarding political engagement.
We don't think that this particular instance was the kind of activism Michelle Obama was referring to. What's more, since that photo was taken, Fonda has become a positive role model regarding fitness and healthy living (two subjects we know Obama is passionate about), not to mention an advocate for peaceful protest and political awareness in young people. Those are things worthy of appreciation, and we're not sure that a regretful incident, for which she has apologized on many occasions, is worth making the focal point of the conversation. What do you think?