He's Our Kennedy

by Janis Cortese

Well, by now everyone on the planet knows what happened last weekend. John Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessett Kennedy, and her sister Lauren Bessett were lost in a light plane crash over the Atlantic Ocean near Massachussetts. And everyone seems to be eulogizing his father more than him, as if he were still three years old and saluting his father's coffin: a photographic image that I have been averting my eyes from for my entire life, despite not having been born when his father was killed. Looking at it was just too painful. I've turned past that photograph every time I've seen it, shaded my eyes so I wouldn't have to look at it, despite its sick status as some sort of charming fetish to everyone over 40.

But you don't have to have been at the age of reason in 1963 to understand JFK Jr.'s impact here in 1999. Yes, damn it, he means something to people my age, to Generation X. What?

Well, for starters, have any of the fogeys eulogizing him ever read 'George?' It's, as John himself said, 'not politics as usual.' Nor are we. It, and he, blended politics and pop culture in a way that only my generation seems comfortable with. We know politics is half flash and dazzle, and he knew it as well. So did his publication. That magazine was written for us, not the Boomers. It was and is our magazine, the only glossy professional political magazine with us as its main audience.

He was the only person near my age in the entire political landscape of America. The only pundit, the only one in the entire culture without grey hair whose political opinion seemed to matter, the only person in this Boomer-crazed society under 40 who could extend a political opinion and have it taken seriously, without cutesy cross-cut camera angles and dismissive remarks made about how 'you couldn't possibly understand what it meant to live through . . . '

The older crowd remembers the youngster playing on the White House lawn, and the loss of that is what they're mourning. But let's face it, that was lost a long time ago. JFK Jr. hasn't been that little boy in ages. The first clear memory I had of him was while I was watching the 1988 Democratic national convention, and this goodlooking young guy with a vague resemblance to my eldest brother came out and was introduced as John Kennedy Jr. to thunderous applause. Little John-John, a sobriquet bestowed on him by the press that was never used by him or his family. He was younger by half than most of the old fogeys in the crowd. He was the only person anywhere near my age at that whole convention.

Maybe the Boomers feel an ownership of the little boy he was. But the man he turned into was one of us. And we're mourning one of our own.

We're also mourning a far more tangible loss than the people who were glued to their TV sets in 1963 in flip hairdos and horn-rimmed glasses. JFK Jr. was actively soliciting my generation, the 18-35's who are written off completely by anyone older as a waste of time. And he was a potential office-holder. Had he ever decided to run, his chances would have been damned good. He was intelligent, with a good personal history, and knew how to maneuver in the smoke and mirrors. He could have been the first major office-holder who would have given a damn about my generation, who would have talked to us first. That's what we lost. It's far more concrete than the sentimental loss suffered by an older generation who seems confused as to just who the hell died over the past weekend -- him or his father.

I'll miss him.

(And please don't tell me how much money was spent to recover him, Carolyn, and Lauren. Spread over 250 million citizens of this country, it works out to a sliver of a penny apiece. His father managed to stave off nuclear devastation that would have had evolutionary consequences for the entire planet. I'm more than willing to cough up a smidge of a cent to fish his kid out of the Atlantic Ocean and give him and his wife and SIL a decent goddamned burial, and you should be, too.)

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Copyright © 2000 by Janis Cortese

02/08/07 at 21:44