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174 Canadian Review of American Studies Revuecanadienned etudesamertcames to express the strategy to be implemented. Perhaps "triangular strategy" is the most useful concept in this new language and very indicative of Escoffier 's politics of inclusion and mutual support. Stavrou Stavros University of Calgary John Hellmann. The Kennedy Obsession: The American Myth of JFK. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. Pp. xvi + 205. "Jack's life had more to do with myth, magic, legend, saga, and story than with political theory or political structure," That was Jacqueline Kennedy's judgement of her husband a week after his death and it serves as a handy jumping-off point for John Hellmann's splendid analysis of how the image of John F. Kennedy came to be constructed in the American popular imagination and how it continues to intrude upon the national consciousness. John Kennedy's career, says Hellmann, is best understood as "a modern American hero tale ... perhaps even the major American mythology of our time." The crafting of the myth began remarkably early, originating in the boyhood fantasies of Kennedy himself. Chronically ill throughout his youth, he sought escape through books, particularly the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott and Rudyard Kipling's adventure stories. These tales eventually gave way to biographies of vigorous and brilliant young men with whom the future president identified, including John Buchan's touching portrait of Raymond Asquith in Pilgrim's Way and David Cecil's depiction of Lord Byron in The Young Melbourne. By the time he discovered these works, Kennedy had become an author himself, transforming (with more than a little help from his father's friends) his Harvard senior honours thesis into the 1940 bestseller, Why England Slept. Kennedy's tastes in reading as a boy and his early writings are the first in a series of texts that Hellmann examines to show how the myth of JFK developed and functioned. Of all these works, one of the most intriguing is John Hersey's account of Kennedy's harrowing experiences as a PT boat skipper in World War II. It appeared originally as an article entitled "Survival" in the New Yorker in 1944 and was subsequently mass-produced for JFK's congressional campaigns. Besides bringing Kennedy to the attention BookReviews 175 of millions, the piece was notable for being a forerunner of the new journalism that emerged in the 1960s, combining as it did certain techniques of fiction writing with straight reportage. In Hersey's hands, Kennedy's wartime misadventure became a mythic herotale in which a youth is subjected to daunting tests of courage and physical endurance. He ultimately prevails and in so doing gains a new understanding of life, of death, and of himself. The Kennedy of "Survival" seems to be a blend of fact and fiction and this, Hellmann suggests, foreshadowed his emergence in the postwar years as a new kind of politician who effortlessly manipulated popular literary and cinematic conventions for political ends. This was apparent in his 1956 book, Profilesin Courage.Here, Kennedy implicitly identified with certain of his senatorial predecessors who had displayed conspicuous moral courage. Of equal importance was the way that he also linked himself to that towering cultural icon of the time, Ernest Hemingway. The book opens with a reference to the novelist's famous definition of courage as "grace under pressure." In making this allusion, says Hellmann, Kennedy signalled that he was laying claim to the robust American values that "Papa" Hemingway represented rather than those of Dwight Eisenhower, the staid national father-figure whom the young senator wished to replace in the White House. He would continue to invoke Hemingway's name over the years that followed. It is perhaps worth noting, though Hellmann does not mention it, that Hemingway himself had identified strongly as a boy with Theodore Roosevelt who, in promoting the self-image of a vigorous and courageous politician, anticipated some of Kennedy's general strategies. Certain cinematic images were also crucial to the fashioning of JFK. As Hellmann describes it, Kennedy made the nation's television sets his "screen" and in the process, he became "the greatest movie star of the twentieth century." A good example of how...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 174-176
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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