50 Years Later: JFK in Media and Your Mind

By Brent Glass

John-F-Kennedy

The most powerful person in the world has become irrelevant.  The pageantry, eloquence, and stirring speeches still exist, but the average American hardly takes the call-to-action to heart.  This person I speak of, of course, is the President of the United States (POTUS).

This idea is not a new one.  While some may be quick to think of President Obama due to his declining approval rating and yet unproven legacy (Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare”), this trend has been occurring for some time.  It has some people, including myself, thinking “Where has all the passion gone?”  That question is readily answered when I remind myself of how dirty the state of national government has become.  (Remember, a measly 8% of Americans approve of Congress).  Meanwhile, state officials – especially Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey – have become warriors for the people in their respective states, much of which can be attributed to battling with Congress  (Be an enemy of Congress and you will be a hero of the people).  However, there have been times when the people believed in their government; not because of what the government would do for them but what they (Americans) could do for their government.  Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of a man who was able to persuade Americans to believe that the best was yet to come.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the second youngest POTUS (only to Teddy Roosevelt) when, on January 20, 1961, he was sworn in as the 35th chief executive.  Though he served less than one term, JFK is often reminisced upon.  Unlike President McKinley, who was assassinated within his first year, President Kennedy is remembered for more than being one of the three presidents that have been assassinated.  The mystique that surrounds the Kennedy name has so much influence it has undoubtedly assisted some members of the Kennedy clan to be elected to Congress.  Why is this so?  A lot probably is related to the time Kennedy spent in office.  Acting president for just under three years, Kennedy did not have the luxury of seeing his policies come to fruition.  Today we celebrate many of JFK’s choices – save the dubious Bay of Pigs incident.  Modern presidents are quick to invoke the name of John F. Kennedy when addressing the public – even across party lines.  Presidents Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush have all mentioned JFK at one point or another in their presidencies.

Unwittingly I have been devouring all popular culture related to the late president.  I knew that this November would mark the 50th anniversary of his death, but I did not consciously decide that I was going to gorge myself with facts of the New Englander.  First I read the book JFK, Conservative by Ira Stoll – a Harvard graduate and author of Samuel Adams: A Life.  As the title suggests, the book made the argument that many of the actions President Kennedy took while in office aligned more so with the beliefs associated with contemporary conservatism.  Next, I read two different magazines.  As TIME did with Lincoln’s bicentennial, the magazine created an entire issue devoted to the 35th president; so did LIFE (a TIME affiliate).  I saw them in a CVS and decided they were essential to my presidential collection.  Similarly, I had seen the movie Parkland in many stores.  The front cover informed me that the film was about the events following the assassination of the president.  Being temporarily enamored by all things Kennedy, I made the purchase – despite the dismal reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.

I stumbled across the book JFK, Conservative; rather it was shown to me.  There was a little post on Buzz Feed simplifying some of the points Stoll made in his book.  I didn’t know if I necessarily bought the arguments but I thought it would be a fun read.  I mean, this is a book that infuriates both sides of the aisle.  Contemporary liberals hate when people try to align Camelot with conservatism.  Conversely, conservatives hate when people try to say that the “liberal, socialist president” was actually pretty conservative.  How cool is reading something that ticks off both sides of the spectrum?

jfkconservative

Unsurprisingly, the book was very well researched.  His arguments were backed up by countless examples of Kennedy in his run for the Senate and, later, his run for the presidency.  Simply put, Kennedy was conservative in his foreign policy beliefs (strong stance against communism) and his sweeping tax cuts.  Does it remind you of another charismatic leader that united the country when Americans were demoralized?  Ronald Reagan?  He then explained how many Republicans following Kennedy actually carried on the Kennedy legacy (like Reagan, not Nixon).  Overall, it was a unique perspective on one of the most enigmatic characters in American politics.  It had its fair share of moments where one may want to counter, but it was solid nonetheless. 3.5/5

TIME-JFK

I will keep this “review” brief simply because I’m not sure I know how to review a magazine/ I’m not sure if my creative license reaches that far.  The TIME and LIFE magazines were both packed with valuable information that left the reader believing they knew Kennedy at least a little bit.  The works included many little known facts, making the reader question their conceived notions of the hallowed president.  Additionally, the photographs made for an intimate walk through Kennedy’s life.  If one wants a quick-and-dirty snapshot of Camelot’s life, they should definitely take a look at one of these publications. On to Parkland.

parkland

Parkland, as previously mentioned, was about the events following the assassination of President Kennedy.  Overall I’d say it was a very mediocre movie.  My favorite portion was the beginning of the movie, when actual clips of the president were craftily intertwined with scenes made for the film.  The events culminated wonderfully, creating an exhilarating and suspenseful experience despite knowing the outcome.  In that way it was much like Zero Dark Thirty, which featured an outstanding scene of surreptitiously taking down Osama bin Laden (certainly Parkland’s efforts were not as skillful as Zero Dark Thirty’s).  Every viewer (hopefully) knew that bin Laden had been killed, yet the scene sucked the viewer in.  Parkland had the same affect for the first fifteen minutes.  The rest of the film wasn’t as good.

The mutilated body of JFK ends up at Parkland Hospital, where a young doctor (Zac Efron) is forced to try to revive the fallen leader.  The entire staff is crestfallen when the official time of death is announced.  The next portion of the film involves the photographer (Paul Giamatti) who captured Kennedy’s assassination on tape.  The Secret Service and FBI caught wind of the footage and rushed to get it developed to find clues to aide in their hunt for the assassin.  They finally manage to get the film developed.  Together they watched, in horror, the shot that changed America as they knew it.  The next segment of the movie involved the capture, assassination and rescue attempt of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Oswald was apprehended and, when being transported to another location, was shot by a rightfully disgruntled American.  Wanting to glean a confession, Oswald was rushed to Parkland Hospital where the same staff that worked on Kennedy was forced to attempt to save the assassin’s life.  The half-hearted effort failed and Oswald died.  The cast made some parts of the movie and wrecked other portions.

There were outstanding actors, such as Paul Giamatti, and then some not-so-great actors, like Zac Efron.  Giamatti, a master of characters, skillfully played the honest photographer.  Mark Duplass, who was alright in his role in Zero Dark Thirty and The League, was not very good (in my opinion) in Parkland.  I believe the film is worth a watch simply because it based almost the entire screenplay on facts.  Historically, it’s important.  However, I would not call it a classic.  3/5

I wrote this piece to attempt to persuade you to invest some of your time in history.  Certainly you have heard the phrase history repeats itself.  This may or may not be true.  One thing is true, though:  There have been many great individuals throughout history that contemporaries can learn from.  John Fitzgerald Kennedy was one of those great people.  He’s worth your time.

Brent Glass is a Michigander who graduated from Eureka College in May of 2013. He spent time at the Sagamore Institute in Indianapolis, IN (a non-partisan think tank) where he worked on political economy pieces for Detroit, MI and Elkhart, IN. Additionally, he spent the summer of 2012 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, working on social media management. Currently he is working as a freelance writer for Sagamore Institute, creating a social media management business (Connect You Consulting) and working full-time as a Management Assistant to the owner of a car dealership. He plans to further his education in the fall of 2014 in public policy.

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