Where Were You When…

MV5BMjgzMzcxMTY5N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzM2MTM4NA@@__V1__SY317_ I’ve been watching the Reelz Channel miniseries “The Kennedys.”  How could I not?  First, there’s Greg Kinnear and Barry Pepper.  They’ve both impressed me many times over, and they’re both doing it again.  Barry Pepper is especially good, I think, but appreciate the fact that neither overdoes the accent and neither performance comes off as a caricature of a well-known personage.  And Tom Wilkinson is excellent as Joe Kennedy.

How could I not? #2:  The controversy over the series really stirred my interest as a lover and occasional writer of historical fiction.  The mini-series was originally a History Channel project, but they backed out on it after—as I understand it—it was completed, saying it wasn’t “a good fit.”  Apparently the story has been deemed historically accurate by scholars and other advisors, but it’s the behind-the-scenes stuff the HC had trouble with—the private moments.  In those scenes, historical figures become characters.  The writer must use her imagination. 

I used to be a serious History Channel fan.  I like documentaries.  I’m finding less appeal in much of their programming these days.  Most of the contemporary reality stuff isn’t for me, although I will watch “Pawn Stars” and “American Pickers.”  When it comes to old junk, I’m a pack rat.  I love the idea that an old toy or some kitchen tool or piece of clothing actually played a part in people’s lives a hundred years ago, and I can hold it in my hand and imagine who those people were.  But much of the HC’s programming just doesn’t feed the history buff in me, which is why, frankly, it surprised me that they pulled the plug on “The Kennedys.”  No, it isn’t a documentary.  Would it qualify as a “docu-drama”?  (Anybody know what that is?)  But it has been vetted by respected people in the know, and HC standards being what they have been lately along with the need to boost ratings, well…

Or is it simply too soon to produce good historical fiction about the Kennedys?  That brings me to How could I not #3:  I’m pretty nostalgic about the 1960’s.  I was a 6th grader when I first heard of the Kennedys.  We’d been living in Western Massachusetts for a year, and I was still an outsider among my peers.  I remember being asked for an opinion about JFK, who was running for president.  I shrugged.  My father had expressed a preference for Nixon, but Daddy was not interested in politics, so neither was I  Then.  “You’re not Catholic, are you?  Is that why you don’t like him?”  Huh?  Okay, that was my first Kennedy moment.  The rest is history.  Or, rather, the backdrop for my youth.  So I’m watching this miniseries and remembering what I knew about it when it was happening and how my views changed over the years to the point where, in 1968, I became politically active for the first time and was devastated by the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.

My high school U.S. History teacher, Mr. Foley (who terrified me, but he was probably the best teacher I ever had) said that history really doesn’t become history during our lifetime because we cannot be objective in the face of our nostalgia.  I can still see and hear the moment when he said that, but I’ve only recently come to fully understand his point.  As I’m watching “The Kennedys” I’m walking at least three paths.  There’s Memory Lane with its nostalgic landscape.  There’s the lover of historical fiction, who’s enjoying the story road.  And there’s the history buff, who has to climb into the back seat on this journey.

Is anyone else watching “The Kennedys”?  How does it strike you?  How far back do we have to go before we can call events “history”?  For the sake of historical fiction what’s the latest period you’d term “history”?  What makes you get all nostalgic?

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About Kathleen Eagle

Kathleen Eagle is the award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of over forty novels.
This entry was posted in historical dramas, historicals, history, movies, nostalgia, The Kennedys, TV and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Where Were You When…

  1. cindygerard says:

    I wanted to watch this Kathy – partly because of the controversy. But I missed the first episode and and by the time I spotted it – last week – they were up to episode 9, I think.
    My mom was such a Kennedy fan – and not a catholic in the house :o) We were glued to the TV with such a total sense of mourning blanketing the entire house. I remember so much about that day and the following days of the funeral. Still makes me sad when I think about it.

  2. kylie brant says:

    I don’t watch much TV and what I do watch all seem to be crime shows, LOL. But I wonder if it’s too soon to do the Kennedys as so many of us still have memories of them as public figures. The problem I have with such ‘history’ shows is I have a huge bias when they start mixing real facts and made up stuff. And then no one knows the difference. I like to have it better differentiated than that.

  3. carole says:

    Hi! I wish I was able to watch it for the Kennedy’s was a common name around my house, my mom was a big fan and helped get John and Bobby in office. I remeber when President John died we all mourn and even Bobby’s death. My mom kept ever article. Its funny when I became a summer girl the people I worked for lived down the street from the Kennedy’s and I played football with them. I couldn’t even get my name out for I was so shocked. Anyways, they were normal people and I learned about alot of history. I’ll cherish that summer, and always think of them.

    • Wow! Carole, what an amazing experience that must have been. They’re rerunning the whole miniseries this weekend on Reelz, and since they’re offering the dvd for sale already, I’m sure it’ll be available for rent soon. It would be so interesting to hear your thoughts!

  4. Leanne Banks says:

    I was intrigued about this partly due to the controversy. I wondered if The History Channel cancelled it because several Kennedys didn’t want it shown. Jackie Kennedy’s hats and clothing make me nostalgic.:) The turmoil of that period, however, doesn’t make me nostalgic. Great post, Kathleen!:)

  5. Lynn in Texas says:

    I missed a few episodes, so I’m happy to hear about the marathon this weekend. Thanks for the heads-up, Kathleen! And I agree, Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper & Tom Wilkinson are doing an excellent job. I find it interesting that Diana Hardcastle, the actress portraying Rose, is married to Wilkinson in real life!

  6. Hellion says:

    I want to watch this too (I hope my library will get it when it becomes available). I don’t have cable–so couldn’t see it in any capacity right now. I do think it’s ridiculous that HC turned up their nose at it when they’ve been showing the most ridiculous shows ever. Ever time I do get a chance at my dad’s house (Sunday dinners) to watch the channel, it’s always Ax Men or Ice Truckers–seriously? How is that history? Idiots.

    I agree with Mr. Foley, though I figure I could probably study the Vietnam War (which ended before I was born), the Reagan Years, and the end of the Cold War without much an objectivity problem. I was young and very uninterested in anything to do with those items so it would all be new facts to me. *LOL* But I guess if it came down to studying the Space Program from a historical perspective–it would be more difficult for me. I remember more about those details; and I remember where I was when the Challenger exploded. 100, 200 years from now, will historians look back on our Space Program and evaluate how successful it was? We don’t know what the fall out will eventually be with all our space exploration.

    When it came to studying history in college, I tended to study Scotland in the 1300s. That seemed far enough back–however, I wasn’t remotely objective. I studied it because I thought it was romantic. The whole fighting for freedom bit–that stuff is romantic and wonderful to me. (I love the Revolutionary War for this reason too.)

    Historians like to say they’re objective, but every last one of them is a passionate little geek about something–and they all have their non-objective opinions about stuff that happened. Hard to decided what happened when everyone that was there is dead.

    I like information about World War II. I think we’re far enough away from it to see how different the world was THEN than it is NOW (the cause and effect aspects); however, my father is a WWII vet, so I get some of his stories from the war and that time period to put America at that time into perspective, at least in my area of the world. I think it’s important to take personal accounts into play as well as the “facts”, since so many facts are written by the “winners” of whatever was going on. Every side has a story.

    Which I suppose is why you like history, eh?

    • Absolutely. I taught “world” history to high school sophomores and I’d say over and over again, “Think of it as a story.” I minored in history, focus on English/British, but also art history, church history–liberal arts.

      My dad was a WWII vet, too. He died unexpectedly in 1973. Oh, I wish I had more time with him, for so many reasons. He was a wonderful story teller. It’s so important to get those first person accounts. In 40 years as an Eagle I’ve absolutely lapped up Lakota elders’ narratives. I wish I’d done more.

  7. Hellion says:

    P.S. I’m sorry my comment was embarrassingly long.

  8. Betina says:

    I haven’t watched the Kennedy’s miniseries. I confess to very mixed emotions regarding them and their saga. Ambition, money, and the need for power– they can do bad things to even good people. And my memories of the Kennedys are colored by the way John campaigned in my state and the image he left us with. . . not all positive. But I also recall the assassination vividly and recall the feelings of despair and regret that filled us. I’m not sure I’m ready to re-examine that part of my life as “history.” I think every production about them thus far has had a major slant on the story– positive or negative– which says to me that it’s too early, people are still too involved. Kathy, do you think this series is more balanced?

    I think WWII is probably fading into real history, but there is still a haze of heroism around our participation and around all of those who served. We love them and we’re right to do so– they were our fathers and uncles and neighbors. But there were stories that still haunt many of the old vets and will probably never be told.

    As a “historical” writer, I think I can be more objective about the turn of the century and the time up to WWI– I didn’t know anyone who participated in the overseas campaign and haven’t heard too many first hand accounts of “how it was.” But then, you could argue that the first hand accounts of relatives ARE the real history– which mostly gets lost in the larger scope of political accounts.

    So history is indeed a story, which requires a point of view. And it’s always important to know what POV you’re listening to.

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