You know how they say it took Richard Nixon - someone with strong anti-Communist credentials – to visit China back in the 1970s?
Well, maybe it’s going to take an Irish Catholic to say something uncomfortable about John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Enough. Really. Enough.
Horror master Stephen King has just writing a 900-page time-traveling novel about how the JFK assassination could have been prevented.
This might be the kind of reaction you would expect from a Kennedy-bashing conservative, or a twenty-something slacker who has no interest in any history prior to the great Y2K scare.
That’s not me. And yet, I’m compelled to, if not banish all Kennedy-related studies, then at least declare a moratorium.
Later this month, we will again mark the anniversary of the assassination that supposedly changed everything.
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Fittingly, as the fateful date approaches, new waves of Kennedy studies wash upon our cultural shores.
Last month there was a new book from Caroline Kennedy about her mom, Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy.
Now there’s Stephen King’s tome and TV pundit Chris Matthews’ new (500 more pages!) book Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.
Matthews does an interesting job putting the Kennedys on the couch, psychoanalyzing the family dynamic as well as the lingering bigotries they had to confront.
Joe Kennedy Jr., of course, was seen as the family’s brightest light.
For his parents, Joe “would be their bridge to both joining and mastering the WASP society from which they, as Roman Catholics in early twentieth-century America, were barred.”
JFK, meanwhile, had to carve out a space as the “second son,” which is the title of one of Matthew’s chapters.
“Unlike his older brother, bound to a more conventional blueprint, Jack wasn’t under the same pressure. There was a lightness to him, a wry Irishness that blended with the WASP manner rather than aspiring to it,” Matthews writes.
“With that combination, he could enter where his father, mother, and brother could not.”
I’m not suggesting the Kennedys in general and JFK in particular are not interesting. But I can’t help but think the amount of energy which we continue to focus on this clan means we are no longer interpreting the family and their times.
We are now interpreting the already-countless, already existing interpretations.
There’s also a lot of nostalgia involved in this.
Yes, every generation is susceptible to this.
Nevertheless, certain children of the 1960s have clung to Camelot with a passion bordering on disturbing.
A Washington Post contributor recently wrote, “As a prominent television personality himself, (Chris) Matthews understands the riddle of being constantly in the public eye, but also in another space the public doesn’t see. And he has brought this intuition to a reexamination of JFK, who you might think is the most chronicled and therefore the best understood president in modern history. Not so.”
Not so? Well, maybe that’s best as it is.
Maybe we already know enough about this president, not to mention his killer and the folks who surrounded this president and his killer.
If you don’t think so then consider King’s new book, simply titled 11/22/63. If Oliver Stone, in his movie JFK, depicted the assassination of Kennedy as a crime so heinous it simply must have been hatched at the highest levels, then King goes Stone one better. (FYI: Early reviews suggest King’s book accepts the notion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.)
What King’s book does feature is a character who stumbles upon a portal which allows him to travel back to 1958 and, thus, possibly stop the assassination before it happens.
Maybe the world would still be a great place, then, right?
It’s hard not to look at all of these Kennedy books and realize they have little to do with JFK himself.
They seem to give a voice to our own fantasies about bold, youthful leadership and more innocent times.
Very basic questions, of course, would force us to confront the fact that there really were no more or less innocent times.
Ending our JFK obsession would, I believe, force us to grow up a little bit more as a nation.
So let’s let Jack rest in peace. For a little while.
(Contact “Sidewalks” at email@example.com or facebook.com/tomdeignan)