Documentary series I Am JFK Jr explored the life of a man who represented the American dream, a man whose family has long been the source of popular culture fascination.
By
Jeremy Cassar

31 Oct 2016 - 5:04 PM  UPDATED 31 Oct 2016 - 5:04 PM

From our perspective in Australia, it seems the US hold the Kennedy family in such high regard that they’ve lost all objectivity. The treatment of JFK’s kin, as TV and film often uses the Kennedy family as a saintly symbol of the best kind of American —clean cut, humble, and classy as hell.

No matter the attempts to cut down the tall poppy with hindsight criticisms of JFK’s presidency that range from inconsequential to incompetent, the Kennedy reputation remains intact. Whether the man was genetic perfection or a projection of the public need for a hero, and whether his family’s significance is more cultural than political, here are a few examples of the American Kennedy obsession.

John Jr. is getting his due coverage this and next year, with 2017’s follow-up season to The Americans and last night’s excellent documentary I am John Jr,. airing on SBS One.

But TV has long held a fascination with the Kennedy family and, particularly John F. Kennedy Jr.

Elaine almost becomes a Kennedy - Seinfeld

Most successful narrative conflict comes from a character really wanting something and the writer making it difficult for them to get it, and in this case that thing is a date with John F Kennedy Jr, and that person is Elaine Benice from Seinfeld.

 

The fact John Jr doesn’t appear on the show works to the episode’s advantage, as we don’t only empathise with Elaine’s frustration, but as we are always almost catching a glimpse of the man, we feel it too.

Like Elaine, we never do, and so a noble life away from those three buffoons slips away as easy as its possibility presented itself.

And here’s the real Jerry with the real John Jr.

Meet Fran Felstein, (one of) John F. Kennedy’s Gumar(s) - The Sopranos 

JFK’s ghost features in multiple episodes of The Sopranos, namely in the fifth season stunner In Camelot, where Tony meets one of his father’s mistresses, the wickedly named Fran Felstein.

 

Tony takes a liking to Fran for the good ol’ gal she seems to be, and a way for us to clock onto how high a pedestal he holds her (and Kennedy) is for her to show him Kennedy’s handkerchief.

This awe spreads to a later scene when Tony brags by proxy, telling his men of her famous affair.

The Kennedy’s get the prestige drama treatment - The Kennedy's

Conveniently titled The Kennedy’s, this 2011 miniseries created by 24’s Jon I-have-an-excellent-surname Cassar has been as lauded as it has been criticised.

 

Some find it delicious and satisfying, other’s find it sugary, unsubstantial, and bloody bad for your health.

I reserve the right to pass judgment as I’ve only seen it in parts, but the fact that a follow-up season The Kennedy’s: After Camelot is coming next year means I’ll probably give it a proper shot.

The new season focuses on those left in JFK’s wake, namely John F. Jr and Jackie Onassis, and also stars a grey-harried Matthew Perry as Ted Kennedy.

Onassis story wins best miniseries at the 1992 Emmys - A Woman Named Jackie 

As much of a cultural icon as her husband, Jackie O (wow, I just made the link to Kyle Sandilands’ co-host. How annoying) was the rare public figure whose elitism was celebrated, rather than criticised. She was essentially revered as a princess, and her high-class tastes that included a fascination with French style was one of the things the public loved.

Onassis also became a reflection of the increasingly complex modern woman, one who spoke in a strong voice and was in a partnership with her husband rather than in a purely subservient role.

Her life is held under the microscope in this award-winning miniseries that splits up the timeline in accordance with her surname. The first part is called ‘”The Bouvier Years”, the second “The Kennedy Years”, and finally “The Onassis Years”.

Everyone stops what they’re doing - Mad Men

At the time, critics and fans of Mad Men wondered how they’d tackle huge events such as the moon landing or the JFK assassination, and with the latter they ended up facing it head on—using it as a tragedy that forces various characters into introspection mode.

Creator Matthew Weiner had initially planned to skip the event altogether, as he didn’t think he’d have anything to add, but as the characters gained dimension in his mind and he was approaching the date, he couldn’t NOT show the effect it had on the American public.

After the shock, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) realises he’s grown apart from Sterling cooper, Roger Sterling clocks onto the superficiality of his relationship with his mistress, and Betty tells Don she no longer loves him.

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To get your Kennedy fix, catch up on I am JFK. Jr over at SBS OnDemand:

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