Ted Kennedy is gone. Walter Cronkite is gone. Frank McCourt is gone. The chairs at the Camelot roundtable seem to be empty; but that’s because we’re not sitting in them.
On one level, this is deeply saddening. The Irish girl in me is particularly shocked. As a teenager, I would spend my summers reading Frank McCourt novels, and chat with my sister about the degree to which we could say our family was like the Kennedy’s.
Camelot disappearing almost feels like my grandpa dying, all over again; born in Irish-American Brooklyn, his belief in Catholicism was as stout as his belief in the value of newspapers. Sometimes I would give anything to be able to be in his living room, where pipe tobacco was smoked over old, yellowed books whose text never became irrelevant. Cigars weren’t thought to kill, and the politics of authorship weren’t yet something people talked about. His house was about leaving a trace; unlike his typewriter, my iMac’s keyboard makes a sound too faint to be noticed. Nothing in my office has a smell to it; in an eco-manical world, we’re never supposed to leave any trace.
On another level though, this is liberating. Walter Cronkite made his fame on telling America “And that’s the way it is.” And of course this is somewhat ridiculous: something can never be just one way. There are multiple ways to view things, and now, for the first time ever, multiple viewpoints – namely, those of women and people of color – don’t have to compete for being “the other” anymore. With the death of Camelot, the long-derided solitary White Male Voice is no longer the definitive one. We don’t have to listen to Walter Cronkite to get the news; we can now tell each other our news, and in different ways.
But this liberation comes with a new, and intimidating, set of possibilities. If Cronkite’s America was smugly self-content, the post-Cronkite America is honest enough to admit the degree to which it freaks itself out.
In these New, post-Kennedy Politics, there is no more dynasty; it is unclear who the scribes are and who the jesters are. Too confused at the idea of Camelot to imagine participating in it, we have instead become the jest of ourselves.
In Nora Ephron’s new film “Julie & Julia”, Julie, the modern-day would-be Julia Child, is pissed that the joke is on her. Depressed by the present, Julie looks to the past – specifically, nostalgic black and white videos of Julia Child’s cooking show.
And on the surface, she has reason for envy: Julia Child’s high heels were cuter than Julie’s; her voice, more melodic; her cooking, definitive. Her love life, more authentic.
Something funny happens in the process, though: in imitating Julia’s life, Julie founds out that her own is pretty dope. She finds out that she’s not only a good cook, but a great writer, too. Her little experiment at mimicking the past becomes the way she the way she validates the future. And even the present.
At the end, Julie finds, on the rooftop of an old pizzeria by the Hudson River, that her world is just as good as Julia’s was. And what’s more, that it is all her own.