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A Profiles in Courage Televisual History on the New Frontier DanielMarcus The presidential administration ofJohn F. Kennedy is widely seen as having significantly expanded the interaction between White House politics and broadcast television. Kennedy's use of television—to convey his personal qualities and political stands—culminated in the television adaptation of his book Profiles in Courage, which ran on the National Broadcasting Company during 1964-1965. The docudrama series emerged in the context of the Kennedy administration's effort to resuscitate the tradition of "high-quality" television in the early 1960s, and corresponded to theories of history associated with Kennedy's New Frontier. The series shared with other New Frontier texts the themes ofthe importance of national unity, political moderation, and the public display of moral courage and personal strength. In keeping with a belief that domestic ideological dilemmas had been resolved by the triumph of a pragmatic, moderate liberalism, the political theory of Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Theodore Sorensen, and others called for a politics of charisma , constructing a notion of citizens as individuated but undifferentiated spectators of the images of strong leaders. Such a view of history was easily translatable into televisual terms. Profiles in Courage constructed a pantheon of American heroes who dramatically displayed the judgment and fortitude needed to sway the nation's populace. The television version ofProfiles in Couragevmed at times from Kennedy's book in its examination of the nation's racial past. The gains of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s made Kennedy's 1956 approach to racial issues, which had downplayed questions of racial justice, seem increasingly out of step with liberalism's activist, integrationist thinking in 1964-1965. 80 I Daniel Marcus NBC's Profiles in Courage (1964-1965) was situated within the discourse of pragmatic , moderate liberalism and the historiography of an American political leader, John F. Kennedy. Courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library. The political developments of the early 1960s made clear that not all domestic conflicts had been resolved, and the series producers struggled to come to grips with America's racial history while maintaining Kennedy's preference for moderate positions. Other areas of social conflict in American history , such as class differences and gender inequalities, were more easily effaced from the series' narratives; indeed, gender relationships in the programs tended to bolster the authority of male political figures, even as racial prerogatives were being explicitly questioned and explored. Profiles in Courage | 81 The Book (1956) The original Profiles in Courage told the stories of eight United States senators who took principled political stands that threatened their careers, and gave shorter profiles to ten other politicians. Rumors circulated for many years thatTheodore Sorensen had ghostwritten the book for Kennedy, which both men stoutly denied while Kennedy was alive. The book can be considered akin to Kennedy's speeches, written mostly by Sorensen, but reflecting Kennedy's own views and understandings.1 Five of the eight senators treated at length were profiled for their stands surrounding the issues of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. All five wanted to mute sectional conflict, to seek compromise that would unify the nation. Kennedy's position was that the importance of unity was paramount for the young nation, and that slavery was evil but could only be eradicated by and within the preservation of the Union. Once the Civil War was over, the North was obliged to rebuild the former Confederate states as full partners in America, and the Radical Republicans who wanted harsher treatment of Southern white society were destructive and dangerous. The historical study was published in 1956, became a best-seller, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in History in 1957. Profiles gave Kennedy a veneer of intellectualism and seriousness that proved helpful to his 1960 campaign for the presidency. As a child of privilege and fame, Kennedy's demonstration of intellectual achievement served to strengthen his identity as an individual in his own right; as an Irish Catholic, his knowledge of American history placed his public persona more securely within what may have been considered by many voters as mainstream America. New Frontier Historiography The Kennedy administration included historians and political scientists in prominent positions. The treatment of history in both the print and television versions of Profiles in Courage shared several themes with other New Frontier historical texts, themes popular in the dominant historiography of the postwar era, and which also became prominent in the actions of the administration in its governance. Warren Susman...


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