The Good Old "American" Way
The moment we do that which is our nature—raise our hands to question where we're going—a bullet could rip through the air to silence us, take away our freedoms.
Try to forget that John F. Kennedy was an American president; try to forget that he was brutally gunned down in the prime of his life, reaching a celebrity few will ever equal, and that his cryptic legacy will continue long after the pondering of his death becomes a mere cliché; try to forget all you know about the man, so that you may remember—see clearly—what he was before all the mystique and hearsay. Standing solo in a ephemeral spotlight: a human being. Coming into focus is the image of a person who is, like all of us, vulnerable and flawed, so that the "man" behind the curtain, as with any wizard, is inevitably revealed.
JFK felt joy, love, and sorrow, which makes the tragedy of his death all the more horrific. It wasn't JUST the president being blasted into pieces, it was a individual with hopes and aspirations that died a bloody death in Dallas. The death of a father with two children, a wife scrambling to retrieve a fragment of her lover's...brain: that's what went down in Texas, plain and simple. All the rest is media hype and banter for the masses, something to keep us from asking who he really was. Because if we realized he was one of us, we'd be all-the-more terrified.
In Oliver Stone's film, JFK (DVD from Warner Brothers), we see a glimmer of this, a bit of the human being that was Kennedy. But it is through the day to day struggles with Jim Garrison (the only man to ever prosecute the murder of our president) that we feel the ordinary and mundane; for he is of the living, fighting for the honor of his assassinated "king"; his impudence reminds us that we're all one step away from some sort of established persecution. The moment we do that which is our nature—raise our hands to question where we're going—a bullet could rip through the air to silence us, take away our freedoms. This is what Oliver Stone seems to caution: that if we allow our government, even more specifically, our military complex, to be the guardians of our will, then it is this act of fascism that will ultimately destroy us, herd the sheep to slaughter.
I was seven years old, sitting in a classroom, wearing a button-down plaid shirt, cuffed pants, and polished buster browns, when my teacher burst into tears and wept openly in the hallway. It was unsettling to watch adults you looked up to abruptly fall apart and crumble with uncertainty. The death of JFK knocked the wind out of American idealism and sent the United States into a collective depression. It was frightening as a child to watch a nation of adults cry.
On our old black&white RCA TV, my Saturday morning cartoons like Mighty Mouse were interrupted by (and I really did see this, "live") Jack Ruby shooting Oswald dead. Seconds later, my parents are outside smoking cigarettes with the neighbors; some are yelling, some are crying still, and as a child I wanted all of it to go away forever. It was too big to comprehend. My parents knew there was a crack in the foundation of our belief system, and those ideals were tumbling down...and not knowing where the pieces were going to land, they gathered in groups is if hoping to avoid the fallout.
Nothing was ever going to be the same again—how could it? How long had this dark current been washing through the corridors of the political establishment? It had to be a festering sore already, to erupt in such a way. That was what my parents feared: that this iniquity was always present, hidden by pomp and circumstance, and that everyone had just been walking through the day-to-day, really sleeping all along.
The film JFK reminds us of a time when assassinations became almost common. The "lone gunman" would become a deadly fad of sorts, leaving a shell-shocked nation. Nobody was safe. Not a president, candidate nor preacher could escape the wrath of intolerance and hatred, and out of this pool of domesticated loathing came a global oppression that was Cuba, China and the Vietnam war.
"Are they coming to kill us?" asks Jim Garrison's little boy, and even though this is just a movie, that haunting question penned by Stone and Sklar, summarized the madness of the day: that a man like John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was citizen, father, husband—in other words, a man—could be murdered by conspiracy, was truth, justice and sadly enough, the good old "American" way.