John F. Kennedy was assassinated 44 years ago today. Texas is the reason.
It’s a bit in poor taste, I know, but today’s song is Bullet by the Misfits. I always misheard the lyric “Kennedy’s shattered head hits concrete” as “Kennedy’s shattered head: it’s complete.” It’s a creative mishearing. Lyrically, I think “Bullet” is one of Glen Danzig’s best, though he can’t refrain from sexual morbidity for long and ends the song with a verse about having sex with Jackie O. (But as we shall see, sex and death both attend accounts of the Kennedy King-Killing.)
For an extreme antigovernment libertarian-type with an attraction to revisionist history, I’m actually not much of a Kennedy conspiracy buff. My accquaintance with the facts of the assassination and the figures involved come primarily through works of ficiton. First is JFK, which I regard as a truly brilliant film, whatever its relation to the actual facts (and which I actually watched earlier today- my brother was assigned to write a paper on a historical film and picked this one off a list of suggestions and was unaware that it was the exact date of the assassination). Second is the Don DeLillo novel Libra, which presents the thesis that I’ve always wanted to see: that there was a conspiracy and Oswald did it (though that’s not really what the book is about). George Will famously, and fatuously, dismissed the novel as “sandbox existentialism”. I think it’s more lunchpail postmodernism myself. It’s pretty good. Come to think of it, DeLillo and Oliver Stone have a lot in common: each has made the only serious attempts at depicting football in fiction (Stone in the movie Any Given Sunday and DeLillo in the novel End Zone), and both have a great deal of talent that they squander at least half the time. Finally, if you really want to wade in the wierd end of the pool, there’s the Grand Poobah of Paranoia James Shelby Downard’s “King-Kill 33: Masonic Symbolism in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy“, which employs language-analysis, mythology, and geography to show that the assassination was a ritual murder by the ubiquitous secret society. Enough to make Richard Hofstadter blow his stack. Of course you cannot take Downars seriously, but that does not mean he is not supremely entertaining.
I’ve long toyed with the idea of doing a half-joking essay presenting a Downardian reading of Stone’s JFK. Outlandish enough on its surface, the film is downright uncanny if you know how to watch it. With Downard’s thesis in mind watch, for instance, the long scene at the heart of the film where Costner’s as Jim Garrison talks to his Black Ops informant, Donald Sutherland’s X. They’re sitting on a park bench in front of the Washington monument. X urges Garrison to think about the big picture by asking the age-old cui bono: “Who had the motive? Who had the means to cover it up? Who?” At this precise moment, the film cuts to a wide shot of the monument. A certain breed of conspiracist believes the obelisk to be an important masonic/satanic phallic symbol, and central to the supposed occult layout of Washington D.C. (Obelisks as phallic symbols and occult architecture and city planning play an important role in another brilliant work of paranoid fiction, Alan Moore’s graphic novel about Jack the Ripper From Hell.) Watch closely also a scene where one of Garrison’s investigators is talking to a contact in New Orleans during one of those weird parades they have where everybody dresses up as a skeleton. Just as the contact reveals that the suspected co-conspirator and member of the New Orleans gay underworld Clay Bertrand was actually respected business figure Clay Shaw, one of the procession of the dead jumps out and spooks the two; then a cut to another meeting of Garrison’s team and one of them saying, “this is spookier than we thought”. Moments like that are like an alchemical element working throuhout the film. Spooks and death working just underneath the surface.
And don’t think I didn’t get a little shiver when I saw that this Sunday entry happened to be number 33.
I should reiterate, and underline (this is the internet, after all), that I am a conspiracy skeptic. My interest in paranoia is largely an aesthetic one (which is not to say that the Officially Accepted Narrative is not, as per usual, pure fantasy ficiton as well). My own hatred of the National Security State by no means rests on who killed Kennedy or why, and anyway I follow Gore Vidal in thinking that the coup d’état took place in 1947, not 1963.