Usually the month of November means one thing: Thanksgiving.
We think of Thanksgiving dinners like this:
I guess some people would also think of Guy Fawkes.
But more and more lately, November means only one thing: Kennedy.
As in John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of the United States.
President John F. Kennedy was assassinated November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. This is how people found out what happened:
They say when Kennedy died the nation lost its innocence.
He was assassinated before I was born.
I’ve never been politically innocent. I’m a post-Nixon kid. I’ve always been skeptical of government. For me, it’s all Watergate and 9/11 conspiracies. I can’t remember ever caring that much about my president.
They say it’s cynicism that’s destroying America. We don’t place our faith in anything anymore.
No more visions of Camelot.
Today, we ask to see the president’s birth certificate.
When I see photographs or film of the president in his motorcade, smiling and waving at the Dallas crowd, unaware that he is living the last moments of his life, it makes me wonder ….
What’s the real reason why I’m watching this?
I remember after 9/11, the media all agreed to stop showing the collapse of the Twin Towers because the footage was too upsetting to viewers.
Yet, every November, they have no problem airing the Zapruder film.
Every second to last week of November, there it is. Sometimes shown all in one go; sometimes frame by frame. Kennedy is waving. Kennedy grabs his throat. Jackie climbs on to the trunk of the car.
Back and to the left.
The last moments of a man’s life.
There’s something wrong about this.
Thinking of the media’s response to viewer complaints after 9/11; that repeated airings of the deaths of nearly 3000 people was upsetting enough not to broadcast it, I wonder why the media acknowledged the wrongness of airing 9/11 footage, but not the assassination of JFK? Now days, Kennedy assassination footage is just another TV show. We’ve become desensitized to the horror of seeing a man’s head blown off.
That should be morally offensive, shouldn’t it?
I’m not thinking of any moral theory in particular, but to me it seems a bit wrong to show a man’s death on television. Wait, not just show – but show year after year, close-ups, slow motion, computerized re-enactments. Like it’s entertainment. Just another bit of reality TV.
Every November, here it comes: The John F. Kennedy Assassination Show!
I almost expect to see opening credits and a dance sequence. Hosted by Ryan Seacrest. Special guest stars William Atherton and J.B. Smoove.
A tie-in with Duck Dynasty or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
Sponsored by Procter and Gamble.
But it’s just another weeks’ worth of programming with the cable and network news readers throwing out running commentary like they’re watching an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
I know that the assassination happened fifty years ago and that nearly all of the major players are dead, but that doesn’t make the footage any less horrifying. It doesn’t make it any less offensive that a man’s death is aired dozens of times, often for what seems to be pure entertainment. Maybe there’s something to be learned from the myriad of shows about conspiracy theories, magic bullets and where are they nows, but I don’t know, something about all of it seems to ignore the fact that President Kennedy was a person.
As someone who, Kant would say, is an end in himself (and not mere means to my entertainment).
Kennedy wasn’t a mythical figure. Wasn’t just the president who averted war with the Soviet Union. Wasn’t just the guy who bedded Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Sam Giancana’s girlfriend.
He was a person who had no idea that he would die in Dallas that afternoon in November. He was a person who had promised his young son that he’d be home in time to celebrate his son’s birthday. He was a person whose widow, daughter, son and family had to sit by every November and watch his death over and over.
Seems strange, but through all this past week of remembering, eulogizing, and speculating, I found myself thinking that the right thing to do wasn’t to think about the connection between Lee Harvey Oswald, the Cubans, the CIA, and George H.W. Bush. The right thing to do, I thought, was to not think about the conspiracies and the TV movie based on the best-selling book by Bill O’Reilly, starring Rob Lowe as President Kennedy, but to think about an appropriate way to think about the death of the president.
Which, of course, meant writing this post.