Gene Healy, author of The Cult of the Presidency—America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power, suggests: “In an age when Americans periodically swoon for imperial presidents, a little sacred cow-tipping would be a public service.” The made-for-television mini-series, The Kennedys, recently airing on ReelzChannel is a case in point.
Unceremoniously cancelled earlier this year by The History Channel as not a good “fit” for “the History brand,” the project was controversial almost from its inception. This had to do completely with the hypersensitivity of a vast array of myth-guardians who stand perpetual watch over the Kennedy family, as well as the career and legacy of America’s 35th President. And these members of the Camelot cabal pretty much wrote the book on branding.
I have long been a student of the Kennedy era and I wrote a Master’s thesis on it many years ago while working on my political science degree. And frankly, I have yet to see a scenario or fact presented in the broadcast that has not appeared in the history available at any public library or bookstore. I find myself wondering why the fuss?
The John F. Kennedy portrayed in this new series is a real life character—warts and all. Greg Kinnear does an admirable job with the JFK persona, as does Katie Holmes with Jackie Kennedy. Is it all flattering? Certainly not. But JFK comes off as a much more sympathetic character in this current portrayal than might have been expected after hearing all the advance hype and horror. In fact, in my opinion the production spends a tortured amount of time showing him as a man much more “conflicted” about the flaws, now well known, than he really was.
I can’t for the life of me see why The History Channel blackballed the miniseries, when they regularly show things like Monster Quest, Swamp People, and Clash of the Cavemen. You know, real serious history stuff. Not to mention the fact, that the network regularly peddles speculative conspiracy theories, from novelist Brad Meltzer’s Decoded, to several programs dealing with various theories on—ironically—the Kennedy assassination.
Of course, there was a very real conspiracy behind The History Channel’s decision to dump the miniseries. It doesn’t take Glenn Beck’s blackboard to connect those dots. But after watching The Kennedys, I am completely at a loss to figure out why anyone seriously found the material objectionable. The broadcast broke no new ground.