Gen Z Thinks Jackie Bites
ICYMI: I talked about the late queen’s relationship with American presidents on MSNBC. For more on my correspondence with Windsor Castle, read “The Queen Hasn’t Returned My Letter” and “Update: The Queen Replied to My Letter.”
Ich bin ein
Have you noticed the Elizabethan Virgin Queen cosplay on the streets? Everywhere I look, people are laden with pearls. They’re sewn onto clothes, glued on headbands, and, of course, piled on necks, where chokers upon chokers tangle with longer strands bearing lockets, initials, and crosses. I’m into it. In the screenshot up top, I’m wearing tiny pearl hoops.
So when a friend mentioned that Jackie Kennedy Onassis, the woman who is often quoted as saying “Pearls are always appropriate,” was trending on TikTok, I assumed it was about her iconic style, grace, and beauty. When it comes to fashion, Jackie is considered beyond reproach by millennials like me (just barely, calm down) all the way up to the Greatest Generation.
But Jackie is being dragged in Gen Z’s corner of TikTok, and they don’t give a shit about your darlings.
At first, I was genuinely confused by #jackiekennedyeatssheetmetal, #jackiiekennedy, #jackiikennedy, #jamiekennedy, #jackkennedydeath, #jackiesdeath, #jackiemegandani, #jackiekennedysheetmetal, #jackiewantsheetmetal, #jackieescalante.
Christian Divyne’s justification gave me pause. This was about midcentury dentistry? (See also: “Taft Is Still NOT Stuck in the Bath.”) I wish he’d expanded on her “fucked-up views,” but the source is likely Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy. When the book was released, in 2011, readers encountered a very different Jackie Kennedy. She wasn’t the young widow who pushed the Camelot myth in a December 1963 issue of Life, or the Jackie who would go on to outlive another rich husband, and enjoy a final act editing books.
“[John F. Kennedy] told me of a tape that the FBI had of Martin Luther King when he was here for the freedom march. And he said this with no bitterness or anything, how he was calling up all these girls and arranging for a party of men and women, I mean, sort of an orgy in the hotel, and everything. … He made fun of Cardinal Cushing and said that he was drunk at it [the funeral] ... I just can’t see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, you know, that man’s terrible.”
According to Caroline Kennedy, who decided to unseal the tapes, the infamous FBI director J. Edgar Hoover “was poisonous.” Jackie’s “views” were based on his. But Christian Divyne is right to say it was “fucked up” to judge MLK based on Hoover—something JFK cautioned Jackie against at the time.
In 2011, the Washington Post gauged reactions to the book from civil rights leaders, and the range was fascinating.
“Obviously, she has been tarnished and has been exposed for what she really was. … Camelot was a fairy tale.” —Eugene Grant, Seat Pleasant mayor
“I think that her comments show that people have their public face about race and they say what is socially responsible, then they have their private views, which shows the insidiousness and the challenge of dealing with the root causes of racial disparity. President Kennedy was probably progressive for his time, but we have to put these comments in the context of that period when blacks and whites lived in two separate worlds.” —Joy Freeman, a district lawyer who worked for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
“I remember seeing Mrs. Kennedy leaving Ebenezer Baptist Church on Auburn. … She was more isolated, and her reactions came from listening to conversations.” —Dorie Ladner, field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
“Bobby Kennedy in his anxiety as Attorney General allowed J. Edgar Hoover to do the wiretapping. It just shows the spirit of the times. … The people who hurt us was not Jackie Kennedy. … I still see Jackie Kennedy in very favorable terms.” —Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights activist
In 1964, when Arthur Schlesinger, the historian and aide to John F. Kennedy, conducted the first interview, Jackie was in mourning. She had mistakenly chosen to move back to Georgetown, where she’d lived with JFK when he was a senator, into a house that was completely wrong for the moment. Journalists and spectators were stationed outside around the clock. She was terrified someone would harm her children. The drapes were always drawn.
She never felt safe. Like Mary Lincoln, Jackie had been an eyewitness to her husband’s assasination. After JFK was shot in Dallas, she spent the car ride to the hospital holding his skull together. It’s believed that Jackie suffered from PTSD.
That’s no excuse. It’s context. And what followed four short years later is, too. By 1968, Jackie called a highrise apartment in New York home and the King family friends. She avoided big public events, but made exceptions–when a Kennedy ran for office, she showed up, and when MLK was murdered, she attended his funeral. She remained remained friendly with his widow, Coretta Scott King.
But I digress! Back to tin.
I kept watching videos. I remained confused.
Determined, I stayed on the line until I reached a representative.
Valerie made me laugh, but a few minutes later, I was nothing more than a passive observer of TikTok—which was disappointing! I love to see what creative people do with my subjects in different mediums. I need to. When I was writing my biography of George Washington, concerned friends worried his dry writing would hamstring my dark humor. “He’s just so vanilla,” exclaimed a historian who studies John Adams, and there’s no denying that whiny little bitch often delights on the page. I did just fine, and credit two of the men I quoted in that book’s epigraph for keeping it light: Brad Neely and Lin-Manuel Miranda. I’m not sure if JFK’s “He’s a silly bastard! I wouldn’t have him running a cathouse!” will have the same lasting power, but I’ve listened to it dozens of times and still laugh. And it makes me think. I read the press he cited, looked at historic photos of the department store, and read catalogs and financial records. Little if anything I’ve found will make it into the book I’m writing on young Kennedy—but it all helps.
If, that is, the joke is rooted in history. Metal wasn’t on the menu.
I took to the digital archives and received a mere two results.
As Robert Caro said, turn every page.
Sadly, I ran out of pages, so I turned my attention to a variation on the theme: bacon speculation.
Marilyn Monroe famously sang “Happy Birthday” to JFK in the since-deleted tweet, but again, I was distracted. I decided it was best to call it before I felt compelled to drop into the chat with a “Hey man, Jackie wasn’t even at Madison Square Garden that night!” I don’t need that kind of heat.
I gave up then and there, but people keep sending me new ones, asking if I’ve seen it, get it, like it. Yes, kinda, doesn’t matter. My message for Gen Z is the same as the one I offered the Thigh Men: Every generation needs its storytellers …
ON A RELATED NOTE:
The historian Keisha Blain on the myth of objective history: “Telling ‘neutral’ historical accounts of egregious practices such as slavery and lynching serves a fundamental purpose—to excuse injustices of the present and thereby maintain systems of oppression. It is a form of purposeful amnesia designed to empower oppressors.”
ON A UNRELATED NOTE:
Jennifer Schuessler on the Finnish historian Pekka Hämäläinen’s new book: “Indigenous Continent, published on Tuesday by Liveright, aims to do nothing less than recast the story of Native American—and American—history, portraying Indigenous people not as victims but as powerful actors who profoundly shaped the course of events.”
Joanna Scutts on Greenwhich Village feminists! Get your copy today.
See you soonish! Until then, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram, and the books we’ve mentioned on Bookshop and Amazon. If you’d like a personalized copy of my books, please order them from Oblong.