Tomorrow marks the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Like most of you reading this piece, I was not alive when this tragic event took place. America and the world were forever changed by this event and in the past five decades, there have been countless references to JFK through all forms of popular culture. With television programming this week focused on everything JFK-related, from his life story to more conspiracy theories picked apart regarding that awful day in Dealy Plaza, I figured the best way I can pay tribute is to showcase some of the best references to JFK in pop culture.
“The Twilight Zone”
Episode: Profile In Silver
It was 1985 and “The Twilight Zone” was experiencing a resurgence as the (short lived) second series was in full swing. The episode called “Profile In Silver” follows a time traveler named Dr. Joseph Fitzgerald from the year 2172 who travels back to record the assassination but ends up preventing it. This intervention creates a butterfly effect that changes history with a catastrophic chain of events that leads to nuclear war that will demolish the human race. Realizing his mistake, Fitzgerald goes back to reverse his actions and the timeline is ultimately restored when Fitzgerald replaces Kennedy in the motorcade which then transports JFK to the year 2172. (Take note, time travel is a recurring plot device used in many of the JFK references in this list.)
In The Line Of Fire
In The Line Of Fire Stars Clint Eastwood as Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan. The plot of the film follows a psychopath who intends to assassinate the current President Of The United States. Horrigan is the last remaining active agent who was on duty that fateful day in November, 1963. Agent Horrigan is consumed with guilt over his failure to react quickly enough to the first shot in Dallas and this haunts him still 30 years later. When he learns of Mitch Leary’s (John Malkovich) plans for assassination, Horrigan asks to be assigned directly to the President, determined for redemption. A digitally altered close-up of Ike Altgens’ famous photograph is shown in the film, featuring a young Eastwood riding on the running board of the Secret Service follow-up car in Dealey Plaza.
Episode: Lee Harvey Oswald
This episode of “Quantum Leap” is one of the absolute best episodes of the entire series. That isn’t an opinion, it is fact! For those unfamiliar with the show, it follows Doctor Sam Becket (Scott Bakula) as he leaps into different people throughout time to assist in some sort of goal to change their reality and set things right. It was usually small stuff that didn’t have a massive impact and that’s what makes the “Lee Harvey Oswald” episode so special. In this two-parter, Sam leaps into different parts of Lee Harvey Oswald’s life leading up to the assassination. Things get a bit complicated as Sam and Oswald start to merge together which turns into a battle over who remains in control.
This episode is powerful and as suspenseful as “Quantum Leap” got in its 5 seasons. Released during a time when the JFK conspiracy theories were making a comeback thanks to Oliver Stone, this episode refuted all that and claimed there was no conspiracy whatsoever. This topic was close to showrunner Donald Bellisario’s heart as he served in the marines with Oswald. A Sgt. Bellisario appears in Part 1 briefly.
In the “Doctor Who” episode titled “Rose”, a website shows a picture of the Ninth Doctor standing in the crowd at Dealy Plaza seconds before the shots were fired. The show’s spin-off novel “Who Killed Kennedy?” depicts the Doctor’s enemy known as “the Master” attempting to murder Lee Harvey Oswald before the assassination. The reason being, Kennedy’s survival would end up triggering a chain reaction in history that could wipe the Doctor from ever existing. This has been speculated as a possible reference to the fact that the original series debuted the day after the assassination.
Episode: The Boyfriend, Part 1
In “Seinfeld”, the episode “The Boyfriend, Part 1” parodies Oliver Stone’s film JFK documenting a ballpark spitting incident. There is a “second spitter” theory which pokes fun at the “second gunman” theory depicted in the courtroom scene of Stone’s film. This is one of the more popular episodes from the now classic sitcom.
Episode: Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man
The 7th episode of the 4th season of “X-Files” brought us “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man”. While having a secret meeting with The Lone Gunmen, Mulder and Scully learn more about The Cigarette-Smoking Man. The story here places a younger Cigarette-Smoking Man in 1963. It is revealed that he is the actual assassin, shooting from a sewer drain located near the grassy knoll and ultimately making Oswald his patsy.
Episode: The Grownups
The “Mad Men” episode called “The Grown Ups” follows each of the show’s characters as they react to JFK’s assassination. This episode represents America’s grief surrounding the assassination as well as its impact on our culture. As is common with the Matthew Weiner show, each of the characters represent archetypes of the era and thusly, their reactions speak to the larger picture of the time. For a show that takes place during the 1960s, it makes perfect sense to feature this as a focal point to an episode.
Both the graphic novel and movie Watchmen takes placed in an alternate reality in the 80s where Richard Nixon is still President Of The United States. Implied in the book and illustrated a bit more clearly in the movie’s opening credits, it portrays The Comedian as Kennedy’s assassin. In the image above he’s clearly firing the headshot from the grassy knoll.
We’re time traveling again! In Stephen King’s brilliant novel “11/22/63”, our hero Jake Epping travels back in time through a “doorway” located in a friend’s diner. This discovery leads to a mission to change a major “watershed moment” in American and World History. The story unfolds in some beautiful and tragic ways, ultimately bringing back the concept of the butterfly effect and bringing to question if saving JFK will be better for the country and world as a whole. It’s worth noting, “11/22/63” was optioned by JJ Abrams and is currently in development as a TV series.
“Call Of Duty: Black Ops”
This blog wouldn’t be complete without a video game reference, right? “Call of Duty: Black Ops” is that game. The 2010 first-person shooter featured the president in the game’s cut scenes showing him delivering an assignment to story’s protagonist Mason. The game hinted at Mason’s possible participation in the president’s assassination. Oh and I suppose I should mention the popular “zombie” mode in this game features JFK teaming up with Fidel Castro and Richard Nixon to kill the undead that are invading The White House.
It’s been 50 years since his tragic death, what other appearances has JFK had in pop culture since? Let me know in the comments below!
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