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Legacy of the Assassin

Excerpt

The following ran on the Sept. 30, 2013, editon of KERA's Art & Seek blog. As part of KERA News' series on how artists' are observing the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination Film professor Rick Worland provided expertise for this story about the legacy of the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.

October 1, 2013

By Jerome Weeks

There’s an early scene in The Parallax View, the 1974 political thriller starring Warren Beatty and Suzanne Pleshette. They both play reporters who witnessed the assassination of a senator; he was shot on top of Seattle’s Space Needle, a rather Hitchcockian location. Since then, Pleshette’s character has become a nervous wreck, repeatedly calling on Beatty for emotional support. She brings him a newspaper clipping to show him that in the past three years, six of the assassination’s witnesses have died in various kinds of accidents. Beatty assures her no one’s trying to kill her; he once believed there was another shooter, but now he says, the second shooter theory was just a desperate attempt at making sense of things. “People were crazy for any kind of an explanation then. Every time you turned around some kind of nut was knocking off one of the best men in the country.” Sobbing but slowly calming herself, Pleshette agrees. And, of course, in the next scene, she’s dead. The fact that we know that’s likely to happen shows how we are all children of conspiracy, how our popular culture has absorbed the tropes of assassination, cover-up, betrayal and secret plots — particularly as they’ve played out in Hollywood films and TV shows....

SMU film professor Rick Worland argues that the Kennedy assassination didn’t generate this cultural atmosphere on its own. The official lies associated with Vietnam, the FBI’s attempt to disrupt the civil rights movement via its secret COINTELPRO efforts, the Watergate break-in and cover-up: The period was tense with suspicions, deceptions and conflicts. The fact that perhaps the single most influential assassination film, The Manchurian Candidate, was released the year before Kennedy was shot is an indication that the tide was flowing in that direction already, thanks to the Cold War and its tensions. Yet it also shows how quickly these general concerns and fears were codified that writers such as Thomas Pynchon and DeLillo, novelists with their own interests in historical conspiracies and plots, were soon dubbed “the paranoid school of American fiction.”...

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