"They create illusions and call them facts, and between what they are said to be and what they are falls the shadow of all the useful words not spoken, of all the actual deeds not done."
- Gore Vidal, from his essay, "The Holy Family" (1967)
"Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They're just an interpretation, they're not a record, and they're irrelevant if you have the facts."
- Memento (2000)
I do have to apologize for the excessive use of quotations, but I feel that they are worth saying, especially in light of the death of Teddy Kennedy, the final member of the Court of Camelot.
The Kennedys are a fascinating phenomenon in American political history. Despite being staunch Democrats, they have what can only be described as traditionally modern Republican qualities, specifically being their ability to win elections (at any cost in some cases) and an innate confidence (read: arrogance) in their own actions combined with an inability to truly understand consequences of said actions. The issue I take is not directly with Ted Kennedy; to be honest, out of the whole family, he pisses me off the least. He actually accomplished quite a bit (killing a young woman notwithstanding), especially in his early career, including amending the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (banning poll tax) and the Immigration and Nationality Act, also of 1965, ending that bullshit quota system for immigration that we had in place for over a hundred years. That being said, he is still a part of that family, so therefore once the trumpeted fanfares and inspiring speeches from both sides of the political aisle began erupting, it caused another meteoric rise in my hostile feelings toward this American dynasty.
The free-wheeling corruption of the Kennedy family is well-known, I would like to think. But it never seems to be addressed in a serious manner, which is a problem. Sure, making jokes about JFK's most likely very fun, yet cadaverous trysts with Marilyn Monroe is easy and enjoyable (almost as easy and enjoyable as joking about our last president's IQ level), but at the heart of it all was a very self-absorbed, fascist-sympathetic, overloaded-with-wealth, mafia-involved, bootlegging, tightly-knit Irish Catholic family that could only see what they considered to be the veritable crown jewels of the United States of America: the presidency, and therefore the seat of power of the globe.
My issue is not necessarily that this family had many instances of and individuals in it breaking the law. My issue is that it is NOT remembered, especially by, for lack of a better term, liberal thinkers (or non-thinkers as I would rather condescendingly refer to them as). The presidency of John F. Kennedy is one of the poorest-remembered presidencies in modern US history, yet most people with even the slightest inkling about our country not only know WHO Kennedy was, but they somehow inexplicably like him. But really, seriously, how could they not? He was charming, handsome, and knew how to get everyone to want to be around him; men wanted to be him, and women wanted him. This was and is well-known. He was, in effect, President James Bond (a hero of JFK's, something I could not make up). And here's the thing: I've seen/read interviews with JFK and goddamn it, I love the guy. That is the general reaction to the sight of a Kennedy or the sound of their South Boston-esque drawl. But what is remembered is not fact. It is very easy to forget about a president that was responsible for what can best be described as campaigns of murder in Cuba in 1961 or the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam, or for that matter the continued ignorance of and arrogance about Vietnam itself and the inception of arguably one of the most disastrous wars in United States history (whose gruesome combat would have continued to propagate whether or not the man had been shot through the head); it is very easy to forget about these irrefutable facts when such a pretty face (and powerful family he is still attached to by the umbilical cord) is involved. This is what is the problem, or, as my compatriots in the CSCL department here like to say, what is at stake.
The Kennedy family has always been especially good at PR. Think about this: if after Chappaquiddick, it was revealed that the driver of the car was, for the sake of argument, a Nixon administration/cabinet member, what would have been the reaction? If it had been anyone else, actually, for that matter, Democrat, Republican, Whig, Socialist, whatever, what would have been the reaction? Would it be the forgiveness and compassion that was eventually granted upon Teddy Kennedy (and especially after his death)? I doubt it. Americans do love stories of redemption, and Teddy Kennedy was a good example of that; he was an already likable member of an already likable family, and this family, whose masterful handling of damage control was in a perpetual state of high-gear thanks to fun-loving, now-dead older brothers, was ready to turn little Teddy's story into one of the aforementioned redemption. Now should we shame him or the rest of his family for being likable? Of course not. That would be like telling a gorgeous girl who asked you out on a date no because she's too pretty and charming. What I am saying, in light of the final Kennedy's death, is that I would hope that we don't lose sight of facts like we have with the other brothers' deaths. Americans are especially good at thinking with our amygdalas rather than our prefrontal lobes when it concerns death and that has always been what has concerned me. Tragically, we shall most likely fall into line with that very routine, as it appears that we already are, evidence mounting ranging from the speeches being given by McCain or Obama to the Facebook updates about how Teddy should rest in peace. Hopefully we can pull ourselves out of this entropic state of mourning and eventually come to realize Camelot has finally fallen, and it may not have been for the worst.