I am old enough to remember a time when going to the movies meant going to see the newsreels too. Perhaps that is why the juxtaposition of CNN and JFK makes so much sense to me. I've never been able to get over the idea that the news is just another kind of movie, and vice versa. But Cable News Network and JFK belong together in a historical proximity as well, as the framing media events of a very strange year in American cultural history. 1991 began, for American spectators, with the most heavily publicised war in American history, and ended with a cinematic re-enactment of the Kennedy assassination, the most highly publicised event in what JFK represents as a secret war for control of America's national destiny. Between CNN's Operation Desert Storm and JFK's Operation Mongoose fall the media shadows of what are now called America's 'culture wars'. These are the ongoing battles for the ideological soul of America played out in the convergence of television news and melodrama. Pitched battles of the sexes and races were staged with unprecedented intensity in such media 'events' as the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, and the David Duke campaign. Conspiracy theories detailed the infiltration of American higher education by 'politically correct' militants, and lamented the takeover of the art world by feminists, homosexuals and ethnic minorities. In short, for Americans who watch television news, 1991 was a year of war and publicity - not just the publicising or representing of war, but the waging of war by means of publicity and representation. Oliver Stone's JFK is the perfect cinematic coda to such a year.
LRB 23 April 1992 | PDF Download