Inspired by the anniversary of JFK’s assassination, I recently found myself asking my mother about her memories of that day, November 22nd, 1963.
“Oh, everyone remembers exactly where they were when they heard about JFK,” she replied. She then continued to recount how my grandmother, while driving around town and running errands with my mom that day, would roll down her car window every time she stopped at a red light and, amidst frantic sobs, would make sure all her fellow drivers were aware of the news. When that type of memory is par for the course for people in my parents’ generation, it’s no surprise to see that the TV industry is completely caught up in historical remembrance fever: The History Channel, National Geographic, The Discovery Channel, CNN, CBS, NBC, and our very own PBS (clocking in with four separate documentaries!) are all devoting some serious airtime to this momentous moment in American history. (Shamless plug alert: For a taste of what’s to come in PBS’s coverage, be sure to check out Rick Ellis’s excellent writeup on Nova’s two-hour special, Cold Case: JFK.)
Being a couple generations removed from actually experiencing the Assassination of JFK, I often think of the events of November 22nd, 1963 with a degree of bemusement. With the most sincere of apologies to my mother and anyone else who recalls that date with feelings of fear and trepidation, I’m excusing myself for such a wildly insensitive reaction. Why? It’s pop culture’s fault, of course!
Without further ado, I present to you my Top 7 Favorite JFK Assassination Pop Culture References:
7. “The Sounds of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel
Ok sure, this is a bit of a weak link, as the song doesn’t really directly mention or even allude to the JFK Assassination. That said, Victoria Kingston’s Simon and Garfunkel: The Definitive Biography specifically says that the song was written by Paul Simon in the aftermath of the JFK Assassination. And it’s a classic, timeless song. I can still remember the first time I watched The Graduate in high school. Fantastic movie, fantastic song.
6. In The Line Of Fire
My dad loves action movies, and especially suspense thrillers. As such, I always felt super lucky for getting to see a bunch of R-rated movies with my dad growing up, including In The Line Of Fire when I was nine years old. In The Line Of Fire features Clint Eastwood at his classic Clint Eastwoodyness as a hardened and experienced Secret Service agent (the only active-duty agent left from JFK’s original detail!) who’s determined to not let another assassin take out the President. I haven’t seen this movie in years, but it provided the perfect introduction to John Malkovic as the ultimate creepy-dude character actor (he played the assassin, obvs). My nine year old self absolutely loved being the youngest person in the movie theater seeing this movie.
5. Mayor Quimby from The Simpsons
Like Sounds of Silence, the lower ranking for Mayor Quimby does not reflect my love for The Simpsons (my favorite television show of all time) or this specific character on The Simpsons (easily in my Top 10 of favorite characters from The Simpsons), but more so because of the tentative connection between Mayor Quimby to the actual event of the JFK Assassination. The connection to JFK the person, though, is not up for debate: Mayor Quimby’s voice and demeanor make the allusion obvious. But as far as I know, Quimby was never the victim of a magic bullet.
4. The Comedian from The Watchmen
For those of you who haven’t read it (editor’s note: seriously, what’s wrong you?), The Watchmen is an iconic graphic novel which portrays superheroes as anti-heroes. The characters that compose the group of vigilante justice-avengers (who collectively go by the same name as the book’s title) are washed-up and conflicted personalities, each with dark and complicated pasts that have precipitated their fall-from-grace as former superheroes. The book starts with the murder of The Comedian (the gruff-looking dude with the creepy smile kneeling in the photo above), perhaps the outwardly most evil of all the Watchmen. The graphic novel, which takes place in the 1980s, reveals that The Comedian was in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963, working as a guard for Richard Nixon, and it’s then implied that The Comedian was actually JFK’s assassin. The movie adaptation makes the implication much more explicit: its opening montage shows The Comedian pulling the trigger from the grassy knoll.
3. The Rock
I’m not here to convince you that The Rock is a great cinematic achievement. In fact, it’s absolutely one of the worst offenders in Jerry Bruckheimer’s long line of over-the-top, action-packed, cliche-ridden 1990s blockbusters. But do I watch The Rock every time it airs on cable TV on weekend afternoons? Oh, yes. Do I own The Rock on DVD? You better believe it. And was The Rock – which has a very, very small plotline surrounding Sean Connery’s character’s secret knowledge of what really happened during the JFK Assassination – one of the first pop culture references that popped into my head when working on this list? That’s most definitely an affirmative. Also bonus points to John Malkovic for now showing up on this list twice!
2. South Park, Season 1, Episode 2: “Weight Gain 4000”
No point in getting into the NSFW details of this “vintage” episode of South Park, which involves Mr. Garrison plotting the assassination of Kathie Lee Gifford, who’s visiting the town of South Park to present Cartman with an award for winning a “Save Our Fragile Planet” essay contest. Let’s just appreciate the fantastic homage that Trey Parker and Matt Stone penned.
1. Seinfeld, Season 3, Episodes 17 & 18: “The Boyfriend (Parts I & II)”
What do you get when you take an irrational hatred for a popular baseball player, fueled by the paranoia of Seinfeld‘s ultravillain (Newman), and trigger it with a phantom loogie menace? Simply the most thorough, hilarious and best pop culture reference to the JFK Assassination ever.
Joel is a contributor to Rewire, and works for MN Original at Twin Cities Public Television.