By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette — The JFK tragedy was ultra-commemorated for its 50th anniversary, and you might think me vain to offer my belated two cents worth in this realm. What more can one say about the man, the era, and the tragedy that hasn’t already been said?
And yet one does think about it, unavoidably so, even when not inundated on the subject by the media, as we recently were. One thinks of that handsome, classy face, that neat haircut and besuited figure which kept appearing (too much) on TV this past fall.
My take is that today’s nostalgic America goes overboard in commemoration. And my deeper take is that concerning JFK, there is something totemic about all these efforts at remembrance.
To me, the late president has indeed become a kind of totem representing a world we have lost and which many would nonetheless like to recover; but of course to no avail.
Simply put, they don’t make ‘em like Jack Kennedy anymore. That possibly sounds extreme, but to become another JFK, his replacement would have to be New England, Irish, Catholic, “Hahvad,” and America itself when all those things were what they no longer are. You’d have to have had a strict, fair, impeccably-clad mother like Rose Kennedy of a type that’s also become rarer these days.
Not to mention the specific verve of John Kennedy himself. His older brother, Joe, killed in World War II, might also have demonstrated such verve, including as a potential politician — he was certainly being groomed for that career. But I haven’t immersed myself enough in this snuffed-out existence to proffer any solid opinions on the subject.
Of the other two Kennedy brothers, the tragic Bobby and longer-lived Ted, both obviously had special qualities and political attainments in their own right. But to me (and to many, I’m sure) JFK was classiest of the bunch — effortlessly bright, appealing, charismatic, courageous, and naturally noble (despite all we now know of his private life).
Which, I guess, one must address, however briefly. First, I don’t think he was simply salacious, as some allege. Yes, we’ve heard plenty about his linkage to Marilyn Monroe; but less, for example, of his love for the actress Gene Tierney, before he gave way to realism, marrying a suitable wife (Jackie). Brooklyn Irish by origins, Tierney had European experience, a frugal, unspoiled ability to repair and prettify small Hollywood places she’d inhabited, and as some know, high standards in her movies ... and tragedy? She was easily Monroe’s peer in that regard, given a marriage to Oleg Cassini ruined by her overbearing family and studio heads; German measles she contracted at the famed Hollywood Canteen and a consequently retarded daughter she bore; and her own mental illness around the corner, which after Kennedy impelled Tierney’s self-righteous family to lock her up in awful asylums, where she endured multiple rounds of shock therapy. And yet, one can see how JFK was drawn to this sensitive, vulnerable, accomplished person. Taste he had ...
Of course the man deserves to be mourned, but not in the superficial, sound-byte way that was too often the case for this anniversary of an event putatively ringing down an era. Yes, he deserves to be regretted, and in certain ways, so does his time period; but I don’t agree that a long-lived Kennedy would have significantly altered how we subsequently trended as a civilization.
That notwithstanding, the late JFK provides a good role model and might still be emulated in the present. But we’re too often distracted to choose high role models and try and walk the walk. There are so many discordant, lower role models about. All we can do to get Kennedy “right,” it seems, is via pastiche, such as in films like “Thirteen Days.” There the actor who played the president during the Cuban missile crisis did a creditable job, and certainly looked the part.
But it was only a part, however adept the film; and I stand by my original assertion: Kennedy deserves to be mourned as a man and as part of an era that for good or ill (or both), simply won’t come back again.
B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.