What if Jackie was tacky and JFK was high when meeting Krushchev?
17 Nov 2011
Why the tv show The Kennedys is a waste of great tragedy, but quite fun if you see it as a teaser that tempts you to look behind the sugar coated myths.
’Tacky Jackie’ is the least likely headline to ever appear in an American magazine, writes Vanity Fair’s Christopher Hitchens. Yet, he adds, her newly released taped interviews reveal there was more to the celebrated first lady than the ever so poised fashion icon.
In the tv show The Kennedys, just out on DVD, John F. Kennedy’s father Joseph is depicted as Godfather-like tyrant, the former president as someone whose dream was to ”teach at Harvard and chase girls” and whose rare spinal illness made him go trough his presidency high on prescripted drugs. And it shows Jackie Kennedy joining his abuse to cope with the pressure of being the first lady. And deal with her husbands infidelities, just as chronic as his back pain.
Why did JFK chase women?
This may be why The History Channel refused to broadcast the show, allegedly after pressure from living Kennedys. It is, however, the least of the problems of The Kennedys. The show looks and feels like tv drama from back when Dynasty defined our ideas of the rich and powerful and The Thorn Birds was escapism du jour.
The problem is, since then shows like The West Wing, The Sopranos and Mad Men have raised the bar. We have become spoilt with sublime drama. We want more.
And it could have been The West Wing meets Mad Men. Sadly, there is no clear idea to carry The Kennedys.
Wouldn’t it have been interesting if writer Stephen Kronish had set out to investigate why Kennedy who was in constant pain, needed to conquer such an extreme amount of women? Or to look into how Jackie designed the longlasting perception of the Kennedys as an American Camelot for instance by adding a touch of upper class Bouvier to the name of Joseph Kennedy, whose fortune was made on bootlegging? Mind you, nobody admires Don Draper’s character less, because he is flawed. On the contrary. An interesting thing in Mad Men is that Don Draper’s infidelities has more of an air of desperation than actual physical pleasure. Matthew Weiner makes that a point about his character.
A dull JFK and a plain Jackie
Greg Kinnear looks just like John F. Kennedy, but seems intimidated by his character, rendering him quite sympathetic and dull. Much like Katie Holmes who is sweet, but fails to channel Jackie’s elegance and the discrepancies between her self branding as subordinate wife and her actual role as powerful first lady who took over the image-making of the Kennedy legacy.
Had they been this boring, they would never have been made into myths. Only Barry Pepper’s Bobby Kennedy becomes an interesting character. Also, the Godfather theme fades after a couple of episodes as the fabulous Tom Wilkinson’s Joseph Kennedy retreats to a supporting role.
In stead of the grand tragedy a great writer/director team could have have drawn from this fantastic material, we get a series of partly fictionalized historic events sweetened with soapy clichés. And dialogue that has the episode of The Bay of Pigs end with Jackie telling John Jr.: ”Your daddy just saved the world.” Indeed, that is tacky.
Jackie and Bobby
New to me in The Kennedys was the portrayal of a close friendship between Bobby and Jackie after the assasination, something that bothered Ethel Kennedy who was carrying Bobby’s 11th child. In the show it comes off as kind concern when Bobby tells Jackie that Onassis doesn’t really love her, that he’s just a collector of beautiful things. I smelled a rat, so I began googling and what do you know?
”Bobby was Jackie’s real love”. This and that source saw Bobby’s hand in Jackie’s bikini trousers by the pool. Etc.
Who knows what happened? It’s up to historical research to establish that. A fictionalized drama should tell a story, that conveys an idea or a thought-provoking theory or poses important questions about our lives, culture and society. The Kennedys does neither.
By consequence the show fails to use it’s own material to say anything. How did Kennedys drug use influence his presidency? Did Marilyn Monroe or the other women hurt his leadership? Was an affair between Bobby and Jackie a game-changer for his political ambitions? The Kennedys has no idea.
It remains a teaser that tempts us to find out more for ourselves about the flawed heroes of the American Camelot. That’s a lot more fun than watching The Kennedys.