Presidential Pornography

From the Editorial Archive January 1998

From the Editorial Archive January 1998
Presidential Pornography
by David Sedgwick, Associate Jung Page Editor

Gore Vidal, quoting Seymour Hersch in a recent issue of the New Yorker, presents us with the following image of John F. Kennedy in the White House:

One of them [Secret Service agents] would bring the President a hooker when he was lying on his back in the tub and the she'd get on top of him and then when he was ready the Secret Service guy standing behind her would shove her head underwater.

Vidal, jaded cynic (and name-dropper extraordinaire) that he is, does not appear to blanch at this. In fact he had reported a similar story about Kennedy and an actress in his own memoirs. He clinically explains that "the shock of the head being shoved underwater would cause vaginal contractions, thus increasing the pleasure of a man's own orgasm."

Nice. This sadistic image of JFK is, in sequence, shocking, disgusting, titillating, and, finally, upsetting. It is, thus, pornographic.

This is certainly a Kennedy we never knew (wasn't there a eulogistic book several years, or decades, ago called Jack, We Hardly Knew Ye?) and a Kennedy we don't want to know. It is a long way from a piece like Ben Bradlee's post-assassination That Special Grace to here.

The fate of the idealized seems to be, ultimately, to be torn down. This is a cultural phenomenon, as well as one we find evidence for in personal development (v. Kohut, Winnicott). Whatever we had of the idea of "Kennedy" is now gone.

Presidents and public figures now arrive tainted; for example, Bill Clinton. We seem to thrive in some way on the pornographic saga of Bill, and expect it (recall Saturday Night Live comic Dan Ackroyd's fine shtick as Jimmy Carter, who sinned only in his heart, pledging to maintain the legacy of "Democratic sexual performance in the White House"). Even the image of Hillary Rodham Clinton--our first liberated "First Lady"--seems to be fading fast, though not for sexual transgressions. The Clintons may escape this, to our collective joy or dismay perhaps ("they got away!"), but the creeping disillusionment is there.

Nixon arrived tainted and lived up to all our expectations, even surpassed them. We can listen in (the tapes). Thanks in part to Nixon (and Vietnam), or at least symbolized by them, it is an entirely post-idealistic age. We like to look and watch, and we like to see them come down. That's the story, and that's the plan.

Princess Di, the "English Rose," is in all this too, a longstanding object of our vicarious, pornographic concern. We liked to look at her, maybe see her naked. Apparently lovable in her vulnerability, and (like Jackie Kennedy) the one-time princess or queen to the handsome prince-king, she has in death given us an uplifting spin. Not just the grim facts but the feeling and atmosphere of her death were, to many, just like JFK's, which is odd when you think about it (or think about Mother Theresa) though perfectly parallel on the level of our connection with image-inary public people we don't know. Her death (and her life), like Kennedy's, seem redemptive, at least temporarily. Yet there is the horrific ending to it, the taint of her relationship with the playboy "Dodi," and the ultimate pornographic event: a deadly car wreck (with the photographers, like ourselves, closing in for a ghastly look).

These are real people we don't really know, will never know, and, actually, do not really care about. They are a screen, and on a screen. However, the images, and the movement of images, are important.

There's something of all this, to my way of thinking, in the recent slanders on Jung: Jung the con man, Jung the Nazi (i.e., Hitler's boy), Jung the polygamist, Jung with the ten thousand babes (a veritable JFK). These insinuations are not about history, or about wanting to understand someone psychologically. They're obviously not about caring about somebody, nor are they, really, about caring about ideas. What they're about is pornography--that's the spirit of them.

Copyright 1998 David Sedgwick. All rights reserved.