Dream and Disaster

We learned last time that the American Dream was never as great as in the movies. Many who moved to America did not have the success they dreamed of. We talked about how many Swedes who migrated in the mid 1800s ended up in shanty towns like Swede Hollow.

Swede Hollow

But on the silver screen stories of success, of courage, and of the great boundless wealth of America was commonplace.

Paradise Lost

The first crisis in confidence in the American Dream can, arguably, be seen in the 1960s. The dream was perhaps a nightmare? This was shown on television, in the news. News of civil unrest due to racial tensions, pictures from the war in Vietnam, and perhaps most importantly the live television murder of John F. Kennedy, the president of the United States.

Hope, youth, and Camelot

The hope and energy of the post-war years was embodied in the youth and intelligence of John F Kennedy who is well known for his speech on liberty and hope. The image of his family is very special. They were a kind of fashionable nobility in the United states.

Fashionable, young, and smart

Kennedy’s Inaugural address

[Full text]

Death of JFK reported by Walter Cronkite

The Zapruder film in the motion picture film JFK

How the assassination of Kennedy influenced the US

”During the day of the assassination and the next three days, the nation would be bound together by television not only in shock but in mourning. From shortly after the shots in Dallas on Friday to the conclusion of the funeral services in Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, America’s three television networks canceled all regular programs and all advertising, and carried only news related to the assassination and the events that followed, in coverage uninterrupted by commercials. As the day of the assassination and the three days of memorial pageantry for John Fitzgerald Kennedy unfolded in Washington, America sat before its television sets watching it as if the country was gathered in one vast living room: a nation that was, for those four days, a single audience—in a way that had never happened before in history. A survey by the A. C. Nielsen Company, the leading commercial firm conducting television surveys, showed that during these four days approximately 166 million Americans in fifty-one million homes were tuned in at some time to the Kennedy coverage—and surveys by Nielsen and social science organizations showed that in most homes the time was substantial: during the four days, according to these surveys, the average American family watched the ceremonies for an almost incredible total of 31.6 hours, almost eight hours per day. The pervasiveness well the immediacy of television coverage made the assassination and the events following it an event “probably without parallel in the past,” the Social Science Research Council said. Not only was “President Kennedy’s loss the first loss of a national leader reported in any such detail on the picture tubes of a nation,” but ”For all practical purposes there was no other news story in America during those four days,” a study by the National Opinion Research Center concluded. “There were times during those days when a majority of all Americans were apparently looking at the same events and hearing the same words from their television sets – participating together … in a great national event. Nothing like this on such a scale had ever occurred before.”

Robert Caro, The Passage of Power (2013)


  1. Look up the words in bold face.
  2. How was the assassination of Kennedy special in the history of the United States, according to Robert Caro?
  3. After the murder, people came to talk about what they did when Kennedy was assassinated. Why do you think that is?
  4. How do you explain the popularity of the Kennedys? Even today there is a chain of stores named ”Jackie”, after Jackie Kennedy. Why do you think the store chose that name? Look at the store’s line of clothing and do a picture search on Jackie Kennedy on Google. What do you think?


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