Friday, I criticized this statement in a Slate review of Trey Parker’s and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police:
Leftist actors learned from Vietnam not to cozy up to dictators: Jane Fonda, one of the best actresses of her generation, hasn’t worked in more than a decade.
I asked the following question:
Jane Fonda worked quite a bit in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, when you’d think her sympathies with the North Vietnamese would have hurt her most, and then during the Reagan Administration. She then apparently did nothing until the forthcoming Monster-in-Law — including through the Clinton era. Is it really that plausible that Fonda’s not working in the 1990s, while having worked through the 1970s and 1980s, stems from her pro-North Vietnam activities?
Yesterday, Slate‘s reviewer replied:
It was a time-warp reaction. Fonda dropped out of acting for awhile in the ’80s and made a great return with The Morning After, in which she played a blackout drunk. But the culture under Reagan had changed. Vietnam vets, once culturally ostracized, had become deservedly more sympathetic in the eyes of the media, and everything countercultural was now unhip—or worse. I was staying near Waterbury, Conn., when Fonda was filming Stanley and Iris there in the late ’80s. I read that the vets were picketing the production and surrounding the set with signs that read, “Get out Hanoi Jane!” I drove over to see for myself and, yeah, it was pretty ugly. There were signs all over town and trucks honking and people shouting. … Fonda reportedly tried to meet with the vets and came away devastated; and after the movie (a humanist stinker in which she taught Robert DeNiro to read) flopped, she decided to drop out of show business. (She didn’t need the money—she was married to a billionaire.) A blacklist? No. But a big fat delayed-reaction shaming.
Hmm. It’s an interesting theory, but I wonder how much sense it makes. Say that Jane Fonda “reportedly” is devastated by the criticism from Vietnam vets — even though she surely must have heard plenty about such criticism in the 1970s, and wasn’t troubled. So as a result, she “decide[s] to drop out of show business.” (The reviewer is indeed suggesting a causal connection, since that was his original claim: “Leftist actors learned from Vietnam not to cozy up to dictators: Jane Fonda, one of the best actresses of her generation, hasn’t worked in more than a decade.”)
Why? I can see why being devastated at the hostility that one’s past activism has caused might make one cautious about activism. Jane Fonda did indeed become somewhat less politically vocal in the 1990s, though she continued to do various publicly visible charitable work. Early this decade, she was also involved in protests against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. So she hasn’t lost even her taste for activism.
But why would harsh criticism by veterans lead one to quit show business? It seems to me somewhat more likely that she’d quit because she married Ted Turner, or moved to Atlanta, or felt she was getting too old for the roles she preferred, or just got bored with something that she’d been doing for decades. I find it hard to see how there’s any causal relationship between her not working in show biz and “learn[ing] from Vietnam not to cozy up to dictators.”
I also asked these questions: “Have leftist actors not been cozying up to Fidel Castro? Or is he not a dictator?” Here’s the reviewer’s response to what seem to have been similar questions from other correspondents:
Oh, it’s so fun to get letters from angry right-wingers: They’re so cute when they preach at me that politics don’t belong in movie reviews (because, of course, movies have absolutely nothing to do with the real world and do absolutely nothing to shape peoples’ attitudes about anything). And I love it when they twitter about a couple of left-wing Hollywood types consorting with that syphilitic blowhard homophobic human-rights abuser Fidel Castro (because, of course, Republicans have never had anything to do with human-rights-abusing authoritarian regimes, ever).
But this is entirely unresponsive, it seems to me. The reviewer’s claim was that “Leftist actors learned from Vietnam not to cozy up to dictators.” His correspondents point out that leftist actors do cozy up to Castro. The reviewer’s response: Some Republicans (probably not actors) have cozied up to other dictators. Huh? How does this support his original claim, or rebut his critics’ arguments?
So it seems to me that the reviewer erred in his original claim. People called him on it (some perhaps in intemperate ways, others not, but they were right and he was mistaken). And instead of admitting the error, he starts his column with snideness and condescension, and proceeds to change the subject. Not Slate‘s finest hour, it seems to me.