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August 22, 2004

Politics of Nostalgia

I went to see Collateral last night at one of those massive metroplexes last night. I'm planning to review the film later, but right now I just want to mention my curiosity about a new show, Jack and Bobby, that was advertised during the highly annoying pre-preview Regal Cinemas commercial fest, "The Twenty."

In an entry to Atlanta Metroblog, I discussed my initial reaction to the show. The title of the show initially led me to believe that the show is actually about John and Robert Kennedy as children. We know from the preview that one of the two boys grows up to become president. They grow up in a wealthy New England family. Even if the show is set in the present and is not based on the Kennedy story, it's impossible not to read their history into the show due to the show's title and the basic story of the series. In my original entry, I wrote:

Despite my aversion to "The Twenty," I did find myself intrigued by one of the shows they advertised, a new WB show called Jack and Bobby, made by the creative people behind Everwood and Dawson's Creek (I've never seen these shows, but I've heard they're pretty good). The show focuses on Jack and Bobby McCallister when they are children and seems to ask whether or not their future "greatness" can be seen when they are children, but of course, the family really repesents the Kennedys, something the preview clearly tried to gloss. It's an odd election-year fantasy, nostalgic for some ostensibly more innocent form of politics (which begs the question: how will it deal with Joe Kennedy's business connections?). The other notable creative decision was the choice to essentially write Ted (and half a dozen other brothers and sisters) out of the show. Based on the clips I saw and the promotional photo for the show, it's like Ted doesn't even exist. Now I don't expect TV shows to be historically accurate, and gauzy nostalgic shows about a more innocent past are always going to remember selectively. But it seems that for the premise of this show to succeed, it has to write Ted out of the picture. Otherwise we have a connection to the contemporary political scene, and the nostalgia concept would no longer be quite as possible.
Part of the sensation of nostalgia grew out of the show's aesthetics, which clearly tried to evoke a kind of timelessness, particularly through fashion and setting. In this context, there also seems to be some degree of nostalgia for a certain kind of economy that allows a "blue-blood" family like the Kennedys (in this case the McCallisters) to be portrayed without the ironic distance of someone like Paris Hilton (I may be guessing a bit here, after all it was a 2-minute preview). Finally, Jack and Bobby is told via flashbacks from the mid-21st century (via interviews with the future White House staff), which I imagine will structurally impose a nostalgic storytelling mode onto the show.

And of course the fact that the show is based on fictional characters allows them complete license to depart completely from the Kennedy myth if they choose. Even so, the complete erasure of Teddy from the story seems significant, and I think it's due almost entirely to the fact that he's still a public figure, and one who evokes a broad range of responses (oh, and I just realized that the show essentially will write Joe, Sr. out by giving Jack and Bobby a single mother). Jack and Bobby Kennedy have the "safety" of distance to make them more easily representable televisually. This speculation is not to suggest that I have already decided that Jack and Bobby will be a "bad" show. On the contrary, I'm very interested to see how it uses past political figures to navigate a contemporary political moment. I might even try to remember to watch it.

Update: I've been getting tons of hits for this entry, and it's not one of my best, so I'm changing the title of it.

Posted by chuck at August 22, 2004 3:04 PM

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You don't like the 20? LOL, my favorite part is when they tell you to come to theater early next time so you don't miss any of it!

I guess it's better than staring at a blank screen... maybe not.

So today is my first day of teaching here at B.U. I'm a little nervous!

Posted by: Chris at August 23, 2004 10:24 AM

Wow, Chris, good luck. Looking forward to hearing about your teaching experiences (and swapping suggestions about teaching film theory courses, if you're interested).

I think I'd rather stare at a blank screen, but the volume/sound of "The 20" may be what annoys me the most. Makes it harder to have a conversation before the film.

Posted by: chuck at August 23, 2004 10:58 AM

had the same thought about the volume as an hindrance to conversation. it's annoying. i suspect some people don't mind because they don't like to chat/talk, but I do. unless i go by myself, in which case it's something to do while i wait for the 2o minutes of previews to start ;-)

What are you teaching in terms of film theory? I don't have any theory courses this semester. Not sure when I'll get my first. This term, I'm teaching screenwriting, post production, and a course in legal issues for producers.

Posted by: Chris at August 23, 2004 12:18 PM

I'm not teaching film theory yet, but when I get a film job, I'm sure (or at least I hope) I'll be teaching it in some form. For undergraduates, I'd probably start with Braudy and Cohen's Film Theory and Criticsm. It's a good collection that compiles most of the major arguments in film theory.

Posted by: chuck at August 23, 2004 12:27 PM

Congrats on the new job, Chris!

Posted by: George at August 23, 2004 1:36 PM

Hey George, thanks. I'm excited to be here, but man, I feel like a total newbie here. I am still learning the institutional culture and the department's way of doing things, and it's always hard to penetrate that at a new place!

Posted by: Chris at August 23, 2004 2:16 PM

Okay, now I'm convinced that I'm cursed. My monitor just blew out. I was writing my Fight Club essay when I suddenly heard a "pop!" sound, and my monitor just went black. Ugh!

Posted by: chuck at August 23, 2004 11:04 PM

They aren't supposed to be The Kennedys. In fact there family and there lives are about as far from the Kennedys as you can get. Their names Jack and Bobby are supposed to be an allusion, if you even know what that means. They didn't write Joe or Teddy or the other siblings out, they weren't there. Come on pay a little more attention. There mother is an eccentric professor and they aren't from a blue blood family.

Posted by: Liz at September 1, 2004 7:42 AM

I clarified in the entry that they aren't supposed to be Jack and Bobby Kennedy, but the names automatically evoke that association. I suppose I could ask you to pay a little more attention to my blog entry.

You might be right about the "blue blood" point. After watching a commercial for the show at home, I had a much different impression than the commercial I saw at the theater.

I'd still stand by my comment about not including Ted, especially, in that the makers of the show consciously decided to allude to Jack and Bobby, not Jack, Bobby, and Ted (yes, I know the definition of "allusion;" perhaps next time you'll use the proper form of the word, "their").

Posted by: chuck at September 1, 2004 8:42 AM

I realized right after posting that that I had misspelled their. Just rushing, I guess. I apologize if I seemed rude. I've re-read the entry and I must say, you did make some wonderful comments on the show.

Posted by: Liz at September 2, 2004 8:21 AM

Thanks for checking back in. I wrote my response before I had any coffee, so I may have been just a little defensive. Same deal, I apologize if I seemed rude.

Posted by: chuck at September 2, 2004 9:13 AM


I was searching for info about Jack and Bobby and came to your blog. I watched the pilot today (aol users can watch it without commercial interruption). The similarities to the Kennedy family end with the names. They are raised by a single mother, and they appear to be well off but certainly not wealthy. It is the best new show in years, and I hope everyone enjoys it.


Posted by: Chris at September 8, 2004 1:49 AM

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