Jane Fonda and the Spectacle of Resistance

Actress Jane Fonda gettting arrested for holding a “climate change protest” on Capitol Hill, D.C. Image via The Guardian on YouTube (Guardian News: “Jane Fonda holds climate change protest at US Capitol,” November 1, 2019).

On Sunday, October 27, I tweeted about Jane Fonda’s arrest. She’s all over Twitter, Facebook, and even Tumblr. She is smiling alongside her partner in crime, Ted Danson, who is another celebrity with hair so white I bet that he dyes it to make it a look. He really owns it. Jane Fonda – in an incredibly stylish, red hot coat, with her hands in the air, smiling gleefully – is truly inspiring. One day I wanna own and rock a red coat like she does. Anyways, both celebrities are standing there with their cable-tie tied hands, smiling with pride while being arrested for the nth time because of their participation in climate change protests, I guess.

Meanwhile in Chile, police are arresting peaceful protestors, and kidnapping organizers, dragging them from their own homes and advancing clandestine tortures. Honduran student organizers have mysteriously disappeared thanks to the armed forces (who flex some fly riot-gear funded by U.S. sources, just by the way) since the fraudulent elections that took place in November 2016. Indigenous leaders worldwide are being assassinated while their cases go cold with impunity. I want to make the argument to call things what they are. Jane Fonda and her pal are not really being arrested. They are not suffering the immediate physical and irreversible psychological impacts of being stripped of their freedom under conditions of threat and violence. They are not suffering the systemic consequences of having in their documents previous encounters with the forces of jUsTiCe. They have not been silenced, “disappeared”, or assassinated. Their image is incredibly useful for American media who can claim they protect freedom of expression, and then cackle while they export political neutrality dressed in red.

Now, the last thing that I want to do is romanticize violence in protests or trivialize being arrested. In fact, I am attempting to make clear that martyr-ism should not be a substitute for heroism, especially for those who desire structural change. Those who have been arrested, beaten, and murdered during these protests may not have played significant roles in the organizing of said protests, but violence has been arbitrary. I recently read in a book review and reflection about a text written by a WWII survivor, who stated that in a totalitarian regime, persecution, executions, and torture are not incidental features; that they are in fact, its essential expression. Those who are victims of police brutality and state-sanctioned violence serve as props to theatricize the threat that the state aims to communicate. When the flame of resistance and revolution is in everyone, there is no need for a face, no need for Jane Fondas, or Greta Thunbergs, or early-decade Angelina Jolies. In mainstream media, Chilean protests do not have a face; Haitian protests are not driven by celebrities; Honduran protests have no honest media representation; Indigenous-led protests are silenced. Their resistance is villainized in the media.

Jane Fonda’s, consequence-less and empty, communicate that the protests are a sham. Call them what they are: demonstrations at most, but sure as hell not resistance. Then what does resistance look like, if it is not reduced to clickbait? Here is a scenario: a wall on one side, and you on the other. You are told to run towards the wall to knock it down with the strength of your whole body. You take a deep breath, summon all your strength, and run towards the wall. What you were told was a brick wall was really just a flimsy piece of plywood. The power with which you ran into it sends you flying across to the other side. That is sham resistance — energy met by nothing, neutralized and co-opted. That is what fighting feigned enemies looks like. And fighting feigned enemies causes no change. If you are at a protest where people are okay with being arrested, make sure you are not illusioned by the idea that it is you who is breaking boundaries and driving change. You are probably part of a demonstration, not an active protest. You are indeed essential in advancing and shaping discourse, but you are not the opposition. You are not the root of change.

So, do only arrests and violence produce real results? No, definitely not. Arrests and violence are simply the response of corrupt institutions, weak in discourse, facing a people too skeptical to be convinced that things are working as they should. These are people too sunk in their own shit to even start to believe that things are on their way to getting better, to not be anything other than angry. There is no other way to “recover order,” as Chilean president Sebastián Piñera desires, than to beat people, torture citizens, and assassinate protestors. You do not want to experience this, and you are lucky that you do not have to.

Life is indeed upsettingly neutral in this North. People are hopeful with ease. Jane Fonda for fuck’s sake. I forget what she does. But it brings people so much fucking joy to see her get arrested. But I challenge you to ask yourself these questions: “Am I a sociopath? Why do I get so much joy from seeing this person arrested? Is she a terrible person who deserves it? No, she’s just a liberal old lady.” The answer is that she’s not being arrested, (because she is not causing much trouble anyways), and you enjoy it because it is a fun story to watch, like Netflix but real. It’s a simulation. Unfortunately, Jane Fonda is not engaged in change and not a real threat to what is being fought against. From there, you can begin to think about what true resistance might look like and where the real root of change might be.

I’ve been told like three times now in response to my tweets that I talk a lot of shit. One of those three times it was me. And what was emphasised those three times was that I just tweet about stuff and contradict myself by not engaging in resistance either. All true, as I do talk a lot of shit and I give people shit online, and I just sit there and watch it all burn. I do. And you can too, for the cheap price of not pretending to be the face of critical praxis! Get extra clout just for an additional amount of critical thinking, and position yourself honestly and genuinely within the dire political situation that you are somehow fighting. Shape political discourse in a way that benefits those who are in the front lines, in a way that truly educates those who are neutral, in a way that overpowers the false information and silencing that takes place in mainstream media.