Hungering for Community: The Kennedy Mystique

Article excerpt

Death is always a tragedy except when it occurs at an age when life completes itself. So we mourn the deaths of John F Kennedy, Jr., Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and Lauren Bessette.

But the media coverage of the crash and its aftermath bore little relation to the actual tragedy of these deaths. Instead, the media hysterically inflated this real event into a national catastrophe, in which the entire country was allegedly plunged into overwhelming grief at the loss of a remarkable young man with whom we had the most profound of connections. JFK, Jr., was anointed "the People's Prince," whose death would "cement the nation" by revealing our "universal bond." Suddenly he was almost certain to have been a senator and perhaps even president had his life not been cut short. Without meaning to be disrespectful, little in his magazine George would have led us to imagine this triumphant future.

So why the fuss? Peter Gabel in these pages has analyzed how this kind of rhetoric creates the hallucination that we are all part of a larger something-a nation or other "imaginary community"-which gives momentary compensation for the actuality of a world in which people are employed all day by institutions that encourage them to "look out for number one" and to maximize their own self-interest without regard for the consequences to others. …