The Kennedys: Is Sex Part of History?
After more than half-a-century of Kennedy video hagiography, it seems a bit churlish to object to a production that might not so considerately toe the party line—and I’m as much a Kennedy guy as anybody else.
The History Channel’s made-for-TV Kennedy film, which is apparently unfilmed and unwritten, has already attracted a serious cabal of phumphering Kennedy oldsters and other stalwart liberals appalled at the possibility of an off-message portrait.
The form of the protest is an internet video produced by Robert Greenwald, the documentary filmmaker who made Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism. And, indeed, central to his complaint is that the Kennedy film is being made by Joel Surnow, not just a conservative, but one who has worked for Fox as the executive producer of 24. So in a sense this has more to do with the war modern liberals are waging against Fox than with old-time liberals defending the Kennedys.
Greenwald’s attack video features a series of righteous Kennedy defenders as well as reenactments of what seem to be purloined versions of the possible script. The Kennedy partisans are quite a tongue-tied bunch, all of them struggling gamely, if inarticulately, to somehow dismiss or disdain or circumlocute what is, apparently, the main focus of the film.
Since we all know what this is—it’s the thing the Kennedys are now perhaps most noted for—it makes all these harumphers seem as though they’re trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
“It bears no relationship to the lives of these once living people,” says the biographer and historian David Nasaw, in, to say the least, a peculiar turn of phrase.
Kennedy biographer Nigel Hamilton sputters about JFK making decisions from the swimming pool when he’s there “with some babe”—which he surely did—and suggests that rehashing the Kennedy sex lives will further hinder our ability to compete with China. “Stammer …stammer…why feed this kind of garbage in…stammer some more…something called the History Channel.”
It’s a strange last stand for propriety. Certainly none of these guys is denying the ribald and operatic nature of the Kennedy sex lives (how could they, at this point?). Their point seems to be that the sex was somehow apart, somehow something distinct from the dignity of good liberal government (“Why mix it with serious history?” asks Hamilton, credulously). But who would believe that now?
We may know an awful lot already about the sex lives of the Kennedys, but who doesn’t want to know more? Beyond prurience (did JFK really like to force a girl’s head underwater at the climactic moment, as Gore Vidal has written? Did he really tell Konrad Adenauer, the 88-year-old German Chancellor, that he hadn’t finished with a woman until he had had her three ways?), there is, for the History Channel (as well as for history), the significant and compelling question of what part sex played in the conduct of our political affairs. There is still a central question about what part it plays.