Somewhere in the inspirational past an erudite lecturer of economics introduced me and my fellow inebriates to the maxim ‘there are lies, damned lies and statistics’, it has remained with me as a guiding light throughout my working life, so much so that, with apologies to Mark Twain [1835-1910] I often paraphrase it into support of other arguments.

 

I use the term argument not in a contentious way, a dispute where there is strong disagreement, but as a fact or assertion offered as evidence that something is true.

 

For instance: ‘there are lies, damned lies and history’. One hesitates to use the word ‘always’ so I will say that this pearl of wisdom may ‘almost’ always be applied to history. Please keep in mind that the victors in war, commerce or cultural imperialism write history and that it must be, by the nature of things, at odds with truth from the word go.

 

Today’s historians create a current view of history by agreeing, disagreeing or plagiarising past historians. Their contribution to society at large is minimal and for as long as they write books that hardly anyone will read they do little damage.

 

A much more dangerous genre is the history contrived by politicians, sabre toothed businessmen and dynastic media barons. This form of mass mesmerisation is perpetrated, in the main, to bury the truth beyond recovery, to manipulate the seething masses, to sustain the bright and shining lies and, wherever possible, to avoid criminal or war crime prosecution.

 

However, screen writers are the really dangerous ones; they construct the most malevolent manifestations of history. Beguiling but harmful, their work permeates our daily lives, impossible to avoid or evade. In the cinema the big screen idol with perfect teeth and the beautifully smooth Botox babes use their words to tell stories that might or might not be true in parts.  They call it entertainment and sometimes, in a sadly misguiding way, it is.

 

At home on the small screen, in our cocoon of comforting self-delusion, it must be a different story. Surely, aside from a little poetic license or aesthetic embellishment, nobody would ever beam misleading mediocrity and lies into the sanctuary of our own living room, would they?

 

When George Santayana [1863-1952] coined the phrase ‘The One who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.’ I wonder did he have any insight into how cinema and television screen writers would trivialise and distort the history we must avoid re-living...

 

This brings me to the recently screened television miniseries ‘The Kennedys’, which purports to tell the story of the Irish American Catholic Political Dynasty famous for many things, including sex drugs, rock and roll, film star bonking and several volumes of highly quotable  quotes.

 

I looked forward to the series, to a historically sound, socially accurate and ethical presentation of people and events in play. To my generation the action was set in momentous years and apart from an ingrained dislike of Joseph Kennedy senior, influenced by my Grandmother’s low opinion of him and of his wartime German sympathies, I quite liked the Kennedys as human beings, flaws and all.

 

What I saw on my television screen did not meet my expectations. Instead of a meticulously researched, skilfully written and empathetically directed docudrama I encountered a facile, excessively sentimentalised, anaemic and spiritless third rate soap opera. The dialogue corny, the characters two dimensional, it was a cross between ‘Days of Our Lives’, ‘The Brady Bunch’, and ‘The Lucy Show’. It is impossible for me to believe that even Irish American Catholics could be as dull and unengaging as this pot boiler portrayed them.

 

Demeaning powerful figures and significant events in our history in this way makes a travesty of the human journey and is a sad and sorry comment on the disintegration of the American way of performing art. It comes as no surprise that the major networks rejected this fiasco.

 

The tragedy here is that the producers of this hideously sub-standard work should have dumped it in a forgotten storeroom behind the ‘Five and Dime’ in Albuquerque. Unfortunately what ever was left of their good judgement deserted them. They farmed it out to an oblivion distributor who sold it on to several organizations that should have known better.

 

I watch the flickering screen and suffered the inane utterings of the characters until my pain threshold cried out, this far and no further. Then I reached for the remote control and pressed the merciful release button.

 

In the comforting silence I reminisced: Can you remember where you were when you heard of the assassination of Jack Kennedy? Many people can. I was in Newport, silent and in shock.

 

Then the dark powers of the US buried a hero, framed a fool for his murder and got right on with the chicanery of subverting the government of the people by the people for the people.

 

The highway is closed and the carnival over,

he could have done more but he didn't have time.

The light died in the darkness, the singer fell silent,

the backing band faltered, lost rhythm and rhyme.

 

A child in the garden where gods are remembered,

where weathered stone markers grow old and decay,

salutes in a moment of fear, pain and confusion,

and asks:  "Why is my father leaving this way.”

 

A tall woman answers, no tears in her eyes,

resolute and defiant, a cold Arlington day.

“We are who we are and we do what we do,

say goodbye to your father the warrior’s way.”

 

We stand and we watch, tears brim in our eyes,

a voice deep inside screams out at the wrong.

But grim truth is hidden for years, rolling years,

but nothing can hide the truth for too long.

 

In time we discover the gold crested hero

had feet made of clay, was less than a god.

No soul of a poet or heart of a champion

is laid here to rest ‘neath the Arlington sod.

 

Just a man of his time with power in his grasp,

second child of a despot, a king in his way,

his vestments of power fade with his glory,

as self-serving cowards and vile liars betray.

 

Sun setting on empires grows cool in the noon,

shadows grow deeper as light slinks away.

The evening draws into a long starless night,

and black spirits of tyranny await a new day.

 

The funeral of the President was a magnificent affair. A nation mourned in comradeship, pride and dignity. When the flag waving stopped and the martial music drifted away into the distance with the marching bands there was a moment of silence. When the breast-beating speeches slipped from memory Washington DC did what it does best and assassinated the character of the fallen leader.

 

Fifty years on they threw a party – but nobody came…

 

 

From: An Evening at the Screw Soapers Guild

November 2013 © Dermott Ryder

 

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