Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Did you hear the one about JFK's assassination?
Perhaps you've heard of this JFK Reloaded video game that is causing such an uproar. Yes, you are Oswald and you too can assassinate Kennedy or, as Colby Cosh has suggested, shoot that "god-damned Halston pillbox right off Jackie's head." In a controversial recent post, Cosh noted too that:
If you like, you can just let the motorcade drive on past and shed a single tear for Camelot. Isn't it worth ten bucks to go back and add a happy ending to the story?

Naturally that's not what I did, but I'm kind of morbid. Moreover I was trained (sort of) as a historian, and with every round you play -- indeed, with every bullet --you can spin off bizarre new timelines in the American story. You can let the President's car go by and take leisurely aim at the Vice-President -- which, I suspect, is what Oswald would do now if he had it all to do over -- or if you're in the mood for a thorough shake-up you can try to bag both, and elevate Congressman John W. McCormack of Massachusetts to the nation's highest office.
Naturally, making light of JFK's assassination is not taken well in some quarters. Take Warren Kinsella, who foams:
A game in which you get to murder John F. Kennedy (or George W. Bush, for that matter) isn't even remotely "funny." That is so obvious it barely merits saying.

What isn't obvious is why the columnist in question is still employed by a reputable Canadian newspaper. If I ran it, he'd be gone, and pretty damn quick, too.
I find Kinsella's moral outrage a little over-the-top, especially considering he is a punk rock fan. Is he similarly perturbed by the insensitivity of a little band called the Dead Kennedys?

I've got to defend Cosh, here. I really appreciate how he has stepped out and admitted what so few journalists do: that we have a particular fondness for gallows humour. The fact is that people are always making jokes about the most horrible things in any newsroom. And when newspapers run articles about how people are "outraged" about something insensitive, it's usually something that the staffers were hypocritically chuckling about earlier in the day. It's a sensibility that comes with any occupation that has you constantly thinking about tragedy, I imagine... (Oh, who am I kidding? I'm an arts reporter.)

Like many other people I know, I am fascinated with the Kennedy Assassination and, in particular, the Zapruder video of it that has become so famous. A couple of years ago, I directed a production of Wendy MacLeod's The House of Yes, which was also made into a movie starring Parker Posey. (Named best play of the year by the McGill Tribune -- the rival paper of the McGill Daily, where I worked. Oh, yeah.) The play -- a dramatic comedy! -- includes a pair of incestuous twins named Jackie-O and Marty, who reenact the Kennedy assassination as foreplay.

Of course, these characters are very screwed-up and the play is not meant to condone their actions. What I found interesting -- and continue to find interesting -- about the play is what it has to say about our image-obsessed society. After you've seen the Zapruder video over and over -- and who hasn't? -- it loses all sense of context and meaning. Does anyone really feel pain or astonishment or loss when they see it now? It is as connected to these feelings as porn is to love. (Like it or not, the images of the Twin Towers collapsing are headed this same direction.)

And, on the other extreme, the image has become fetishized for a lot of people -- all of Camelot has been. For some, Kennedy's assassination is like a secular version of the crucifixion. Warhol was pretty much following in the footsteps of the many artists who have painted the Passion of Christ and the events leading to it when he created Jackie (The Week that Was), a silkscreen made from pictures of Jackie Kennedy taken before and immediately after the assassination.

Recent artists have tried to break down and/or reignite the power of iconic images by subjecting them to ridicule or humiliation. You want to scandalize a conservative, exhibit the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung. You want to scandalize a liberal, paint a picture the Kennedy Assassination nude (like Italian artist Gabriele Di Matteo did, see above).

You want to do take the assassination out of the world of the iconic and make it a real event again -- with actual causes and effects -- in a different, more substantial way? Write a musical about Lee Harvey Oswald and assassins through the ages.

Anyway, for Kinsella, Kennedy's assassination is tragedy. I understand his reaction to jokes about it. For Cosh, it's tragedy plus distance or time, a.k.a. comedy. I understand that too, and more directly. It's a generational and occupational thing, I suppose.

In truth, when I heard about JFK Reloaded, I too thought it was funny -- morbid funny. I didn't laugh a loud, sustained, maniacal laugh, but I did chuckle and wince -- the way I did at "doing a Lynndie." . And, as a student of American history, I found Cosh's counterfactual investigations as explored through the game quite interesting. Sorry.

In any case, I'm glad Kinsella's not my editor or I'd get fired pronto.


Anonymous said...

Are u crazy!!!!!!!!!!!! Never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever mock JFK`s assassination.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

That's so screwed up on so many different levels. What would possess someone to do something like that?

Anonymous said...

This is REALLY messed up! How can someone even think about doing such thing?

Oona =^..^= said...

Gabriele Di Matteo is an asshat and so are the makers of that game.

Anonymous said...

This is vile and disgusting. This mocks rather than upholds the memory and legacy of JFK

Anonymous said...

This is vile. It mocks rather than upholds the memory and legacy of a wonderful man