Did John F. Kennedy Impact My Generation?

jfkWith the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination coming up this Friday, it seems like every news channel is running extended coverage about the 35th President and his legacy. For those who remember that terrible November day back in 1963, it must conjure up lots of memories and feelings.

But, as someone who was born six years after the assassination, JFK has always been an important historic and tragic political character like Lincoln, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, but not necessarily a legendary, mythical leader who shaped my generation.

I often wonder what it must have been like to have experienced the event as a kid or young adult. Clearly, it had a tremendous impact, and you hear over and over again in the media, that the event ended “an age of innocence” in our country. Everyone who remembers the assassination knows exactly where they were when they heard the news.

So, where does that leave us Gen-Xers who were born in the late 1960s to the early 1970s? Our earliest memories were shaped by listening to news about Watergate and the Vietnam War. Our reality growing up was practicing ducking under our desks in case of a nuclear bomb attack. We watched live when the Challenger exploded while sitting in high school math class. And then when we reached adulthood, we were subjected to the Iran Contra hearings, the unfolding of the Monica Lewinsky affair, and then, of course, September 11th.

When President Obama took office, many of us Gen Xers thought his presidency might be a bit like John F. Kennedy’s with a fresh outlook and a young, good looking family. But, political disagreements never quite let that happen. There wasn’t a Rush Limbaugh in 1963 or a Fox News.

I’m sure JFK has plenty of people who didn’t agree with him, too, but they weren’t broadcast on TV and radio 24 hours a day. Part of what made John F. Kennedy so special was the air of mystery that was maintained throughout the time he was president. That’s what I think was lost on November 22, 1963, and everyone who was born after that date never really experienced it.

Gen-Xers have been unfortunately called disenfranchised slackers, and there might be a bit of truth to this in some of us. But, this image might have more to do with the fact that we never experienced a sanitized, made for TV presidency, and we never had the chance to buy into the fantasy of a perfect family. I know I would have bought it hook, line, and sinker, and would be watching the 50th anniversary now to reminisce about when life was a little more gentile.

But, I’m a Gen Xer who can only imagine what life was like back then. I was bred to be a little disillusioned and non-trusting of those who look a little too good to be real. Oh well, I’m still fascinated with the images, and hope that my kids will grow up to be not quite as jaded as I am.

Song of the Day: The Day John Kennedy Died, Lou Reed


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4 responses to “Did John F. Kennedy Impact My Generation?

  1. val sutherland

    I was pregnant and scared to death during the cuban missle crisses and the Tholidimide scare. Sure the bombs would fall or I would have an armless, legless baby. I remember his election with wonder. So handsome and a catholic! I remeber the tears the day he was killed. Even in Canada it effected us all. Then they killed Robert and Martin and the whole world changed. As thousand fled the draft to Canada, we move to the adventures that awaited us in the U.S. Life is difficult but I guess its how we react to it all that matters. For me those days shaped how I live each day at a time because anything could happen.

  2. Great post, Julie. The coverage has been a bit exhausting to watch, but I know it’s certainly a significant milestone. You’re right – people of our generation (I was born in 1970) look to the gas/energy crisis, the Challenger Explosion, the Berlin Wall coming down and certainly 9/11 as defining moments…the Kennedy assassination seems so far away. And I agree – it does seem as though that was the moment that defined a simpler time – a time not so consumed with 24/7 news cycles and ratings.

    • Thanks Kim. I think we were a bit of a lost generation. I hardly ever meet anyone born in the 68-72 time period. We were born during the Vietnam War, and most of our parents were born during WWII – not exactly prime time for having babies. Those darn Baby Boomers and Depression era kids get all the attention!

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