High Hopes

November 23, 2008 at 1:36 pm Leave a comment

JFK and Jackie

JFK & Jackie - The Early Years

Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief, shining moment that
was known as Camelot.

(from the Broadway play by Lerner & Loewe)

I was conceived somewhere roundabout September 1963, two months prior to JFK’s assassination, and 11 months after the Cuban Missile Crisis.  When sorting through some of my mother’s books after her death in 2000, I found a pamphlet nestled between Dr. Spock’s Baby & Child Care and a book of baby names.  As to the latter, under consideration:  Constance, Judith, Rebecca and Stella, among others.  I ended up a Jennifer, from the Welsh “Gwenhwyfar”, as in Guinevere, the Queen of Camelot.  An interesting coincidence, as Jackie Kennedy didn’t coin the term to describe her husband’s presidency until after his assassination, in an article in Life magazine.

The Holy Grail, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

The Holy Grail by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

So while I’d like to think my parents were drawing both a political and literary allusion, they were probably responding less to what was swirling about in the zeitgeist, than to the name’s feminine prettiness and growing popularity (they were actually ahead of the wave on that one…).

The pamphlet, however, was a dramatic juxtaposition to Dr. Spock and the baby names.  As I recall, it was a deep, blood red with somewhat shocking blue and yellow type on the front, probably 8 or 12 pages long.  I think my brother still has the box of books; I must go and try to dig it up.  It was entitled:  “How To Build A Backyard Bomb Shelter.”   It was startling to find it there, and know what must have been going on in my parents’ minds as they started their family.  What those times must have been like for people:  to have had such hope and belief in the future, and then to watch the events unfold as they did–assassinations and riots and the ongoing threat of nuclear annihilation.


High Hopes

I can honestly say that the two forces:  Dr. Spock’s psychoanalytic humanism, applied as diligently as possible by my two loving parents, and the political turmoil of the 60s with the fall-out residue of anxiety, pervaded my formative years and of course made me into who I am today.  Hopeful, but anxious.  As I read around the Internet, it seems many of us are the same.  It was rare to read or see anything about the JFK anniversary without some parallel being drawn to President-Elect Obama, who reminds so many of JFK and of the struggles of that time.

The Kennedy presidency started out with an incredible sense of optimism and hope, and ended so tragically.  Still today, according to a documentary I watched on the History Channel last night called Oswald’s Ghost, more than 70% of Americans believe that there was some kind of conspiracy behind Kennedy’s assassination, and that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone. What do you think?  (While you’re here, why not take the poll in the sidebar?)

The filmmaker, Robert Stone (no relation to Oliver, I don’t believe) was interviewed by NPR when the film came out last year. You can listen to the entire clip below. Stone has a unique perspective and sums up how I and many others feel, that the Kennedy assassination kicked off a chain of events–political assassinations, protests over the war in Vietnam, Watergate–that made us who we are today, and that caused a deep questioning and a fundamental cynicism about our political and social institutions and leaders.

JFK & Jackie Arriving Dallas 11-22-63

JFK & Jackie Arriving Dallas 11-22-63

Which is why I think you find, among Obama supporters of about my age, that sense of anxiety, even fear, underlying the hope, optimism and belief in change.  It’s fear that a bullet will put an end to the Obama presidency, yes; but it’s also a less literal fear.  It’s fear that the change it is hoped he will bring will be exterminated before it gets any traction.

Click here for the NPR interview with Robert Stone on the Kennedy assassination, conspiracy theories and the impact of these events on our worldview.

JFK’s campaign song was, if you can believe it, “High Hopes”–a song that my parents must have loved as  I recall it being played a lot in our house.  It brings back a visceral nostalgia in me, even today. I just found a remarkable video on youtube of a Sinatra version done especially for the campaign.  According to the youtuber, polkadotbox2, only 1,000 copies were pressed and they weren’t distributed commercially, but rather in pubs, bars, bowling alleys, etc. around the DC area in 1960.  Enjoy:

And in case you need the comparison driven home literally, here is another youtuber’s video:


Entry filed under: Film & TV, Personal Musings, Politics. Tags: , , .

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