Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Really Happened?

Today marks the 48th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which remains one of the great mysteries of history. An action within parameters of time and space.

The event happened at the height of the Cold War, and so was a time of much panic and hysteria, not unlike today. The idea of assassination was in the air, was the zeitgeist of the time-- at least if you look at two movies with the theme of assassination which came out the year before JFK's death: "The Manchurian Candidate," and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." Viewed today, both films contain scenes which appear prophetic.

"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" of course was the subject, sort of, of a recent essay by Jonathan Lethem the Postmodernist that appeared in The Believer. Lethem's essay makes clear that, while he may have enjoyed the movie, he didn't understand it.

The film is about the quest for historical truth. Truth is a subject that Lethem, on more than one occasion-- including his recent essay-- has shown he has no interest in. Because of his warped philosophy, he buys the perspective of the newspaper editor who near the end of the film states, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." He implicitly believes that truth is what he says it is. The "newspaper"-- media; authority; power-- determines truth. For the postmodernist, truth is a construct; is strictly conditional.

Yet while this is the point of view of a character in the movie, it's not the belief of the movie itself. Of the mind who created it. The entire narrative is about digging back, reaching back through the dust of the years and the haze of memories to find the kernel of truth, forever asking the question of historians,
"What really happened?"

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