Will JFK & Jackie always be icons?

Last week the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was commemorated. The world is still fascinated by “Camelot”. Would that have been the case if Jackie had not been a master of branding? Two years ago the release of what Jackie Kennedy recorded on tape 49 years ago became headline news all over the world . Listen to some of what Jackie had to say:

Their daughter Caroline, who is now the US ambassador to Japan, decided to release Jackie’s thoughts and memories two years ago to coincide with the 50 year anniversary of her father’s inauguration as president. An interesting thing is that it’s not just America that’s still captivated by JFK and Jackie but the same applies to the rest of the world.

Seems that people are always going to be fascinated about the Kennedys and the mystery surrounding the time in politics called Camelot and maybe above all the mystique surrounding the assassination of the young handsome president 50 years ago in Dallas.

Friends of mine who knew JFK always say that he was so charming women fell in love with him and men went out of their way to please him. The fascination with him as a person actually started long before he became president. He simply had what it takes to captivate people he came across which may account for some of the glamour attached to him and his family. And it didn’t hurt that he married a woman who knew how to keep the legend of Camelot , and her own mystique, alive and create headlines long after they were both gone.

Jackie expert on branding

It’s probably no coincidence that Jackie was a photo journalist before she got married. She really knew what to do in order to create a high value brand. By not giving interviews when she was alive she kept the mystique about herself and consequently JFK alive. And by behaving that way she contributed to turning herself and her late husband into icons. She actually did such a good job the American people forgave her for marrying Onassis. How can you not forgive an icon?

Can’t help wondering what kind of president John F. Kennedy would have been remembered as if he hadn’t been assassinated? Seems for instance he was going to pull out of Vietnam. What would have been his legacy? Would he and Jackie still be icons today if the shooting in Dallas hadn’t taken place?

Would JFK & Jackie still be icons if Jackie had not been an expert at branding? Does, not only America, but the world need icons to look up to that they believe embody success, beauty, fame and wealth? People who represent what they dream of? Young, healthy, happy – maybe personifying “the American dream”? Or is it just like tabloid news, the fact that rich and famous people have worse problems than they have make ordinary people happy? To think that at least their husband wasn’t assassinated can be a comfort to some. Would JFK have been the icon he is today if he hadn’t been assassinated? What’s your opinion? Will the Kennedys always fascinate people or will future generations forget and find new icons?

(Video: CNN/You Tube)

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50 Responses to “Will JFK & Jackie always be icons?”

  1. GuyW Says:

    People do see to need icons: people to look up to (and, if/when they fall, to view with a good dose of schadenfreude). Many icons are so because of their untimely death: look at James Dean – would he have been as famous without his untimely death? Probably not.

    Of course, in the case of the Kennedys, the Americans – while being staunchly republican (not the political party!) – still love royalty and the Kennedys seem to have been elevated to that stature. Had JFK lived today, it's entirely likely that he would have not made it to the presidency given his well-documented love of the ladies – but the press in the 50s and 60s was far less intrusive than today.

    Over time, each generation's icons fade and are replaced by new ones…

  2. catarinaalexon Says:

    Seems we agree Guy. But the JFK & Jackie brand has been developed in ways that many companies should envy. Honestly wouldn't be surprised if he will be one of US presidents always mentioned aside Washington, Lincoln, FDR and Co. If he deserves it or not is a questionmark.

  3. Jennifer Woodard Says:

    Catarina,

    I personally think that JFK will fade into history as the older people die and the younger people idolize people of different character these days. I grew up fascinated with the Kennedy’s as did most of America and I have to say, I am finally tired of hearing about the Kennedy’s I was just telling my neighbor the other day when Tony Bennett was on that I am glad that they have finally let JKF, Robert, Marilyn, Frank, Al Capone, Elvis and Martin die. I was really tired of hearing about them.

    I do not dislike them in no way, just tired of hearing about them. But when I see what young people are listening to and looking at, I think I would rather stick with the dead people. The lack of morality these days amazes me, it really is a shame. It is very hard to raise your kid when fighting against media impressions. I work hard to limit my childrens exposure, yet them seem to be exposed anyway and influenced. I can only pray that what I tell them they will remember when they are grown and not what they hear on the radio or see on tv.

    To be honest as much as I am tired of hearing about the Kennedy’s if a movie about them came on tv tonight, I would probably watch it. But since I only watch about 2 hours of tv a week, I probably wouldn’t know it was on, and that’s ok too.

    Jenn

  4. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you liked it. Rahul.

  5. catarinaalexon Says:

    Great comment Jennifer that I agree with. Just not sure JFK will fade into history. He was after all assassinated and that goes a long way when it comes to being remembered.

  6. Richard Says:

    To add to the point that JFK and Jackie can still make headlines so long after their deaths; there is an official account of the assassination that the Kennedy family is keeping buried until Jackie and JFK's children pass (this was setup by Rose, JFK's mother and she mentions it in numerous interviews). Thus after Caroline passes the truth about JFK's death will be released to the public. This will keep their legacies in the public mind and cement their place in U.S. history books Thus I believe they will always be icons and we will have mixed emotions about their legacy.
    The assassinations of MLK, JFK and Bobby Kennedy are and always will be the image of the turbulent 1960's in the U.S, just like the photo of the couple kissing in Times Square signifies the 1940's/WWII and Elvis evokes the 1950's, the JFK assignation evokes the memories of the 1960's and thus he will never be forgotten by younger generations. His legacy as a great President will be debated ( his re-election was in jeopardy in Nov.1962) and his actions in the Cuban Missile Crisis will always be a case study in crisis management. However, it is Jackie's actions that have made JFK an icon, she coined the phrase 'Camelot" shortly after his death and that phrase is how most Americans still remember him. She was his PR person the rest of her life and even long after her death.

  7. catarinaalexon Says:

    Good points Richard. Glad you agree with me that Jackie was an expert in branding.

  8. Julie Weishaar Says:

    Very Interesting post Catarina. I think I would use the word "charismatic" to describe JFK – and I know I am not the first to use that description. Jackie certainly was an expert at personal branding and how to personify class. Will the Kennedy legacy live on in future generations? I don't know – I think it depends upon what direction the future holds – which of course – none of us know. Wonder how long the "Beatles" will be known by the younger generations. I wonder if there are some who have no idea who they are today :)
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  9. Susan Oakes Says:

    Hi Catarina,

    I think they will be remembered as they were so different to others when he became President. It is also not just the assassination, but also the theories about his death, his life and the lives of the whole family as well as what was happening in the world at the time. This latest information just adds to the story. I wonder if the same fascination with Princess Diana which is along the same lines continues as well.
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  10. Angela C. Says:

    Interesting questions… I often wonder whether the untimely deaths of celebrities serve to enhance their intrigue and overall persona in the eyes the general public. If they remained alive and began to age (like the rest of us!) would we still find them so dreamy? If they changed their views or any key factor that has made the public fall in love with them, would we continue to follow? Part of why we are so intrigued by them (in addition to whatever they did to earn their celebrity status) is the fact that they died young or in a tragic way. It's interesting and hard to answer because we may not ever know. We do know that some celebs fall from stardom and as fans we are fickle and lose interest. But with some of the icons it's hard to say.

    Angela :) http://www.habitformingsuccess.com

  11. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes Stacy the fact that JFK was assassinated makes a huge difference to his legacy.

  12. catarinaalexon Says:

    Good points Angela.

  13. catarinaalexon Says:

    True Susan, Diana is another celebrity who will be remembered because of her early death.

  14. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes Julie how long the Kennedys, Beatles and others will be known is a questionmark. However, I somehow believe that JFK will be remembered much longer than The Beatles.

  15. catarinaalexon Says:

    Lou isn't the important aspect of a president if he was a good president and not if he was a ladiesman.

  16. catarinaalexon Says:

    Good comment Jeannette that I agree with.

  17. Jayne Kopp Says:

    Hi Catarina, it's difficult to say really isn't it. Could it be the fact of the way JFK died that added to the mystique and icon factor? I guess we will never know.

    Perhaps the people may have seen other sides and lost their love and infatuation.

    I feel the assassination added the intrigue for the most part. I don't really think they would have been as iconic had he lived.

    Jayne

  18. catarinaalexon Says:

    My pleasure Radu.

  19. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad we agree Jayne.

  20. catarinaalexon Says:

    Interesting Lou. Don't you think it was much easier in those days to be a president because he didn't have to cope with news being broadcast 24/7. If media had been like today JFK would not have been able to do what he did. Not even sure he would have been elected.

  21. Deck Says:

    Very Interesting post, Catarina and it is nice to know that Jackie had an actual job prior to meeting JFK.

  22. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you like it Deck. She was actually a hightly intelligent woman, as the tapes show.

  23. catarinaalexon Says:

    Intelligent way of looking at it Natalie.

  24. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree Ian. Just remember that Jackie's main strategy for building up their brand was to refuse to talk to any journalists i.e. building up herself and hence Camelto as a mystery.

  25. yearwoodcom Says:

    Anyone who wants to engage the public should make note of the power of the Kennedy brand. It isn't sustained by luck, but through very careful maintenance by the family and to a certain degree, by a public looking to recapture a special time in their past. Jackie was certainly clever, but the ongoing fascination speaks to ongoing management. I think it's interesting that the reporter questioned why the daughter would release tapes that were not completely flattering of Jackie Kennedy. The question I had was, how interesting would those tapes be if they were completely sanitized? How much coverage would they have gotten?

    I think had he lived we may have see more flaws, but I'm not sure that would have detracted from the excitement and sophistication associated with the Kennedy name. They took the concept of personal branding to a completely unanticipated level. Given our current preoccupation with personal brand and the emergence of social media, they might be more popular going forward than ever before. Gucci's "Jackie" bag certainly speaks to the strength of the brand.
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  26. Leora Says:

    Says: the uploader has not made this video available in your country, on both my computer and iPad.

    I think they both really did have charm. Companies try to invent that stuff, but you only succeed that well if you are telling the truth.

    There was much more to the wonder than just the charm. How about the attachment of Roman Catholics to having one of their own in the White House? A friend just wrote about her grandmother's attachment. I don't think this piece was about charisma.
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  27. catarinaalexon Says:

    Jackie certainly knew what she was doing when she built up their brand, Debra. What would have happened if she hadn't built up a brand? Agree with you that Caroline was right not to edit the tapes to become more flattering. Jackie was the one who invented the Camelot brand and then after she was gone the family maintained what she had created. According to our mutual friends, JFK had the type of charm and charisma that enables people to get away with anything. He would have been a huge success when media got more and more visual. But what would have happened if he had pulled out of Vietnam? What else would he have done on the political scene? Fascinating question, but we will never know.

  28. catarinaalexon Says:

    Laura, I have changed the video since the NSA seems to have blocked AlJazeera in the US. It can be watched in other countries. Anyway, JFK was one of those people who fill up a room. Life is much easier when you do. Honestly am not sure how good a politician he was because I have no first hand accounts. Our mutual friends are long gone and they knew him privately. Went to his inauguration, White House parties and so forth but that doesn't give you an insight to him as a politician. But then again, apparently he was going to pull out of Vietnam. If he had lived what would his legacy have been? It's an interesting question isn't it. But we will never know.

  29. jacquiegum Says:

    Yes they are icons..I too have always had a fascination with the family. Mostly, I'm impressed with Jackie's genuine love for her husband and family. But I'm not sure how his presidency would have been viewed in retrospect, had the nature of his death not been so tragic. As to her building a brand, I guess I never thought of it quite as intentional as that. But you are probably right. She was deeply concerned for his legacy and did build the brand.
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  30. catarinaalexon Says:

    Jackie did a fantastic job. We should all follow in her footsteps. Could branding be done better? And the odd thing is that she definitely knew that he was unfaithful. Most women would have done the opposite of what she did. A woman scorned….well you know…

  31. Susan Cooper Says:

    Most people are not aware of Jackie's background as a photojournalist. She was a smart and shrewd individual who understood the political landscape. She understood how important the Kennedy brand was in their collective aspirations for the future. Sadly, we will never know how it would have weather as time passed. One can only surmise what it would have been.
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  32. becc03 Says:

    I too am not American as you know but have always been fascinated by "Camelot". I am also fascinated with Elvis, Marylin and James Dean, not necessarily for their early departure (although that does add to the mystique) but because they were all so captivating or charismatic.
    They were all so very talented in their own right whether it was an intentional (or unintentional) brand created by Jackie or an amazing singing voice.
    I think part of why they became icons is because they were the complete package at the right time. I find it hard to think of anyone (whether they have died young or not) that has risen to that kind of icon status in recent history.
    I am unsure that I look up to them as iconic figures. They were very flawed individuals. Great in their own right, but flawed just like the rest of us.
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  33. Mark Brody Says:

    Catarina – As always, a very thought provoking post. As a history major in college, I did study this period quite a bit. My son's and I have had many a discussion about the implications of the Kennedy assassination. I too have often wondered how different two Kennedy terms would have been, and then a possibility of Robert Kennedy being elected in 1968. The world may have been much different today.

    Thank you for sharing!
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  34. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree with me about the importance of what Jackie did, Susan.

  35. catarinaalexon Says:

    The fact that you have always been fascinated by Camelot, Rebecca, shows what a great job Jackie did. All human beings are flawed as you say. Don't think there is anyone that would not come across as flawed when journalists start digging. A lot of people would not even be able to hand being constantly hounded by media. It's awful.

  36. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you like my post, Mark. As you say, we will never know.

  37. patweber Says:

    Great post Catarina. I've been listening to some of the news journalists who speculate about your question – what would the effects have been if he JFK had lived?

    Personally I think our US media helps perpetuate things like this. What I wonder is how much different our country and world would be if we focused more on the present.

    Thanks Catarina.
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  38. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thanks Pat. Not sure it will ever be possible to focus on the present only. So far humanity has not managed to do so and I don't think it's possible. The past is one aspect but so is the future. We can't completely plan the future, but at least we have to have an idea of where we are aiming and how to get there.

  39. Sherryl Perry Says:

    Catarina,Catarina,
    Having lived nearby Cape Cod Massachusetts since I was 2, I can attest that the Kennedys are legendary in this area. (We have seen members of the Kennedy family who have no prior experience elected to political positions based solely on their name alone.) John Fitzgerald Kennedy was especially charismatic. On. It's my belief that if he hadn't been assassinated, he would still be an icon.
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  40. JeriWB Says:

    It's hard to say how long it will take the population's fascination with the Kennedy's to fame. The last few weeks have been an onslaught of documentaries and TV shows on the subject. It's getting to be an event much like anything else that gets tons of attention focused on it for a small span of time during the year. With over 500 books on the subject of his assassination, it's safe to say the allure of Camelot will continue for some time. Camelot, whether King Arthur's kingdom or the Kennedy's presidency looked great from afar, but up close was rife with all sort of shenanigans. The fantasy just never gets old for most people who would much rather have the fairy tale than the truth.
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  41. catarinaalexon Says:

    Not surprised about what you say, Sherryl. Also think he would still be an icon even if he had not been assassinated. He had the charm and charisma it takes.

  42. catarinaalexon Says:

    Good way of putting it, Jeri. Agree with you that the allure of Camelot will continue for quite some time.

  43. cheryltherrien Says:

    I suspect that it will be a long time yet before the fascination with these two fades, if it ever does.
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  44. Vernessa Taylor Says:

    Hi Catarina,

    Timely post and excellent treatment of the subject of the late President and his wife as icons. This year, I watched the new documentaries and realized anew just how much the world remains fascinated by the Kennedy's. Over the years, I've read numerous thoughts, theories, facts (and I'm sure some fiction) about the assassination, his days in politics, her life, JFK, Jr.'s activities (and death) and whatever I could find on Caroline.

    Thanks for another take!
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  45. catarinaalexon Says:

    Agree with you, Cheryl.

  46. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you like my article, Vernessa.

  47. Jeannette Paladino Says:

    Catarina — I remember the day of the Kennedy assassination as if it were yesterday. I was very young and just starting out on a career in NY. The whole nation was glued to our black-and-white TV's for that entire weekend and the funeral ceremony. I cried the whole time and so did my family and friends, that's how shocking and upset we were. Truly, that day was one of the worst of my life. Most people alive today weren't even born yet, but the Kennedy mystic lives on. It will live on in history books and taught in schools.. Maybe the assassination won't have the visceral impact that it has now but it will always be a landmark event in the history of the U.S.

  48. catarinaalexon Says:

    Agree with you that the Kennedys will live on even in history books.

  49. TheGirl Says:

    I'm not thrilled with JFK per se, because he made bad policy decisions with the "Cold War" and South America, either way I pretty much ignored most the JFK tributes…no family is that perfect. There's always skeletons.
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  50. catarinaalexon Says:

    You are perfectly entitled to your opinion. But that doesn't change the fact that JFK & Jackie are icons. Not only in the US but the whole world.

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