Power. Tragedy. Camelot. Accents. Drinking. Jackie O. Marilyn Monroe. Speeches. Hahvahd. Words associated with The Kennedys.
The Kennedys are resposible for many things that we see everyday. They serve as a reminder of a different time. A time when we decided it would be awesome to go to the moon, buy Cuban cigars, when Las Vegas had The Rat Pack and stronger ties to organized crime. A time when war heroes routinely became President, when we almost destroyed ourselves in a nuclear holocaust, and few people had heard of Vietnam. A time when the President's crew hung out with celebrities, the music of the day was unparalleled, and the only drugs athletes took were alcohol and cigarettes (before, during, and after the game).
The Kennedys provide America with a glimpse of many levels of "what might have been." In the Kennedys you have the most visible example of what royalty would look like in this country (only some people got together and decided that was not a good idea a couple centuries before).
Behold! The Kennedy Dynasty at its height: A group of young, educated, good looking people who are going to be in charge of us. Everything is going to be less crappy! Those other countries don't stand a chance! The media and people follow their every move, paying thousands of dollars for pictures of them wrestling on a sailboat. They look so sharp, and everybody freaks out if anything happens to them. They also fool around with other young and beautiful people. (think British monarchy only more of them).
For the small reason that some of the Kennedys died horrifically before their actions came to pass, we will never know the full potential and consequences of their deeds. Would we be on Mars right now fighting Megatron? Maybe. Would we have better foreign policy, legislation for civil rights, educational programs, a couple less messy wars? Maybe. Maybe not. More good looking politicans? Hopefully. A Kennedy in the White House for 25 years? Who knows. A gazillion buildings, societies, foundations, schools, and libraries named after a Kennedy? Well...maybe not a gazillion.
Imagine you are Richard Nixon. Wait. Scratch that. Imagine you are Richard Nixon from Futurama.
By 1960, Nixon had the goods to be President of the United States. He served in both the House and Senate and was Ike's Vice President. He was even a war hero. Unfortunately, he was up against this guy:
Jay Eff Kay. At this point in time he was Senator John Kennedy (D-MA). In 1960, the coolest thing ever was network TV. There were maybe six channels with no color (and we freak out when our cell phone cannot erase text messages we sent last night). One night, all the channels broadcasted a debate between the Presidental candidates. Nixon vs. Kennedy. The first episode of American Idol. America chose JFK by a slim margin. A factor in Nixon's 1960 defeat (and reincarnation 40 years later as a cyborg on Futurama) was that on TV he looked like shit. It was a turning point in American history.
When JFK won the election, he was the youngest President ever. The Democratic Party has succeeded twice since JFK getting a cool, sharp looking young guy elected. Both have come in the last 20 years. You remember these guys don't you?
The election of JFK was a sign of the times. Fresh faced and optimistic, calm and composed. He had a classy wife and a couple of kids, just like the majority of suburban America. The 1960s can best be described as a time of conflict. Conflict between young and old, peace and war, censorship and freedom. JFK represented youthful change and did his best to back it up. America hoped that "things would be less crappy!" and our young good looking President would give us an swinging, swaggering edge against those darn Russians.
JFK had friends in all the right and wrong places. His family, The Kennedys who have a COMPOUND, stood beside him. Bobby was made the Attorney General in the cabinet while Ted found himself in the Senate seat vacated by Jack. He was able to impress Frank Sinatra, which can't be easy to do, as well as some of Frank's sketchier more criminal friends. Plus, whenever anyone or anything decides to throw a socket wrench into the status quo it will make people happy and piss people off.
Do not forget too that the rest of the First Family was devastatingly handsome. First Lady Jackie Kennedy set the bar high for class and style. In that sense, it was a time when people began to care about what the White House looked like, so people could remodel their own suburban homes like those on Trading Spaces. She also possessed a fantastic fashion sense, setting the trends of the day and inspiring the look of Dr. Girlfriend (oh right...Dr. Mrs. The Monarch now). Since Jackie and JFK were both good looking people, they had good looking kids. Caroline and John were tiny kids when JFK became President and grew up playing hide and seek in the White House. Can it get any better than that?
The Kennedy Inaugural Address is one of the most memorable, quotable Presidential speeches ever. Picture the opening titles to Star Wars: A New Hope, only better written with an challenging yet optimistic rallying cry being read by Peter Griffin. Arguably the most famous line from the speech is: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." In doing so, JFK implores the American people to do something simple yet awesome like...
Going to the moon. A few years before America was spooked when the Soviet Union sent a spiked basketball around the Earth a few times, followed by Cosmodogs. JFK felt the Americans could do the space thing too and so he challenged the country to put a man on the moon by the end of the 60s. Since there was no warp core or hyperdrive available, America found the best way to reach the moon was to place a tiny manned capsule on top of 36 stories of explosives. After several dress rehearsals, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did walk on the moon reciting their lines perfectly just like the script. They even planted a plaque on the moon, with the signature of the President at the time, pre-cyborg Nixon.
Some of you may remember The Little Engine That Could. Perhaps Grandma read the story to you as a kid or heard it at school before naptime (those were the days). If not, The Little Engine That Could tells the story of a small train engine who has a chip on his shoulder and every other engine around him tells him he is not strong enough to carry many cars up a hill. The Little Engine shows all these naysayers up by doing what they did not deem possible uttering the immortal words: "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."
When you examine Bobby Kennedy's life, there are parallels to the Little Engine That Could. He strove from beginning of his life to overcome the considerable shadow cast by his older brothers, Joe and Jack. Small in stature, although he was another example of a good looking politican, Bobby continually wanted to show he was a capable of being awesome. Before he became a politician he played football for Hahvahd, served in WWII (remember that was routine for politicians once) and graduated from law school.
In his career as a politician Bobby struck a careful balance between compromizing-empathetic diplomat and aggressive-no nonsense-uncompromizing bad ass. While serving as Attorney General he led a campaign to shut down organized crime, calling known mobsters and crime lords to testify before Congress. At one point while questioning Sam Giancana, a notorious Chicago mobster, Bobby has the balls to call the guy "a little girl" when he giggles at one of his questions. Taking on the mob: I think I can.
Jack and Bobby relied on each other in keeping a cool head when the Soviets decided to disguise missile bases as cigar factories in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis may be the closest America has come to being turned into a nuclear wasteland and thankfully that did not happen. What did happen is that using Bobby's superpowered diplomacy and negotiating skills, along with the skills of JFK, that the United States and Soviet Union determined it was not a good idea to turn each other's country into a wasteland. Unfortunately, the United States did punish Cuba and itself by imposing a trade embargo that means we cannot buy Cuban cigars in this country until Castro dies. It seems like that should have already happened though, so at this point the Castro we see may in fact be a zombie. Take down Communism: I think I can.
Bobby Kennedy had the largest family of any of the nine Second Generation Kennedys. His parents had nine children. At some point, Bobby thought: Big family? (and lots of fucking): I think I can. So the result? Bobby Kennedy sired 11 children. That is enough to have an entire baseball team plus two relief pitchers, one side of the ball in football, or an entire soccer team. Do the math. Over the course of 18 years, Bobby's wife Ethel had ELEVEN kids. How many people do you know over the span of 20 years have to count the MONTHS they were NOT pregnant?
In 1968, Bobby Kennedy decided to run for President. By that time, he was already serving as Sen. Robert Kennedy (D-NY) because he got tired of being the Attorney General, since it was obviously not cool enough. Bobby did what many reasonable people did at the time, speak out against Vietnam. President Johnson did not seek reelection and Bobby Kennedy sought to receive the Democratic nomination...in style. So he had a brilliant idea: A damn Campaign Train. Campaign Train: I think I can. He went around the country from state to state doing what Kennedys do: give good speeches, shake hands with people, and wave like at the onlookers (like the Queen does). So remember folks, when you think about Robert Kennedy think about this:
Ted Kennedy's life and accomplishments too often get lost in the context of other Kennedys. In many ways he seems like the Kennedy we could be friends with. The type of guy that you would meet in a pub, have a shot of Jameson and a Guinness and shoot the shit for a while.
The youngest boy in the Kennedy clan, Ted was not necessarily groomed for greatness. Sure he had all the natural benefits of being a Kennedy: plenty of money, charming good looks, sweet accent, motivation to change the world you know...standard. Initially he was spared the responsibility of being the standard bearer for the Kennedys. As a college kid he played football, playing on the line, in the trenches mashing other dudes' faces into the mud. He also fucked up, as most college kids do, managing to get himself expelled for cheating on a Spanish test. He did graduate of course and went to law school which was the norm for Kennedys.
He timed his exit from law school pretty well because his brother Jack capitalized on the next big thing: dashing, young, football-playing, war-hero policymakers and run for President. When he won, somebody had to take the open Senate seat, a man named Benjamin Smith who was Jack's old roommate at Hahvahd. In 1962, Massachusetts held a special election for Smith's Senate seat. The second episode of American Idol. This time Ted Kennedy and his amazing oratory skills faced off against George C. Lodge II, a man whose grandpa was an accomplished American poet. Kennedy won by a slim margin.
Whether we like it or not, most of the major historical events of the past century are caught on tape. Because of this, lazy history teachers can simply put on a movie, and the students get THRILLING insight to things like the Hindenburg disaster, an event made famous on a Led Zeppelin album cover.
For better or worse, the assassinations of Jack and Bobby Kennedy are also well documented on video. Both are significant events in American history. Since we now have the ability to watch just about any video we want now (thanks YouTube), we can relive the most tragic, traumatizing, "where were you?" moments anytime we want...or we can watch the Dramatic Chipmunk 40 times.
The Zapruder film is the most famous video involved in the JFK assassination. It was originally filmed by a man named Abraham Zapruder during JFK's visit to Dallas the day he was killed. Since controversy still surrounds the events of JFK's assassination, the Zapruder film continues to be the subject of frame by frame dissection. After about 45 years of careful over analysis we can determine the exact frame that JFK's head explodes. (To save you some time checking YouTube, it is approximately frame 313). In that moment that the President of the United States dies, and the "things are going to be less crappy" optimism goes with him.
Despite that, the Zapruder film has its own historical context. It may be the best and only example we have of when it is acceptable to show uncensored graphic violence to the American people. A considerable number of Americans are familiar with the Zapruder film. It has a Hollywood movie quality to it. You know what is going to happen, it is going to be horrible, but you cannot look away. If one thinks about it, the Zapruder film is like when the Nazis open the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The Hollywood element of the Zapruder film was aided by a movie, aptly named JFK. In it, Kevin Costner accuses Tommy Lee Jones of being part of the conspiracy that killed JFK. Kevin Costner decided to show the Zapruder film to a jury proving that there were at least two guns involved in the shooting. He focuses on the kill shot (frame 313, remember) and unnecessarily repeats how the President's head moved "back and to the left" five times. Seems like much, don't you think Dances With Wolves?
Regrettably we also have footage of Bobby Kennedy's assassination, allowing another infamous moment in American history to be on instant reply. Bobby Kennedy was killed nearly five years after Jack, in a hotel kitchen in LA.
Bobby Kennedy was giving a midnight victory speech in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel, surrounded by a horde of supporters. He was shot as he was being led out of the room through the kitchen, moments after brushing his hair and giving a thumbs up and "V" for victory/peace sign to the crowd. While we are spared the image of a piece of Bobby being blown apart, we do see him lying in a pool of his own blood. As with the case with JFK's assassination, the sweet and awesome things that Bobby represented and stood for abandoned the people.
The RFK assasssination does not have the quintessential footage like the Zapruder film. Instead, there are the numerous eyewitness accounts that all differ. Trying to sort the conflicting eyewitness accounts proves problematic, especially those who did not witness the shooting first hand. Since there are conspiracy theories surrounding Bobby's assassination, like the one with the woman in the polka dot dress, there are plenty of wild accounts of the events of that fateful night.
Hollywood has capitalized on the interest American has on the most interesting events of our time. Oliver Stone made JFK in 1991, Emilio Estevez made Bobby in 2006. Obviously both focus on the events surrounding the assassination of JFK and Bobby Kennedy respectively. Both did the best they could to recreate the attitude and setting of the 60s.
They also did their best to cast credible actors. The list includes: Newman from Seinfeld (Wayne Knight), Dances With Wolves (Kevin Costner), Joe Pesci, The Grumpy Old Men (Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau), Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), Kevin Bacon, Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), Frodo (Elijah Wood), Mr. Ashton Kutcher, Mrs. Ashton Kutcher (Demi Moore), and even Lindsay Lohan.
Thus we see the role that graphic violence plays in American history.