17 Jun Remembering JFK
John F Kennedy was born 100 years ago on May 29, 1917. He was the youngest man to enter the White House. Gregory Frame, Lecturer in Film Studies, Bangor University comments that “he epitomised the promise of a new era in American politics.” Kennedy recognised the importance of his image, which is why he placed so much emphasis on his performances in the televised presidential debates. According to journalist Theodore White, Kennedy appeared glamorous, sophisticated – almost beautiful. When he became president, Kennedy continued to use television to communicate with the American people to great effect through broadcast press conferences and interviews. As American historian Alan Brinkley wrote in 1998: “Even many of those who have become disillusioned with Kennedy over the years are still struck, when they see him on film, by how smooth, polished and spontaneously eloquent he was, how impressive a presence, how elegant a speaker.”
Professor of History, Steven Watts from the University of Missouri-Columbia, believes that Kennedy pioneered the modern notion of the president as a celebrity. Many subsequent presidents would follow the template he created, from Republicans Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump to Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Watts comments, “so as we look back at John F. Kennedy a century after his birth, it seems ever clearer that he ascended the national stage as our first modern president. Removed from an American political tradition of grassroots electioneering, sober-minded experience and bourgeois morality, this youthful, charismatic leader reflected a new political atmosphere that favoured celebrity appeal, media savvy and masculine vigour. He was the first American president whose place in the cultural imagination dwarfed his political positions and policies.
If Kennedy was the man of the 1960s, perhaps President Trump is the epitome of modern America: a reality TV star, a multi-millionaire celebrity and a theatrical male businessman who, to some, promises a solution to America’s current social and economic problems.