Plotting the Kennedy Assassination
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Plotting the Kennedy Assassination book
The assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas in 1963 has inspired more conspiracy thinking in America than any other event in the twentieth century. From official government enquiries to amateur websites, and from Hollywood films to literary novels, those seven seconds of mayhem in Dealey Plaza have been relentlessly examined for clues not just to a plot to kill the President, but to the hidden agenda of the last four decades of American history. In the collection of the unofficial Assassination Archives and Research Center in Washington, DC there are more than two thousand books on the JFK shooting and related topics. In the wake of Oliver Stone's film JFK (1991), nearly half the books on the New York Times top-ten bestseller list in early 1992 were about the case, and, significantly, all of them promoted conspiracy theories of one kind or another. 1
The Kennedy assassination has become synonymous with conspiracy theory, weaving its way into the cultural fabric of everyday life in the postwar United States. In phrases like "magic bullet" and "grassy knoll" the lexicon of conspiracy research has entered the public vocabulary. The assassination and its accompanying culture of conspiracy never seem to be far from the headlines, nor from popular culture. JFK assassination theories make a cameo appearance in dramas as diverse as Annie Hall and The Simpsons. In Richard Linklater's cult @m Slacker (1991), for example, the nerdy character running the local used book store confesses that studying the minutiae of the assassination is pretty much all he has done since graduating from college, the culmination of which is a manuscript he is working on that the publisher wants to call "Conspiracy A-Go-Go." It might be not much of an exaggeration to claim, as a Dallas psychologist asserts in the opening paragraph of D. M. Thomas's 1992 assassination novel F(ying in to Love, that "Ten thousand dreams a night ... are dreamt about Kennedy's assassination.,,2 Even when not directly there, the assassination seems to be an absent presence in many fictional and factual treatments of recent American history, a ghostly and unspoken moment of hidden causality. For example, in Thomas Pynchon's classic conspiracy text The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), the assassination of President Kennedy is never mentioned, yet always seems to be hovering just out of reach-much like the sinister Tristero conspiracy that the novel outlines. Written in the year after the assassination, Pynchon's novella chronicles the attempts by a regular California housewife to investigate the mysterious death of a wealthy and important man with an Irish-sounding name (Pierce Inverarity) whose legacy seems to extend to the whole of America. Once Oedipa Maas starts looking, it appears that there are ominous signs everywhere, as the whole of America becomes a tantalizing clue to a mystery that remains just beyond her grasp. For many Americans since Pynchon's pioneering journey into the abyss of infinite suspicion, the Kennedy assassination has become an inexhaustible motherlode of conspiracy theory, the primal episode from which all subsequent events, clandestine or otherwise, seem to emerge. Many contemporary conspiracy theories wager that the whole of recent American history is somehow linked to those seven seconds in Dealey Plaza, and that by understanding the details of the shooting, the larger political picture will eventually be revealed.