The 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's murder is being marked, not primarily by retrospectives on his life and accomplishments, and not by reflections on the myth versus the reality of his presidency, but instead by one of the features of our media age that is poisonous to our cultural health -- a macabre focus on the details of his murder.
National Geographic aired a film with the title "Killing Kennedy" (based on a book by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard). Trailers featured images of the first couple in the open limousine and close ups of the actor who played Lee Harvey Oswald raising a rifle to his face and closing one eye. The movie "Parkland" likewise features a re-enactment of the fatal day Kennedy was shot, complete with descriptions of the president's "shattered head" when he reached the hospital.
CBS's contribution will put CBS figures front and center. "JFK: One PM Central Standard Time," will reportedly focus on "The story of two men forever linked in history -- Kennedy and CBS anchor Walter Cronkite, who delivered the tragic news to millions of TV viewers." Bob Schieffer will also get his opportunity to bask in the reflected gore with "As It Happened: John F. Kennedy 50 Years," during which Schieffer will reflect on the "fear and tension" in Dallas.
Still not sated with Kennedy's blood? You can tune into the Smithsonian channel for "The Day Kennedy Died," which will feature interviews with eyewitnesses. PBS's "Frontline" asks "Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?" and devotes an hour to understanding the "enigmatic" man who killed the 35th president. The History Channel offers a "minute-by-minute" chronicle of Oswald's final days with "Lee Harvey Oswald: 48 Hours to Live."
There's much more, including specials on the Warren Commission, examinations of the conspiracy theories that have proved impossible to quell, and newly remastered Dallas police department audio tapes offering a "behind-the-scenes" account of the shooting's aftermath.
Assassinations are highly dramatic. There is no way around that, and it's certainly not possible to remember JFK without mentioning the awful way he died. But this is assassination porn. These programs are encouraging us to wallow in the gunshots, the blood, the terror and the death. Above all, they are elevating the assassin to celebrity status -- just exactly what the mass shooters who all too frequently shatter our world are seeking to attain.
Consider this promotional material for "Killing Kennedy."
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