Tuesday, November 22, 2016

November 22 and Kennedy

The Thanksgiving holiday, one of the best holidays and certainly the best secular one, has been spoiled for everyone who was awake and thinking in the mid 60's by the assassination of Jack Kennedy. That promising shift from the generation of Eisenhower to its sons, to youth and its potential, to the charismatic and the virile was just stopped cold by Oswald in Dallas. We defaulted back to the older, ponderous Lyndon Johnson, a true guardian of the Old Guard. That loss--of youth, of hope, of promise, of beauty--has never been overcome and we are reminded of it every Thanksgiving. One only wonders how much of the unrest in the 60's and 70's was a result.

An aspect of the assassination that has dogged its shadow has been the shameless exploitation of the atrocity by writers, politicians and artists. This exploitation, which has become almost a cult, believes--or says it believes--that the assassination was a conspiracy of a number of men, groups or organizations. Every aspect of the event has been picked over, every inconsistency of life magnified, every possibility made a probability. The result is that the event, right before many of our eyes, has been completely recreated and, like an alternative universe, continues without interference with its own laws, experts and history. It is very like those academic musings run wild. "If, instead, you assume that history and archeology was 300 years wrong--or falsified--and Moses was actually alive in the court of Akhenaton...." "If, instead, you assume there is a unexplained and unexplainable driving force in history..." "If, instead, you assume that everyone is possessed at birth by sexual urges towards their immediate family...." It is another victory of the Art of the Plausible.

This is nowhere more revolting than is seen in the movie "JFK" where a seemingly respectable director rewrites the assassination story according to a man whose grasp on the event is dangerously close to psychosis. Oliver Stone writes a story of the assassination through the eyes and the belief set of James Garrison, the District Attorney of New Orleans, who had arrested, charged, indicted and tried a local community figure, Clay Shaw, for involvement in the Kennedy murder. Shaw's arrest was virtually random. There was no evidence against him other than the word of a psychiatric patient who failed a lie detector test and refused to testify. How an American citizen could come under such unreasonable, whimsical charges has never been explained. But Garrison persisted and then Stone followed up after the laughable trial (where the jury took longer to find their seats than to find "not guilty") with a movie inexplicably presenting the Garrison thesis as within the same time zone as reason. Of course, all the facts of the assassination were changed to implicate the innocent, the shooting presented was almost a complete fiction and this all was delivered by Kevin Costner, a credible actor, with certainty and outrage. Anyone who knew anything about the assassination walked from the theater with their collective heads spinning. But many with less of a good grasp left alarmed and resentful. This constant barrage of misinformation has done a lot to undermine this country's credibility and value in the minds of its people who, after all, own and run it.

There are two bad lessons here. The first is there are people and industries in the world who, even in those cultures with the highest of ideals, will do anything, say anything, publish anything to make a buck. If possible they will take the Plausible-made-Art and create an industry of it with historians, academics, and franchises. The second is that they often hide their entrepreneurship in the gowns of Art. How many of our greatest artists have questioned the reliability of memory, the interaction of history and art--even to the point of their blending? So Stone calls Julian Barnes and Cormac McCarthy as witnesses for his defense.

Stone is more Goebbels than John Huston here. He is everything that is wrong with businessmen gone rogue. His product is harmful to the society, toxic to the young and delivered without an ounce of social conscience. The real story about Garrison is how is it possible that Clay Shaw could be treated like a Kafka character in the United States. Another would be a clarifying and cleansing explanation of all the facts and evidence that has been gathered over the years about the murder. This might set the country at ease. But there's probably not much money, or return on arrogance, in this. Instead why not take advantage of the distressed and confused citizens, contribute to their malaise and cash in.

In 1976 the U.S. House of representatives created a commission, The House Select Commission on Assassinations, to investigate all the evidence in the murder again. This time they applied all the newer technologies available as well. Aside from the single and erroneous "fourth bullet thesis" not a single new conclusion was reached. Instead this august deliberative body concluded there was no evidence of a conspiracy--but they believed one existed anyway

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