Though John F. Kennedy’s biological life ended when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963, a cadre of alternative existences lives on. Kennedy the father, our president, the family man and soldier being just three alternative and complimentary existences at play. Kennedy is among a small cast of characters whose death provides a birth: figures who in leaving become enlivened by symbolic status. History is rich with great figures whose greatness went unrecognized when they were alive. Kennedy, like these figures, is an individual “cut down early” or geniuses living “beyond their time.”
Though few knew John F. Kennedy personally, millions feel a sense of sadness when considering his death. Often frames of commonality are applied to garner senses of melancholy. Not just a man but “President” “father”, “Catholic” or “solider” these labels become points of identification and relation. We more easily mourn the loss of someone we relate to or in whom we’ve placed significant importance. Is the death of a President more tragic than another? Of the millions who died on November 22, 1963 why is it John F. Kennedy that continues to capture public attention each November 22?
One wonders how the use of terms is utilized to manipulate responses. Are we mourning Kennedy or ” a president” Do his roles as “father” or “husband” make us more upset than an alternative JFK whose lack of children and wife negate these labels? What of his label as “Catholic”? One wonders whether the constant application of these terms functions more as a distortion. When a priest mentions Kennedy as Catholic does the moment of silence become something more? How is this religious figure utilizing JFK’s faith to cull reaction? What does it matter what Kennedy believed?
In memorializing the life of someone we warp that person’s existence. We layer on symbolic frosting and create some new identity whose c0nnection to its biological root is foreign. Are Presidents laying a wreath on Kennedy’s grave remembering or mourning their own death?Are we crying more for symbols or for something other- something beyond our experience and knowledge?
Technological change comes fast. Consider the number of phone numbers you held in your memory a decade ago. Was it more? How has GPS affected your ability to give directions. Many often respond with “Do you have GPS?” when asked to give directions. Technology changes who we are and how we live.
But what of those who loathe technology and instead desire “good old days”? Is anyone capable of existing in a world divorced of technology? Technology is everywhere and impossible to avoid. From grocery stores to libraries every location in society has been affected by technology. One cannot be a Luddite now.
Perhaps most profound about technological change is this inability to avoid it. We need not own technology to be affected. Pew reported in 2013 that just 56% of Americans have smart phones. What of that 44%- are they floundering alone and lost in their world without a data plan and killer apps? Does the user of the “dumb phone” flounder in a world without GPS and data plans? Of course not. Technological change is inherent and profound.
For a select category of products, consumer trust defines the relationship. Mary buys kosher beef with the confidence that her religious beliefs are not contradicted in her use of the product. In a sense, her need for the product stems not from solely her desire; instead, she purchases the item because it allows her to meet religious expectations and deliver pleasure. There is a dual role for products in many transactions- situations in which consumer desire involves multiple needs and expectations.
Consider violations of this trust. Vegans are shocked to hear of animal by-products in Chipotle’s beans. Jewish consumers are stunned to find that their supposedly kosher beef contains horse. The examples are numerous and spread throughout time; though, what remains common with each is this common violation of consumer trust and expectation.
Product failure happens all the time. A battery dies or a pixel fades to black. Consumers have come to understand planned obsolescence and regularly buy new phones, devices and toys despite having working models. Capitalism benefits from this system as innovation drives progress for both consumer and manufacturer. Perhaps the ideal economy is a world in which this dance is perfectly balanced and paced.
Despite this sense of what defines ideal, a world of competition creates benefits to cheat. To cut corners means to reduce costs and severe competition leads to a world where all cuts are on the table. The recent horse meat scandal in Europe is a prime example of the dangers of complicated networks and expected low costs. Expand the network out and more links become involved.
As we work towards greater levels of global competition we will see more violations of this consumer trust. Despite a greater concern for public health, as seen in America’s Affordable Care Act, the networks from which our health and society function grow increasingly less concerned with users who consume. When price becomes priority and reducing it the most valuable accomplishment there are no limitations to the means to reduce cuts. What today may shock us as appalling will likely pale as we demand more for less and blind ourselves with complex networks.
Let me play a recording from 1961. Will you know its not from 1991? Assume you do not see me drop the vinyl on the record player or thrust the VHS into the VCR- would you know the era of the work of art? Certain arts are dated by the medium of production. A recording from the 1960s sounds like its from the 1960s. You can see the age of movies in their very nature. Though the story line is common, the date of a production informs our reading of a text, film, or song.
Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” considers our relation to art when it can be copied. If the gift shop sells a post card of The Mona Lisa, can we just skip the original and hit the cafe? Benjamin thinks not- he asserts an “aura” surrounds the original. An initial creation exists as something more than just an object. A painting is more than just some paint on canvas or the ideas suggested in the medium’s arrangement. The work is many things: a document of artistic creation? A historical document or record? This list is truly endless: art can be anything and everything.
Despite this ambiguous existence the work of art itself suffers from its means of creation. Media decays and technology evolves to place a work of art in history. As the work ages we gain a sense of how old it is. When the painting falls to shreds does Benjamin’s suggested “aura” become depleted? The Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC displays the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the Star Spangled Banner. The flag is highly tattered from its age and experience but is its aura affected? In the end it is the viewer that invests this flag with meaning. Might our flag, draped carefully from the garage inspire similar feelings from Key? Is it rather the battle or the moment that inspired Key?