None of This JFK Anniversary Stuff Makes Sense Because Grief Never Makes Sense

Categories: Schutze

kennedy_dallas.jpg
Library of Congress
Hey. Look very closely at the crowd. Are some of those people carrying spears? New theory?
Every time I start to gag over yet another JFK 50th piece in the papers, I have to remind myself, "Schutze, you've been cranking out the same stuff for two years." Yeah, I know. I added to the pile. But that's different. That was my stuff.

This weekend I found myself stumbling and fumbling over other people's stuff, some of which should have been good reading. A couple pieces especially were so well written that it's sort of hard for me to put my finger on my problem with them. But as we get closer to Friday's ceremony commemorating the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy here a half century ago this week, I think I'm getting closer to my own answer. It's that death thing. And grief. They can be cool in the movies. But in real life, not so much.

Dallas native James "Jake" McAuley, a 2012 Harvard graduate and something called a "Marshall Scholar" at Oxford University in England, had a piece in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times Sunday called "The city with a death wish in its eye" (a line from a Jimmy Dale Gilmore song). He says the same thing I have been saying for a long time, that the ceremony next Friday (from which the word "assassination" has been banned) will be weird because it will show mainly how unwilling Dallas is to look in the mirror.

McAuley writes that, "Grappling with the assassination means reckoning with its own legacy as the 'city of hate,' the city that willed the death of the president."

He talks about how his own Dallas grandmother was a right-winger. He describes a photo of her: "My grandmother smiles a porcelain smile, poised and lovely in psychedelic purple Pucci, coiffure stacked high in what can only be described as a hairway to heaven. Her eyes, however, are intent, fixed on a target -- liberalism, gender equality, gays."

But then he says, "Dallas is not, of course, 'the city that killed Kennedy.'"

Hmm? Say what? Wait, I thought we just said it was.

McAuley talks about what a big airport we built after we shot Kennedy, as if there were some kind of atonement there; he uses the word "metroplex" as if it were a good thing; and he describes the city as "Dallas, with no river, port or natural resources of its own..."

That happens to be a pet peeve of mine: people from within the gold coast confines of Dallas always think we have no river because they never leave the confines, so they have never seen the half-mile-wide, 23-mile-long floodplain entirely within the city limits of the Trinity River, a 710-mile body of water that is the longest river flowing entirely within the borders of the state of Texas. O.K., so they missed it. Forget it. No biggie, I guess.

I agree with what McAuley wrote, and he wrote it very well. There's something else wrong here, probably not with him or what he wrote. Whatever it is, I thought I ran into it again this weekend when I read the review/commentary essay by The Dallas Morning News' new architecture critic Mark Lamster (who, by the way, seems now to be permanently saddled with the rude and unfair local nickname, "New York Pinhead"). I just hate that. It's so Dallas.

Anyway, New York Pinhead Mark Lamster takes on the Kennedy Memorial, that big, el-cheapo, empty, rainy-stainy, cement box (they wouldn't even pop for real marble) in front of the Records Building downtown that nobody even knows what the hell it is, supposed to be a memorial to Kennedy, which Lamster very aptly describes as "a claustrophobic box of white concrete pillars linked together and floating above the ground."

He says, "One critic compared it to a French urinal." Well, pride of authorship goes before the fall, but I actually thought that was me. I can't find a link now, but I distinctly remember saying it looked like one of those public stand-up "pissoirs" the French used to have because they weren't afraid to admit that people urinate. Men, anyway.

So New York Pinhead Mark Lamster is saying the memorial is empty and sterile, and he's dead-on. In its refusal to betray an ounce of sentiment, the memorial is almost derisive, given the enormity of the event.

But then he goes on to criticize the Dealey Plaza area around the School Book Depository, calling it a place where "traffic passes continuously over the crass painted Xs that mark the locations where bullets struck the president, while assassination tourists and conspiracy theorists gawk and mingle." He proposes shutting off vehicular traffic through this interchange, even though it was designed and still serves as the single most important arterial gateway to downtown.

His thought, not fully formed, must be that the venue deserves a stillness, a quiet and solemnity not afforded by noisily whizzing cars and trucks. So then it would all be more empty and quiet like ... the Kennedy Memorial?

Yeah, I don't know. I think you sort of can't have it both ways. If you want to make a place truly public and open to everyone, then it's going to have a little bit of rowdiness and gaucheness around the edges, because that's ... well ... everyone. Turn it into a gated, ticketed cemetery/museum, you got a whole 'nuther thing.

Kennedy was everyone. He wasn't Louis the Fourteenth. He was the descendant of mick bootleggers. The Kennedys had to be good brawlers in order to become American gentlemen. Yeah, they got sent to Harvard eventually, and that happens. But that hardly justifies turning the death-site into Lourdes. I'm just saying it's actually possible to do over-do reverence and come up with something you don't want, something that is more cloying than meaningful.

I have a column coming up in the paper this week in which I say this is all about death and grief in the end, and that's why none of it will ever really make sense. We just have to live through the damned ceremony.

Let me ask you something. You know how in the movies, they always make really really great speeches at funerals? That's the movies. Have you ever heard a really great speech -- like Liam Neeson with a full symphony orchestra -- at a real funeral? One you'd put in a movie?

Maybe you have. I have not. The ones I have heard were all snot-wiping and mumbling and all the more moving and memorable for that but hardy cinematic. It's hard to say anything about real death or real grief that comes out making logical sense. Instead it's all just a wail, muffled or shrieking, stifled or explosive, a wail.

Grief trumps dignity and logic. It's a mess. That's one reason we want it to be over. Grief doesn't really add up. It just grieves. This stuff slated for Friday won't add up. But on Saturday it will be one step closer to being over.

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129 comments
halldecker
halldecker

Starting in the late 70's,   a police friend would bring some empty shells back from the range,  dump them in an empty paint bucked full of water and sand outside the cop shop.  Every couple weeks he'd swirl them,  by November they had a nice,  weather beaten patina.

Early on November 22nd he'd drive through Dealey Plaza,  one handful up toward the grassy knoll,  drive through again,  another up on the left.

We'd congregate in the Court Clerk's office that overlooked the Plaza when they opened at 8a,  have coffee,  watch the fun.   People down on their hands and knees in Full Clevelands,  white suit,  white socks,  white belt,  white shoes ... digging through the grass and mud:  "Damn,  Eloise,  I found ANOTHER one!"

AP reported it as somebody having a sense of humor about the anniversary,  figured we'd better cut it out.

I'm guessing others were also doing it.

halldecker
halldecker

My guess is one reason Dallas restricted attendance:   

About 1980,  as 12:30pm rolls around,  up rolls Larry Flynt of Hustler in a vintage Lincoln convertible.  In the back seat.  Naked except for a diaper.  A diaper that's also the American flag.

At the precise moment and place he dumps a bottle of ketchup on his head,  starts screaming "I'm hit,  get me to Parkland."   Car tears out toward Stemmons.

halldecker
halldecker

one of the DPD legends,  Art Hammett,  was our traffic reporter at KRLD in the mid 70's.


He was doing some kind of PR for Dallas a couple years earlier,   was at a Convention in Buffalo.  Somebody raised the Dallas=City of Hate.


"What did Buffalo call itself after President McKinley was shot in Buffalo,  later died?"


Said the conversation got real quiet ...

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

This will be the first year I ever looked forward to November 23rd rolling around.

rusknative
rusknative

small minded is making a 1970 water fountain into an ersatz ridiculous attempt at "art" to celebrate the John Wiley Price obsession with all things black victimhood slavery lynching biggotry-wise.  heck, killing a president....not such a big big deal as a WATER FOUNTAIN memorial to JIM CROW and BIRMINGHAM FIRE HOSE POLICE WITH DOGS AND BATONS?

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

So the basic premise is that if an ornery old contrarian writes stuff that gets people stirred up he is responsible for whatever the people who don’t agree with him do?

ncowart50
ncowart50

Nice piece. If people want to be so small minded as to label a city or it's citizens for the tragedy that happened to our president, or refuse to include certain terms relating to the reasoning of why, or why it should not be made a  big deal in remembering it's happening on it's anniversary every year, then that's a tragedy itself. The fact that a huge controversy exists to this day proves that all the truth has not been told and tragedies effecting "we the people" will continue to plague our nation as long as we turn a blind eye to the big picture. I was 5 years old and JFK was the only president I had ever seen live and I choose to grieve in honor of his legacy and as a victim of crime which speaking as a Dallas native, I hate.


P1Gunter
P1Gunter

Enjoyed your work on PBS' City of Hate, Jim. Was a good doc.

Obummer
Obummer

Yo Dallas did not kill JFK. A Communist named Lee Harvey Oswald, and maybe an assistant, killed JFK.

verbal_kent
verbal_kent

What Never Makes Sense?

... The lone nut gunman theory.

whycoh
whycoh

Wait- is DC considered a city of hate bec reagan was shot there?

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

The people running Dallas today are no different from the people running Dallas 50 years ago, might even be some of the same ones still at it for all I know.

They're so full of hatred and disdain, they really don't understand why anybody cares the President was killed in the first place.


Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

The Kennedys brought an end to the postwar years, the Frumpy Fifties, mediocrity, moldy old conservatism, and bland Eisenhowerism.  I adore the Kennedys for who they were and the future they stood for.  But, I agree.  I can't believe that 50 years later the press insists upon rehashing the assassination every November ad nauseam. 

libtardlogic
libtardlogic

A commie killed a liberal President and it is conservatives' fault.

#LibtardLogic

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

A climate of hate does not sort out hatred by ideology, or any other category. Right]-wing hate does not beget only right wing hate, left-wing hate does not beget only its counterpart. Hate begets hate.

Might the President have been killed anywhere else there was a Lee Harvey Oswald on hand to kill him? Yes. But he was killed here, in a climate of hatred, by a young man who hated. 

ncowart50
ncowart50

@rusknative again....diverting the attention of the topic at hand, which altered the direction on the entire nation, with local embarrassing, city political, criminally sponsored antics that you can find in any number of communities along the South as well as in many 3rd world countries today.,

rusknative
rusknative

@Obummer nah....a mail order gun did it.....so if guns were all illegal, JFK would still be alive today and he would have created KennedyCare Insurance for everyone??

libtardlogic
libtardlogic

No, DC is a city of hate because of all the African-Americans shooting lots of other African-Americans practically every single day there.

Oxtail
Oxtail

@whycoh To be fair, John Hinkley went to Highland Park.

ruddski
ruddski

Only when republicans are in power.

ruddski
ruddski

You forgot how Kennedy brought us the Beatles.

tdkisok
tdkisok

@libtardlogic 

Yeah, because Dallas had a HUGE Communist community in 1963.    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@bmarvel

Lee Harvey Oswald was born in New Orleans. In New Orleans, Oswald completed the 8th and 9th grades. He entered the 10th grade in 1955 but quit school after one month.After leaving school, Oswald worked for several months as an office clerk and messenger in New Orleans.  

Oswald attended the 7th grade in the Bronx, New York but was often truant, which led to a psychiatric assessment at a juvenile reformatory. The reformatory psychiatrist, Dr. Renatus Hartogs, described Oswald as immersed in a "vivid fantasy life, turning around the topics of omnipotence and power, through which [Oswald] tries to compensate for his present shortcomings and frustrations." Dr. Hartogs detected a "personality pattern disturbance with schizoid features and passive-aggressive tendencies" and recommended continued treatment.

By age 15, he claimed to be a Marxist, writing in his diary, "I was looking for a key to my environment, and then I discovered socialist literature. I had to dig for my books in the back dusty shelves of libraries." At 16 he wrote to the Socialist Party of America for information on their Young People's Socialist League, saying he had been studying socialist principles for "well over fifteen months.

In July 1956, Oswald's mother moved the family to Fort Worth, Texas and Oswald re-enrolled in the 10th grade for the September session. A few weeks later in October, Oswald quit school at age 17 to join the Marines.

"Right wingers" didn't defect to the Soviet Union in 1959 and marry a commie babe.  And no torture of the fact set can make this moron a a punk on the right.  It is a total fabrication.  A complete re-write of history.

In October 1959, just before turning 20, Oswald traveled to the Soviet Union, a trip he planned well in advance. On September 11, 1959, he received a hardship discharge from active service, claiming his mother needed care, and was put on reserve. Along with his self-taught Russian, he had saved $1,500 of his Marine Corps salary,[n 3] obtained a passport, and submitted several fictional applications to foreign universities in order to obtain a student visa.

So I assert that the TRUE city of Hate is obviously Fort Worth.  

ruddski
ruddski

What an eloquent way to say "the right wing had nothing to do with the assassination".

Maybe Oswald did it because Kennedy was a drug-addled philanderer with mob ties.

ncowart50
ncowart50

@rusknative Woopps, sorry forgetting to capitilize the last few sentences to make my point more precious than yours!

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

@JimSX @P1Gunter While giving compliments is not at all my forte, you're equally as poor at accepting them. It was actually a funny moment at my fathers house, as he is not terribly familiar with your work and can't figure out the odd obsession I have had with the Dallas Observer since I was in high school (I blame Zac Crain)when I saw you on TV I said, "It's Schutze!" and he then questioned me, "Fuck who?"  Turns out your fellow olds aren't nearly as familiar with you as the young people. But you were really good in that special, it's probably the best JFK programming I've seen in a while.

rusknative
rusknative

@Oxtail @whycoh AND JODY FOSTER TURNS OUT TO BE A LESBIAN...WAY TO GO JOHN BOY....HIGHLAND PARK HIGH NEVER MENTIONED LESBIANS DID THEY?

ruddski
ruddski

Hinckley shot Reagan not because of hatred (sorry Bmarvel), but because of his obsession with a THESPIAN. I rest my case.

libtardlogic
libtardlogic

Kennedy was not killed by a "huge community" of any kind. He was killed by a lone communist, Lee Harvey Oswald. Are you seriously trying to claim Oswald wasn't a commie?

I enjoy how you are unaware of how stupid your comment makes you look. Keep it up, please!

rusknative
rusknative

@holmantx so we can blame it all of Public School education...thank god we got to the bottom of THAT deal at last.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@holmantx Forgive me if I missed your point, holman. Could you be a little more direct and brief?

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Myrna, does this Nawlins story ring slightly familiar?

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@ruddski  Ruddski -- why not pause and think a little bit after you read a comment, and then try to respond to what the comment says rather  than to your own inner political voice?

I'll try to make this as clear as possible: It is not the left wing or right wing that produce violence and assassins. It is hatred, which is not a peculiarity of the left or the right -- or, for ghat matter, the middle. Hatred, as an yone who has had an opportunity to see it in action -- and who hasn't? -- instinctively understands, multiplies, moves from  person to person lie an infection, dragging in its train violence. It doesn't take an unbalanced personality to feel the poison in that situation, though an unbalanced personality -- especially one with a gun --can do a helluva lot more damage.

So the right, the left, the commies, drug addiction, the mob -- none of this killed Kennedy. Oswald killed Kennedy because at that moment Kennedy focused all his hatred and he had the opportunity.

MaxNoDifference
MaxNoDifference

@Oxtail @tdkisok @whycoh The assassination of JFK and the assassination of Lincoln are somewhat similar, especially in the aftermath.  Republicans at the time waved "the bloody shirt" for over 30 years before the country tired of it and truly reunified if not by the Spanish American War of 1898, then by World War One.

ruddski
ruddski

Lincoln's assassination can be blamed on thespians - profession of hate.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@casiepierce @holmantx 

Beats bmarvel casual psychiatry from 2013. Which is no social psychiatry at all.  It's bloviating.

Blaming Hate itself is like a Bible thumper decreeing that head shot was the result of God's Will.

dingo
dingo

@bmarvel

"In conclusion, correlation is a valuable type of scientific evidence in fields such as medicine, psychology, and sociology. But first correlations must be confirmed as real, and then every possible causative relationship must be systematically explored. In the end correlation can be used as powerful evidence for a cause-and-effect relationship between a treatment and benefit, a risk factor and a disease, or a social or economic factor and various outcomes. But it is also one of the most abused types of evidence, because it is easy and even tempting to come to premature conclusions based upon the preliminary appearance of a correlation."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@bmarvel @holmantx

His mental illness produced his hate, not this town.  Not New Orleans.  Not New York.  Not Fort Worth.  Not the Marines.  He was, as the doctor diagnosed, a truant with mental problems to wit - "vivid fantasy life, turning around the topics of omnipotence and power, through which he tries to compensate for his present shortcomings and frustrations." Dr. Hartogs detected a "personality pattern disturbance with schizoid features and passive-aggressive tendencies" and recommended continued treatment.  He instead left.

he wasn't even from here, nor spent much time. 

You are reaching. 

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@holmantx Didn't see, not familiar with the Star Trek episode. Not a Trekkie. In any event, I do not get my moral reasoning from TV series.

And I do not see hatred as an "initial" or "active force." It is, rather, a failure, a lack of moral imagination, the ability to see others as ourselves. (This is, or course, a peculiarity of neither the Left nor the Right.)

But this pinpoints a gap in your own argument, holman:  You write that people like Oswald are "bent." What "bends" them? Are they themselves responsible for this bendedness? If so, how?  If not, then morally speaking they're off the hook, aren't they?

Is hatred a sickness? But we know that many sicknesses can come from the environment, both human and natural. Did the environment of Nazi Germany not evoke a moral sickness in many of its citizens? And yet many other Germans acted morally, even heroically in the face of Nazism. So certainly environment plays a role. But not the deciding role.

So we can't say the environment of Dallas caused Oswald to shoot Kennedy. But we can surmise that the poisonous atmosphere of extreme politics here played a role in triggering the hatred that was already in his heart. Recall that an earlier target of Oswald's hatred was an extreme political figure, Gen. Walker. 

There are many here who will deny that hatred is an evil or that, in fact, there even is such a thing as evil. I'll leave it up to them to characterize Oswald's act, or the act of all others who have taken it upon themselves to decide who gets to live and who doesn't.

  



holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@bmarvel @dingo 

I think you've been unduly influenced by a 1960s Star Trek episode on irrational hatred.  Like it is some distinct alien force compelling the bent to act.

It is because they are bent, not due to their environment.

The guy was sick, he was diagnosed as deviant, he developed an ideology that allowed him to convert his mental illness, his thoughts, into action.

You've lost the argument on Hate as the initial and active force.  


bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@dingoGuy comes home from work, tired, angry. Yells at the wife. She whacks one pf the kids. Kid kicks the dog. Dog attacks the cat. Causation or correlation?

Big argument breaks out at aparty. Pretty soon people who dsidsn't know tjey had an opinion on the subject in dispute are talking sides. Causation or correlation?

A lynch mob: Correlation or causation?

Actually, dingo, to be fair it's not exactly causation nor correlation. It's psychology.


dingo
dingo

@bmarvel @dingo  

"more likely" = correlation


bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@dingo @bmarvel I'm not your "homeboy," dingo. And I'm not talking correlation. I'm talking causation, the way hatred causes hatred. It's a common experience. Even here on the blogs.

dingo
dingo

@bmarvel

 Any psychiatrist will tell you, homeboy, that correlation does not imply causation.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@holmantx @bmarvel Any psychiatrist will tell you, holman, that if a mentally ill person is placed in a situation of manifest hatred and tension -- say a fight breaks out on the ward --  that person is far more likely themselves to become violent.

In fact, it has been shown that in situations of hatred and violence, ordinary people are more likely to become violent. 

Hatred is the chicken. Violence is the egg. 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@bmarvel @holmantx

No "A climate of hate".

He was mentally ill.

Possibly Schizophrenic.. 

a chicken and egg thing.  

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@NotReallyThanks Have no idea, NotReally, what you mean by "people like you." 

You seem to imagine that I'm some kind of "liberal." Since I believe that hatred is the cause of violence and that both hatred and violence directed against one's fellows is objectively evil -- an ancient belief usually associated with, though not necessarily honored by, the "conservative" point of view -- I at a los to explain how you arrived at the conclusion that I am a "liberal."

Perhaps you can rummage around in my past comments and identify those that identify me as unmistakably liberal. And explain in what way they are, to your mind, "liberal" rather than "conservative?"  

NotReallyThanks
NotReallyThanks

@bmarvel @ruddski Wait.. I swear people like you have been yammering on about violence being caused by 'poverty' for years now. But not it's hate that creates violence? Only in the minds of sheltered liberal whites. 

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@James_the_P3 The atmosphere of hatred need not be nourished by a town. It can come, in Pavlick's case, from many sources -- virulent anti-Catholicism, anti-government sentiment, etc.  These were shared by many at the time

I don't believe I've argued anywhere that Dallas is "responsible' for Oswald's actions. If I have, I certainly take it back. But an atmosphere of extreme polarization and hostility can certainly dislodge an already unstable personality and can imbalance even sober citizens.  

James_the_P3
James_the_P3

@bmarvel @ruddskiSo what is Palm Beach's responsibility for Richard Pavlick's failed assassination attempt against Kennedy?  Did Palm Beach also foster an atmosphere of hatred that led to violence?

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@ruddski Political fervor or commitment do not in themselves lead to hatred and violence, ruddski. Otherwise we'd none of us ever have any peace. It's when we refuse to see our opponent as fully human, with the rights and dignity that we accord ourselves. When we will his destruction. That's called hatred. 

ruddski
ruddski

All sorts of reasons, like political fervor or commitment?

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@ruddski So, those RW assassins killed out of hatred of the Left, or at least what they perceived as the Left. And the LW assassins killed out of hatred of what they perceived as the Right.

What's the common denominator here? The common denominator in all violence, all killing, is hatred, pure and simple. It's the failure to see the other as more than simply a political marker, the refusal to recognize another human.

People kill for all sorts of reasons, but at the base there's only one reason: hatred.

ruddski
ruddski

My explanation for RW assassins is simple - they were killing leftists. And, yeah, I think politics and ideology had a little something to do with Oswald's actions for years, right up until he died.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@ruddski All those right-wing killers, assassins, ruddski -- you have a siple explanation for them?

Take off the blinders, ruddski. Everything doe not devolve to poiitics.

ruddski
ruddski

" Oswald killed Kennedy because at that moment Kennedy focused all his hatred and he had the opportunity."

And, he was a left wing communist, it's really pretty simple.

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