Stardom: Industry of Desire

By Christine Gledhill | Go to book overview

18

THE POLITICS OF 'JANE FONDA'

Tessa Perkins

In this chapter I do not intend to write about the actual political beliefs or practice of the woman called Jane Fonda-whatever they may be. I am interested in examining another aspect of the politics of star-images: namely the process by which star-images come to mean something to particular groups. In placing 'Jane Fonda and her politics' inside inverted commas I want to emphasise that 'Jane Fonda' functions as a sign whose meanings have been, and continue to be, the subject of contestation-and it is this contestation that constitutes the politics of 'Jane Fonda'. I am concerned, in particular, to investigate what Jane Fonda meant to feminists in the seventies when the image was radicalised. 1 I will argue that although the ways in which Fonda was written about in the press seemed both to undermine her particular political activities and to attack feminism, feminists in the seventies could use this attack as the basis of a sympathetic identification with the Fonda image. Jane Fonda functioned as a rebellious role model not so much in spite of the press reports as because of them. The media made use of 'Jane Fonda and her politics' as a means of defining what should constitute 'normal' gender activity. Fonda's significance for feminists was to some extent reinforced by her later films in so far as these circulated feminist ways of thinking and structures of feelings to mass audiences. However, in other ways the films seemed to detract from Fonda's significance.

Jane Fonda is probably best known today as a radical, or some would say 'once-radical', actress. To some she is most closely associated with her controversial involvement in a number of left-wing 'causes' in the late sixties and seventies and to others with more recent and more hard to categorise involvement in body-politics. A smaller, but still significant portion of people will recall a period in the mid-sixties in which she was associated with sexual liberation, her most famous film role of the period being the eponymous heroine of Barbarella-a time when she was often referred to as the American Brigitte Bardot. Her earlier image and the roles she played either as an ingénue or a 'sex kitten', mainly in the light sex comedies, such as Sunday in New York (1964), which were popular

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