Silent are the many Class War dead buried beneath the myths of Camelot
Watching Jackie felt like eating jagged broken glass thru my eyes as if eyeballs were little, bloody mouths wired directly into my brains. The movie is intense, jarring, and rich with excellent and challenging performances. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Texas six days before Thanksgiving 1963 was a sucker punch to the American gut.
One could quibble about actress Natalie Portman’s attempt at Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy’s accent, but her harrowing performance rivets and horrifies. Portman becomes Jackie with such wrenching intensity it’s as if we’re invading the former First Lady’s privacy. The film portrays the Journalist, played by Billy Crudup, as an unnamed man but understood to be Theodore H. White, a historian and journalist turned propagandist and Camelot mythmaker.
The movie is in part a portrayal of a woman’s grief and shock at the public murder of her husband while at the pinnacle of their power. The film also, less convincingly but nevertheless disturbingly, illuminates the collusion between the chain-smoking former First Lady and the Journalist to control the public narrative and secure the myth of the American Camelot as “truth.” In its own unique way, Jackie reflects the legacy of Greek tragedy and Shakespearean drama enmeshed with blood and brains in the way of American movies.
What makes this collusion even more bizarre was Jackie’s sterilization of her dead husband’s true legacy. To his credit, JFK was in many ways a traitor to his class of wealthy, bourgeoisie capitalists, and this article addresses this further down. Jackie Kennedy, however, fought, plotted, connived, and strategized to elevated JFK to the lofty, neo-feudal status of Camelot. A powerful and determined person, she was also relentless and ferocious as she grabbed the helm of history.
Ironically, once enshrined in myth, Jack Kennedy was forgotten as a class traitor and became untouchable from almost any angle. Unless, however, one was willing to be set upon by a horde of upset, enraged patriots loyal to America’s Camelot myth as truth. Democratic Socialism as a healthier alternative to the Capitalist system dominated by the self-serving military/security-industrial/financial-education/prison-intelligence/surveillance complex President Eisenhower had warned of earlier was thrown out the window. The Cold War mix of crazy demonic hysteria on the part of Americans and the grimly murderous intentions of degenerate Stalinist and Maoist regimes overshadowed equally real attempts by sane people on all sides to reach out in peace and reconciliation.
The year 1963 is indeed one of the darkest times in recent American history. Humanity narrowly avoided an all-out thermonuclear exchange between the American and Soviet empires barely a year before. The Cold War ground on worldwide surrounded by a plague of local hot wars. The United States itself was in the midst of what could be described as an intermittent, quasi-civil war, an almost-revolution so fragmented the violence failed to polarize and ignite. The mood was therefore one of nerve wracking anxiety, dread, uncertainty, and perpetual gloom. Jackie as a human being is a force of nature, however, a woman of will stronger than titanium that glows as red as her suit when held close to the fire too long.
The movie does not get into the details of the assassination itself or the mounting evidence of a deep, complex, and confusing conspiracy of murder. It looks at Lyndon Baines Johnson and his wife Lady Bird Johnson running roughshod over Jackie and in such a hurry to redecorate the White House as to appear greedy and cruel even tho LBJ made efforts to protect and safeguard Jackie and her children. The film does not address, however, allegations and evidence LBJ himself played a hand behind the scenes in removing a so-called “class traitor,” i.e. JFK, from power. If true, it makes sense he would do everything to keep Jackie at bay by protecting and thus isolating her from the truth so she could distract herself from reality by focusing on the myth.
There was much to hide.
President Kennedy had alienated many over his then-controversial approaches to Cuba and Vietnam. He antagonized many people from the Mafia to Cuban exiles to elements of the military-industrial-intelligence complex Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower warned us of at the end of his term as POTUS. JFK also sought to remove U.S. currency from the grip of the Federal Reserve and to print “real” U.S. Dollars and not Federal Reserve Notes, which antagonized Financial Capitalists galore. He’s alleged to have intended to disclose highly classified information regarding UFOs, ETs, and SSPs or Secret Space Programs. None of these things were addressed in the film.
There was a scene shown on a black-and-white TV set of the moment small-time mobster Jack Ruby shot Harvey Lee Oswald dead as Dallas police escorted the latter from one jail towards another. Jackie’s ally and brother in law, AG Bobby Kennedy, sought to hide this from her as she was still reeling from her husband’s dramatic and grotesque murder. There are moments Natalie Portman’s portrayal left me fighting off tears. The gore, the depression, the loneliness, the isolation, the horror, oh, the horror, the horror…
Two big screws kept turning thru my mind, however, as I watched this movie.
What of the children? Kids…were there any healthy emotional attachment portrayed between mother and child? My goodness, those little kids! The mother wasn’t there with her children when they awoke in the morning and went to sleep at night. She didn’t feed and bathe them or change their diapers or pick out their clothes or hug them with deep affection. Obviously she loved them, and the movie also obviously doesn’t show the private level of intimacy between family members in the public eye in the wake of such trauma. Yet the way the relationships were portrayed reflected the upper classes to call upon paid labor to do the domestic work. The power imbalance of class struggle still dominates even when friendships form amid the relationships.
The other screw was more brutal. I kept thinking of the American proletariat, of working class/middle class folks going about their mundane activities. I was reminded how the wealth of even a so-called class traitor buffers his family from what everyday folks do night and day. Yes, class struggle is as real as air and many among the upper classes may not even want to see it no more than one can see the air in front of their faces. Poor folks go thru tragedy like this every day. Just ask all those human beings who survived Chicago over Christmas 2016.
Think about all those proletarian families from the unemployed homeless all the way up to the upper middle class professional still working for a paycheck while deep in debt. Violent murders are all too frequent. Sometimes from the police forces who are supposed to be protecting folks. Just as JFK was likely assassinated by rogue covert operators including some sworn to obey him. Truth is, even with these murders aside, Capitalism as a globalized system has contributed directly to many millions of deaths and injuries while at the same compartmentalizing these “unpleasantries” away from the vast, wealth-generating system itself. Capitalism still does so today even as our culture enshrines this bloody system with its own version of Camelot.
Jackie had resources people all across rural and urban America didn’t have, and not because she was married to the man who became POTUS but because of her socioeconomic class. Years later she married one of the wealthiest transnational capitalists on the planet, a shipping tycoon named Aristotle Onassis.
Yes, the movie is an intense work of art. Without any obvious intention of doing so, this powerful film directed by Pablo Larraín with a team of at least 17 producers shines an almost blinding spotlight on something many who live within the light either remain determinedly ignorant of or refused to see. Jackie boldly if unintentionally highlights the brutal contradictions and horrible problems rank with the multiple discrepancies of our Capitalist system. It captures the aura of Camelot with imperial capitalist politics in ascendency on the eve of its now ongoing, invisibly visible decline.
None of these things, however, detract from a fictional portrayal of a woman trapped in the class matrix of our capitalist system doing whatever she can to not just survive but to secure her husband’s legacy for herself and their children.
William Dudley Bass
For further details regarding the movie, see:
Jackie, IMDB, 2016. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1619029/>.
Copyright © 2017 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.