Tonawanda News


November 22, 2013

The black-and-white pentimento

Tonawanda News — My memories are strong enough, in some cases, so that I have no need of any more research. I did not require, for example, the recent PBS biography of Jimi Hendrix to better understand his contribution to society or to my quality of life, so I did not watch it. You get that way as you get older.

Today we note the 50th anniversary of the death of President Kennedy, and will likely do so the way we did it in November 1963, by watching television. Contrary to the thoughts of modern reporters, it was not a day that changed America; contrary to later hordes of finger-wagging conservatives and religious hard-liners, it was not the day all the snakes in the closet of America’s psyche came out, and there followed generations of turmoil.

It was a heck of a day, but America was already on a path of misguided renewal of sorts. Think of what came after Kennedy’s death and before the 1960s ended — Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, colleges as cauldrons of social experimentation, the rise of sport at the expense of art — and note the seeds were planted in the early ‘60s, or earlier.

Aldous Huxley also passed away on Nov. 22, 1963, as did C.S. Lewis and 63 people in a Fitchville, Ohio, nursing home fire, but they weren’t on television. What changed in America was the public approval to turn on the television in times of national crisis. (Or comity; the 1976 bicentennial was broadcast on television as well, as newspaper editors made certain they could spell “joyous,” a word seldom included in headlines.)

After Kennedy’s death, crises seemed to mount in America, largely because of improvements to, and increased stature of, television news. Ratings of Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and the rest stayed strong after the assassination story wound down. America mourned its fallen president by welcoming the Beatles and taking its news more seriously (which is a way of saying that things have always been this bad, we just know more of it). 

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