The Block Island Times

#TwentySomething: My perspective on JFK

By Stephanie Turaj | Nov 30, 2013

“Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” Mark Emmanuelle jokingly asked me in passing one day at the grocery store.

“Not even an idea in anyone’s mind,” was my response. It was the 50th anniversary of the President Kennedy assassination last week, and almost every news outlet — including my own newspaper — was running a story in remembrance of the event. That question, the “where were you when...” stirred up emotional responses from those who were around then, Nov. 22, 1963.

“Was it really that big of a deal?” I asked my co-workers, in a little bit of surprise that, 50 years later, the JFK assassination is still so prominently remembered. The response I got was something like: “Yes, you can’t even imagine how it changed lives. People watched their TV for days.”

Now don’t get me wrong. The President getting shot is a big deal. If that, God forbid, happened today, I’m sure it would shake things up, reduce our confidence in our nation’s security, and be the topic of the news for weeks.

But, while he is the leader of our county, the President is just one person.

Twelve years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of people died in a horrific terrorist attack on our nation.

Like JFK’s death was a defining point for the generation (or two) before mine, 9/11 was my generation’s defining tragedy. I do remember, vividly, finding out about that news in my sixth grade classroom.

I also vividly remember a classmate crying because her uncle worked in one of the towers.

When I hear the emotional responses to the death of JFK, I understand that it’s part of history and of the minds of those who can remember it.

Yet it is hard to grasp the concept of how the shooting of just one person, albeit the leader of our country (although it’s a separate debate about how much a true “leader” the modern-day president is, versus a symbolic role), can create such an impression. Because, unfortunately for my generation, these highly-publicized tragic events have become almost normal. And even worse, far too personal and far too close to home.

Almost a year ago now, 20 young children were violently shot in an elementary school. I grew up in Shelton, a town right next to Newtown, Conn. That was much, much too close to home.

Then there was the Boston bombing just this year. Where was I? At work, frantically calling and texting the dozens of friends who were living in Boston at that very moment.

And in between these tragedies, there were many other shootings and horrific events that sent the media, and the public, into a frenzy. Virginia Tech. The movie theater shooting in Colorado. Before that, Columbine.

That’s not to say that such events didn’t occur in the 1960s. (I don’t know, of course, I wasn’t around then). But they certainly weren’t as public.

“It was a different time then,” said my co-worker, explaining that they were almost innocent in that time.

Indeed, 50 years later, many news articles about how that moment “defined,” or “changed” media coverage. Television was still relatively new, while today 24/7 media coverage of everything — be it disaster or everyday occurrences — is pretty standard. Articles said the JFK assassination is when America became a “TV nation.”

As a journalist, I understand why the media has so heavily re-visited the topic at the 50-year anniversary. I respect and am interested in the impact of the media coverage following that event. How one event can be a turning point for how future events are covered. If I was in college again, I’d have a topic for my senior thesis.

But as a twenty-something, I don’t understand it completely. Phrases like this, which one island resident said about the JFK assassination, don’t make sense to me: “It was strange to be doing something normal.”

In my world, it’s normal to be doing something normal when a national tragedy, a murder, or a mass-murder, takes hold of the news and is reported on for days on end.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Joseph Wiedenmayer | Nov 30, 2013 22:23

Dear Stephanie

I always enjoy reading your articles because I am a father of two twenty-something daughters. Which means I am old enough to know where I was when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. However, it is not just JFK, but unfortunately similar events since then that have redefined our views as a society; Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and leaping forward to 9/11, Virginia Tech and Newtown. All these events have brought us together in shared grief and resolve. The best of us have shown ourselves during these times. However, we as a nation have not shown we can or have the will to put an end to these horrific acts. Actually, the phrase “It was strange to be doing something normal.” is very profound. I was picking up my girls from school the afternoon of the attack on 9/11.

Joe Wiedenmayer

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Posted by: Elliot Taubman | Dec 16, 2013 07:49

Dear Stephanie,

I was walking across the Dartmouth Green when a friend came running up to me. I thought he was going to comment on my T-shirt, but instead he said: "Kennedy is dead." It was a defining moment for days, as for my generation of students John F. Kennedy represented hope for the future. He was young and vibrant and he had all these ideas on how to make the nation better, and it was now in question. Ironically, I believe, because of Kennedy's death Johnson was able to get civil rights legislation through Congress with bi-partisan majorities.

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