Monday, 23 December 2013

JFK: Random Thoughts 50 Years On

Firstly, sorry that this is a bit later than planned. I ended up having a pretty busy November, and didn't get time to complete this by the end of the month.

Perhaps though that's an indication of where I've personally reached with the most famous assassination of the 20th century. In 1993 for the 30th anniversary I watched and read as much as I possibly could in regard to it, taking on conspiracy theories, retrospectives and critical examinations of JFK's presidency itself. Now I'm a bit older, and in amid everything else that makes up daily life it doesn't seem so important anymore. With the responsibilities I have myself, I have less time to involve myself with things like this that do not directly affect me.

Additionally I've noticed a shift in attitudes in regard to the assassination. In the vast majority of the shows that I've watched or listened to, there seems to be much more acceptance of Lee Harvey Oswald having carried out at least a part in the assassination.  This certainly wasn't the case 20 years ago, and while it strikes me as being a bit too convenient perhaps there are bigger conspiracy theories to mull over that have taken place since then.

I wonder as well if the questions, suggestions and in some cases outright accusations of 9/11 conspiracy theorists have played a part in the reduction of conspiracy theories in regard to JFK's assassination. Personally I look at these and think that a lot of these diminish everything from the credibility of architects (buildings are meant to survive fully loaded jetliners flying into them, really?) to the bravery of victims (sure, United 93 was shot down and the actions of passengers were nothing to do with preventing the flight from reaching Washington). When I think about these theories and then wonder about the JFK conspiracies I do find myself considering whether or not it was similar people who promoted such theories in the last 50 years.

In saying that though, JFK presents the perfect storm for conspiracy theorists. The Russians, Cubans, the Mafia, the CIA, Communists and those who hated Communists. I don't think the soap opera bearing the name of the city JFK was killed in had such a wide range of suspects when JR was shot.

On a praiseworthy note, it was nice to see some new media that I had not seen before that managed to stay within the realms of taste and decency. National Geographic's investigation in to JFK's last days, and his influence upon ordinary members of the public who he met in Texas prior to the assassination was poignant. A short BBC clip on the part that the Blackwatch played at JFK's funeral was new to me. The George Clooney-narrated documentary on the media's coverage of the assassination was compelling, and while arguably trivial, a long-form article on what exactly happened to the original casket which took JFK from Dallas back to Washington was far more interesting than it should have been.

Of course not all media chose to go down that route. JFK: The Lost Bullet was in my opinion an attempt to justify repeated showings of the Zapruder film, in HD no less (as they also told us repeatedly). It became so bloodthirsty I couldn’t justify watching it to what I understand was a ludicrous finish.

I found myself wondering if the horror suffered by the Kennedy family was forgotten somewhat. I know the most significant living member of JFK's family today is his daughter Caroline, who recently began a post as US ambassador to Japan. While looking to balance historical perspective with a gaudy sense of intrusion, I do wonder just how much the horrific and public loss of his father had upon John F. Kennedy, Jr. Everyone remembers his farewell salute to his father, but how many people remember that was on his 3rd birthday? My eldest remembers things from a frightfully early age, so I do wonder what if anything he remembered, or if indeed that played any part in his fatal plane crash that he was at the controls for.

And then of course there is Jackie Kennedy. So much of an influence over so many people I have known over the years, especially my Mum. I pondered if there was a post-assassination bump in her popularity, similar to those I've witnessed to the likes of Freddie Mercury and Kurt Cobain after their deaths. Clearly Jackie's dignity and strength immediately following the murder of her husband is awe-inspiring, and I can see why people like my Mum would appreciate her style and grace. Did history treat her kindly? Yes, as I'd like to think a widow should be treated. Did history fully record her abilities in supporting her husband on the campaign trail, and later in life as a business woman and matriarch? I would suggest not. Through no fault of her own, too much is made of a blood-stained pink outfit and not enough of the woman who wore it.

Will we ever consider the assassination in such a way again? I expect we won't. Personally I don't class 60 years as a big anniversary, and by the time the 75th anniversary comes round there will be even less living witnesses to the horror of that day, and also unfortunately there will probably be another horrific world event that will be a new generation's "Where were you when…" moment. For a subject matter that fascinated me and a time in history that still interests me, I'd like to visit the Sixth Floor Museum and Dealey Plaza as a whole, to put myself in that area and to picture that time, just to help me understand it better. I'm not sure all the big questions are fully answered, but I don't think they will be definitively during my lifetime, and it is debatable at this point whether it really matters anymore.

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