- Shooting Kennedy: JFK and the Culture of Images
Forty years after his assassination, the memory of President Kennedy continues to grip the popular imagination. Recently, media and scholarly attention to the memory of John F. Kennedy has been evidenced in television documentaries and books that have recalled his presidency, his personal life, and his assassination. In Shooting Kennedy: JFK and the Culture of Images,David M. Lubin explores photographs of Kennedy to understand Kennedy's popularity with the American public. Lubin, a professor of art, argues that Kennedy was significant not only for his political role as president, but because he became an icon of twentieth-century postwar America. By describing the symbolic significance of photographs of President Kennedy, Lubin provides a new avenue for understanding why memories of Kennedy have not dissipated in popular culture.
But Lubin's book is not exactly focused on either Kennedy or images of him. As the author notes in his introduction, John F. Kennedy is really a pretext for a book about the relationship between popular culture and U.S. history after World War II (x). Throughout his book, Lubin describes a range of cultural texts including films, television programs, and novels that Lubin believes guided the ways that audiences might have ascribed cultural significance to John and Jacqueline Kennedy when they viewed photographs of them. According to Lubin, photographs of the Kennedys tap into the images that resonate broadly within Western culture. Jacqueline Kennedy, Lubin argues, became an icon of feminine beauty because Hollywood beauties including Doris Day, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe formed part of the context for the public's perception of the first lady (14). Likewise, Lubin explains that stills of Kennedy's assassination from the Zapruder film became aesthetic objects and consumer commodities because they resonated with modern art, theatre, and film that attested to the uncertainty and precariousness of human existence after World War II (181–88). For Lubin, parallels in [End Page 707] imagery and ideas between texts are not merely coincidental; instead, he argues, they signify the "political consciousness at work within a modern image culture" (170).
Chapters in Shooting Kennedy are arranged according to the photographs that mark the trajectory of John F. Kennedy's political career and relationship with Jacqueline. Individual chapters provide detailed descriptions of one or two photographs that signify a particular moment when Kennedy captured national attention, including his courtship with Jacqueline, his inauguration, and his funeral procession. Lubin then describes how these photographs resonate with images and ideas in the art world and in contemporary commercial media, including films, television programs, and advertisements. This book's focus on the intersections between the Kennedys' lives and the social context of mid-century America would compel audiences interested in President Kennedy's personal life, the cultural legacy that informed his leadership, and what he symbolized for America during the 1960s. For example, Lubin argues that books about heroic adventurers such as fictional character James Bond and historic figure Lord Byron, both of whom Kennedy was fond of, shaped Kennedy's political ambitions and attitudes toward his sexuality with women (108–13). Likewise, Lubin argues that the Kinsey report and popular books written by feminists at the end of the 1950s must have some bearing on Jacqueline's attitude toward her marriage to John Kennedy (60–65). By focusing on texts that influenced or were likely to have influenced the presidential couple, Lubin suggests that John and Jacqueline Kennedy were themselves products of high art and popular culture in twentieth-century America.
This book would also be of interest to readers of Rhetoric & Public Affairs who study the rhetorical and political functions of visual images. By drawing connections between photographs of Kennedy and seemingly unrelated texts, Lubin suggests that individual images achieve their iconic status because of the legacy of images and popular texts that have come before them. For instance, he asserts that to understand photographs of Kennedy's inauguration, we must also attend to films such as Citizen Kane and marble statues of...