tactical actors: Jane Fonda, GI resistance, and the FTA (book manuscript)
Tactical Actors argues that understanding the full impact of the 1960s on U.S. contemporary politics requires identifying the ways in which attempts to suppress and ultimately erase activists’ tactical performances exploited the vulnerabilities inherent in the (necessarily) theatrical practice of revolutionary politics. Insofar as activists contest, for example, the premise that only one future can follow from the present, or refuse existing relationships between work and identity, they are always at risk of being dismissed as mere actors, engaged in what they know to be make-believe while pretending otherwise. While the proximity of theatrical actor to political actor has long provoked discomfort among those concerned with the smooth functioning of the state, Tactical Actorscontends that the 1960s marks a particularly explicit elision of the categories of actor and activist, a collapse and loosening that was at once a precondition of the revolutionary project of the 1960s and also the means by which its significance and seriousness have been, in subsequent decades, systematically diminished. As the basis for exploring tactical theatricality and its impact on popular/political discourse, Tactical Actors reconstructs the modes of activist performance that emerged in and alongside a profoundly effective and yet largely forgotten 1960s radical phenomenon: the development, within the US military, of an organized GI movement to end the Vietnam War. The book’s four chapters examine enlistees’ overt and covert acts of resistance, beginning in the mid-60s, and how these sought to de- and re-construct the image of the American soldier in part by soliciting recognition from a civilian audience; how civilian efforts, in turn, amplified and circulated this alternative image; the precarious construction of solidarity undertaken by the FTA, an anti-war variety show led by Jane Fonda that played to tens of thousands of active- duty GIs in 1971; the dueling images of soldier-spectators offered by the FTA’s 1972 feature film and Bob Hope’s annual Christmas tour broadcast on NBC; and Fonda’s contested status as an anti- war actress/activist. From close readings of these performances, Tactical Actors recovers the political- theatrical legacy of the GI movement and argues that its historical erasure was the product of a renewed anti-theatricality that emerged from the 1960s, and which remains a potent feature of contemporary political discourse.