The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Another chapter ends for
America's royal family

July 22, 1999
By Franklin Harris

Americans have always suffered from royalty envy. We envy our former British masters their ready-made band of celebrities, famous only for having been born.

We tried to make pseudo-royalty out of the Rockefellers, but they were merely wealthy. John D. was a boor who handed out dimes to children. Next we tried the Roosevelts, but it's hard to take seriously a family tree that includes that insufferable, trophy-hunting sissy, Theodore.

Thank goodness for the Kennedys.

They had it all. Money. Power.

Even good looks, if you could get past the buckteeth and bug eyes that are the gene pool's cruelest jokes on them.

(Coincidentally, England's House of Windsor is afflicted by similar genetic defects: big teeth and bigger ears.)

So the reaction to John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane crash off the coast of Martha's Vineyard was predictable. CNN went live with around-the-clock footage of the search efforts. As far as the broadcast networks were concerned, there was only one story, and that story was the only subject on the Saturday evening newscasts. And the Sunday evening ones.

The deaths of JFK Jr., his wife and her sister were the second coming of Princess Diana's fatal car wreck.

The only difference was the amount of stock footage there was to be shown.

Princess Di was the most photographed woman in the world. When she died, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and the networks had miles of footage of her to show.

The orgy of adulation over an essentially shallow woman went on for over a week, tempered only by the media's guilt at giving short shrift to Mother Teresa when she died shortly thereafter.

JFK Jr., on the other hand, led a relatively sheltered life, thanks largely to his mother, Jackie, who whisked him away to New York, an entirely different world than the insular, parochial People's Republic of Massachusetts, where the Kennedy clan acted as an informal Politburo.

The paparazzi stalked him and his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, of course, but JFK Jr. maintained a low profile by Kennedy standards.

So CNN was stuck running the same few video clips over and over: footage of JFK Jr. at a baseball game, a "Larry King Live" appearance and, naturally, that iconic scene of the 3-year-old John John saluting his father's casket in 1963.

As you may have noticed, I have little love for the Kennedy family or their tradition of "public service."

But JFK Jr. was different.

He kept to himself. He minded his own business. He didn't seem obsessed with a compelling need to rule over the rest of us. There are no reports of his having abused drugs, fondled nannies or drowned campaign workers. (How ironic that he should meet his fate on the 30th anniversary of his Uncle Teddy's Waterloo and so close to the same waters that claimed hapless Mary Jo Kopechne. He deserves better than to be associated with his shameless uncle's sordid affairs.)

To be blunt, JFK Jr. was the only one of that whole bunch who was actually likable.

None of this is to say that he is worthy of the endless coverage the press (myself included) is now giving him. Like a true royal, he is famous for just having been born, shortly after his father was elected president.

Like Princess Di, he had done nothing of substance. To the extent that he even had a career, it was as editor of a frivolous and unprofitable political magazine, George.

The worst of the media coverage is that devoted to the "Kennedy Curse."

People who normally would scoff at anything with even the hint of the supernatural about it take seriously the notion that the Kennedys are cursed -- that JFK, RFK and all the other Kennedys who met untimely ends were victims of a supernatural conspiracy.

"It is the gods' custom to bring low all things of surpassing greatness," said the Greek historian Herodotus.

It's the same force that impels people to believe that JFK Sr.'s assassination must have been the work of a vast conspiracy. JFK was too much of a giant, they think, to have been struck down by a lone, crazed gunman.

And JFK Jr., the handsome prince, was too good to have been spirited away by dumb luck or, likely, his own carelessness. (Even to suggest that JFK Jr. was flying a plane when he shouldn't have, in iffy weather and with too little experience, is to invite harsh scowls from Kennedy family partisans.)

Now JFK Jr. is, like his father before him, a fly in amber. He'll be forever young, forever the Galahad of our flawed, modern-day Camelot.

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