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November 22, 2004

The Wrong Man for the Right Role at the Wrong Time

John Derbyshire has posted two ten-reasons lists, one for Bush's reelection and one for Kerry's failure to be elected. I don't know how relevant this is, but the lists reminded me to post a thought that I had last night.

Because I hardly ever have time to sit in front of a television, these days, I've never watched the show American Dreams, which is set during the Vietnam era. Last night's episode, however, sucked me in. While the elder son — MIA and presumed by some of his family to be dead — limped his way through the jungles of Vietnam, his sister Meg accompanied her boyfriend to the local recruiting office to do some middle-of-the-night war protesting. To Meg's surprise, the boyfriend's pals began spreading gasoline around the place. After she'd stormed away, he threw a Molotov cocktail into the building.

The following day, Meg's uncle, a police officer, informed her that the boyfriend's pals' van was spotted at the scene, and that a snoozing janitor had been badly hurt in the fire. When confronted by Meg, the boyfriend lied about the extent of his involvement; when confronted by the uncle, he snidely brushed him off — the picture of malicious and recklessly superficial rebellion. Well, the thing of it was, throughout the scenes of this subplot, I kept thinking of John Kerry. (Here's a picture of Meg and the boyfriend; here's a picture of Kerry and John Lennon.)

Before the election, I read somewhere that the character of Jenny's abusive anti-war boyfriend in Forrest Gump was based on John Kerry (picture). Whether or not that's true (and I place no significant trust on its being so), it's certainly a connection that comes quickly to mind. Not so much based on character, because I know only Kerry's public persona of the time, but on the dress, the facial carriage, and the demeanor. Indeed, if the Forrest Gump character drew from Kerry at all, it was probably just the image, fleshed out with the author's own creative characterization, filling a necessary role in the plot.

However much some Americans like to reminisce about those times, I think all but the most jaded realize that there was a vicious dark side to the youth revolution. One need only see a picture of the young John Kerry for him to slip right into the script, fairly or not.

Posted by Justin Katz at November 22, 2004 6:10 PM


It would seem that before you make such a vicious attack on John Kerry by implying that he is an abusive person you should provide some facts. As is, you are just engaging in tabloid-type rumor. If you can't provide solid information that Winston Groom so based one of his characters, then you should retract that allegation.

Posted by: Joel Thomas at November 22, 2004 7:16 PM


Yours is a fair criticism, although I didn't intend an attack. I just didn't express, well enough, how deeply I thought comparisons to actually go (mostly superficially). I guess I lapsed into treating John Kerry (of the time) as a public persona and incorrectly wrote as if it went without saying that I didn't know of any more-personal experience that Winston Groom might have had with the future politician. (Perhaps part of the reason is my own experience with "basing" fictional characters on real people in exactly that sense.)

I've edited accordingly. Thanks for the quick corrective.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 22, 2004 7:37 PM

I don't know what edit Justin did, but this one is a slow pitch: "before you make such a vicious attack on John Kerry by implying that he is an abusive person you should provide some facts."

We have lots of facts about John Kerry in the seventies. Shall we review his Senate testimony? His appearance on the Dick Cavett show? The meeting he attended at which an antiwar group planned to assassinate various congressmen? His refusal to release his service record?

It hardly seems polite to kick Kerry around any more. He's already had his beating. But Justin is entirely justified in reflecting on that era's evolving history.

I'm intrigued to learn that a TV show (on NBC no less!) is willing to consider the dark side of the anti-war movement. Kerry made himself a convenient symbol for that movement: He never retracted or apologized for his Senate testimony. He was associated with some very radical groups, which he doesn't seem to regret. It hardly seems unfair to associate him with the persona he never repudiated.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at November 23, 2004 3:51 PM


"Abusive boyfriend" implies someone who verbally or physically assaults women. I thought that was over the line.

I think there is a danger of disliking people so much as to project qualities on to them that the record just doesn't bear out.

Posted by: Joel Thomas at November 23, 2004 6:08 PM

I'd like to see a television special on the betrayal of an entire generation, i.e., the Vietnam generation, by the government or maybe by the so called Greatest Generation. Not only did over 58,000 of my peers, mostly men, die for no reason, but an additional 90,000 were disabled and government sources admit over 15,000 committed suicide upon returning to the US- family sources raise that figure to 150,000 total suicides directly attributed to Vietnam wartime experiences.

Posted by: Barbara Shirley at December 7, 2004 12:55 AM