Five Great JFK Conspiracy Reads, and Why the Genre is Important
Sometimes described as the Great Dragon of Conspiracies, the “Assassination of JFK” is undergoing a dramatic shift. It is fast fading into that realm of myth and lore where other dragons reside, where memories fade and murky legend becomes all that is left. A land where tales told around the watchfire, which we now label as fiction, may yet keep the inquiry alive. Speaking of such a time, a paraphrased movie line* seems apt:
The world is changing. Much that once was is lost; for few now live who remember it.
In our time, a generation of conspiracists is passing. The fervent desire to find a Truth will soon be but a flickering candle.
Indeed, as the number of actual researchers dwindles, the research seems almost analog, residing in paper files with sticky notes protruding, clutched in hands that bear the age spots and creases of a prior generation. Sometimes it never escapes the most minute niche fascination. What hope for a break in this ultimate cold case is left? Before it becomes no fresher than the cold earth of the murder of Lincoln? Or Caesar?
Yet all hope is not lost. New tools are at hand, and new information may yet be discovered. The truth of a conspiracy, if it, in fact, is true, will not be revealed by old methods. It could well be revealed by sophisticated data analysis. It could be revealed by metadata connections never previously seen. It could be revealed by an effort at the level of that which tracked down Osama Bin Laden.
The blunt truth for now is that the JFK case is stalled. It is at The Watering Hole.
The what? Imagine (and switching metaphors) that you are tracking an elusive creature in a great savannah. Immense herds of animals pass through this land. They all stop at the area’s watering hole. A seep, a spring, it is busy with thousands of animals tromping all over it, the muddied tracks becoming indistinguishable and confused for a distance far from the center.
Dealey Plaza, along with the links of possible evidence leading out from it, is the watering hole of the JFK mystery. Starting with the flawed investigative aftermath of the assassination, through scores of theories and thousands of books, the landscape of conspiracy is so worked over and trampled that it defies explanation, much less comprehension, much less the general recognition of a historical truth.
Fiction has a key role to play in all of this. At worst, it is part of the trampling and confusion, at least in the public’s eye. Somewhat better, it simply replays the parlor game. At its best, it can spark new interest, suggest direction, even serve as a haunting reminder of a burning question that still deserves a definitive answer. It can also be entertaining as hell. My own short-short list highlights these variations.
- Winter Kills (1974) by Richard Condon plays the game with the standard pieces: a vast conspiracy, Cuba, the Mob, Kennedy family intrigue.
- Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (2011) takes us for a great ride on a time-travel route but ultimately poses little new insight.
- Libra (1988) by Don DeLillo takes us deep inside Oswald’s personal life and those who surround him.
- Mark Lane novelized Dalton Trumbo’s script (based on Lane’s nonfiction books) for Executive Action (1973) that is a close precursor to Oliver Stone’s iconic movie, JFK (1991).
- Watchmen (1987), Alan Moore’s graphic novel, takes the over-the-top approach that keeps “what-if” interest alive.
Which brings us back to The Watering Hole. The tracks of that elusive creature we seek may never be found. Perhaps as some intended all along.
The course of JFK fiction, however, suggests that the trail might be discovered anew. That energy might be revived. That tracks might be picked up by looking elsewhere, from a higher perspective, a satellite view, a digital intelligence effort, and from—what else—a lucky break of heretofore unknown evidence.
Much has been lost. Soon, few will live who remember the events. Let us gather around the watchfire. Let us tell the tales. Let us imagine how the truth might be found.
* Prologue from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New Line Cinema, 2001)
Submitted as Guest Post to The Strand Magazine
by Stephen Hillard, Author of KNOLL: The Last JFK Conspiracist (Select Books, NYC) (release date: June 6, 2017).