Holiday Reading: Will JFK & Jackie always be icons?

jfk, jackie, icons

John F. Kennedy was assassinated 54 years ago but the world is still fascinated by “Camelot”. Would that have been the case if Jackie had not been a master of branding? What Jackie Kennedy recorded on tape 51 years ago became headline news all over the world when released. Listen to some of what Jackie had to say about their years in The White House:

Their daughter Caroline, who used to be the US ambassador to Japan, decided to release Jackie’s thoughts and memories six 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 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 – Picture: gildas_f

69 thoughts on “Holiday Reading: Will JFK & Jackie always be icons?

  1. It is not people that are remembered, but what they represent. For the Kennedy's it was a dream of an American Camelot. A new beginning of justice and fairness. People Die, Dreams can live on forever.

  2. Yes the Kennedys have long fascinated contemporary culture. My brother told me just this weekend about a film he had seen that tells how many people in government and politics actually despised JFK. I think it was called 13 Days. I shall have to look it up as it sounds intriguing.

    1. Interesting that people are so fascinated by the Kennedys. Now, like you write, a new angle seems to be how despised he was. Is there any politician that isn't both liked and disliked?

  3. Jackie Kennedy had an air about her. She was classy, classic and also mysterious. The Kennedy's certainly had a "brand" which she worked hard to maintain.

    Whilst the rich and famous may have problems, they can deal with their problems whilst living in extreme comfort. A poor person has the stress of lack of finances and dealing with problems – double whammy!

  4. Very few knew how intelligent Jackie was or anything about her background in photojournalism. Very shrewd woman who really understood how important the Kennedy brand was and how to keep some of the mystique. I would have been interesting to see how the rest of his presidency played out. I think people will forever be fascinated by them, much like Princess Diana.

    1. More than pr spin actually. Jackie developed a brand for them long before branding became fashionable. How many brand gurus today who earn a fortune manage to create a brand that is so strong it lasts more than half a century?

  5. It was more than John and Jackie, or being icons, it was a moment in history.
    The 20th century had seen 2 great wars, a depression, and a holocaust occur. The Kennedys represented a new life, a new beginning, a Camelot. They were to usher in a new era.
    But like so many dreams, the world woke up.

    1. Absolutely, it was Camelot. If mutual friends were right JFK would have pulled out of Vietnam. So maybe it would have been better if what you call “the dream” had continued.:-)

  6. People love to have icons to admire. The Kennedys were very attractive, accomplished and interesting people. Of course a martyr and his wife, who were already admired, make the perfect idols. There's no way to know how they would be thought of had JFK lived. He may have made better decisions during the rest of the time he served as president … or not.

  7. It is really interesting to think of JFKs legacy were he not shot. We probably would remember him with less rose colored glasses as those who die prematurely often get frozen in a fantasy like time-capsule. The time in history that followed was so turbulent though it surely would have played out differently with JFK as president. I was born after his time and I grew up looking back in awe of Camelot. I do wonder what kids today know about JFK. I met a young guy who had never heard of John Lennon, so I think it is completely possible that many kids today only know the minimum of JFK. We’ll see how his name and his image persists over time and how relevant the 60s seem to the current young generation.

    1. Good points you make, Erica. What JFK had done if he had stayed in office is impossible to know. He talked privately to his friends about pulling out of Vietnam. But would he have done that? Depends on what happened in the world.

  8. As you stated, Jackie left an air of mystery as I believe Victoria Beckham does. It leaves people wanting to know more about them.

    Most people do like to look up to others in terms of class, success, clothes, beauty.

    I think the Kennedy’s will always fascinate people.

  9. What different times those were. I couldn't help but think of some of our USA people in the street interviews. Some younger people, even people in general, don't even know who our VP is today. This makes me wonder would they even have heard of the Kennedys?

    I was in high school standing at my locker when he was assassinated. Somethings you always remember. Would JFK have been the icon he is today if he hadn’t been assassinated? I believe the Camelot appeal and his conservative stance as a democrat would certainly have him stay in the mind of people aware of their political leaders.

    1. Yes that was a different era, Patricia. Was a toddler so I don't remember much. Agree with you that the Camelot appeal and other aspects of him would have made people remember him even if he had not been assassinated.

  10. 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.

  11. 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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  12. 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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  13. 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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  14. 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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    1. 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.

  15. 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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  16. 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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    1. 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.

  17. 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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  18. 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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    1. 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…

  19. 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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    1. 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.

  20. 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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    1. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.


    1. 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.

  23. 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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  24. 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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  25. 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.

  26. 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.


  27. 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…

    1. 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.

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