Bobby-tizing the audience? Not so much!

This is my first blog post, and I’m finally glad to be writing something that has fired me up, which is the 2006 film, Bobby, based on the assassination of US Senator and Presidential candidate for 1969, Robert F Kennedy, affectionately called Bobby, both by family and nation. Bobby is a wonderful film directed by Emilio Estevez, whose credentials besides being a pacifist-filmmaker also include the genealogical honour of being Martin Sheen’s son (and the dubious distinction of being Charlie Sheen’s brother).

Estevez employs an interesting trickery of the camera to help the mostly fictitious cast of Bobby and real news footage of RFK from 1960s to come together forming a live-drama film. The film is set on June 5 1968, when Kennedy drove to Ambassador Hotel in LA to deliver a victory speech for his win in California primary polls. The premise of the film is based on multiple fictitious characters;  hotel guests, staff, managers, a beautician, election campaigners, kitchen staff comprising of still racially-tense Mexicans and African-Americans, a fading singing sensation and her husband/manager and an engaged-to-be-wed young couple; all present at the scene facing different predicaments, but united in their high regard and commiseration for Bobby – representing the diversity in classes of rich and poor; famous and unknown; black, white and latino; old and young – that Kennedy inspired hope in for the promise of a new era – bringing the African-Americans and Whites together after the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, and withdrawing from Vietnam. The movie thus serves as an  initiation in the world of Bobby-mania, and this post is specifically about my understanding of the context and events that lead to RFK’s assassination.

If the casting coup the movie boasts of isn’t impressive, the superlative performances by the sincere cast are – Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt play a married couple who are Kennedy’s campaign donors, embarking on an unlikely journey of self-discovery; Sharon Stone(a terrific change from the murderous cougars she plays) plays the hotel manager’s wife who finds he is cheating on her; Lawrence Fishburne plays a pantry chef doling out some fine insight on ‘white identity’, hoping Kennedy to be the next-emancipator; Anthony Hopkins and Harry Belafonte play hotel concierge retirees talking of a life gone by; Nick Cannon plays the hopeful Afro-American campaign manager; Freddy Rodriguez as the charming busboy(based on Juan Romero who cradled RFK’s head when he was shot), rooting for Kennedy to emancipate the Mexicans too, Lindsay Lohan in a rarely understated and terrific role who marries Elijah Wood to save him from being drafted into Vietnam, and finally – Demi Moore as the fading, drunk singing sensation and playing her husband/manager is Emilio Estevez himself – all in all, a satisfying cast.

The first time I saw the film, which was a couple of years back, I knew nothing about RFK, and yet by the time the film  rolled end credit’s to Aretha Franklin’s soulful rendition of ‘Never Gonna Break My Faith’ interspersed with RFK’s family photo collection, I cried…a lot! I wept in disbelief during the high-point of the film, which is Robert F Kennedy’s historic ‘On the Mindless Menace of Violence’ speech (where he sought to assuage Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mourners) which plays over the film’s pivotal characters’ reactions when they comfort each other regardless of their differences, while his body is rushed to the hospital where he finally succumbed to his injuries. What makes an already inspiring speech even more impactful in the film’s case is that it plays anachronistically after the Senator is shot, gripping the audience in an utter limbo of ‘what could have been’. Such events from history bring out the misanthrope inside me; so often do nice guys finish last. It is my belief that eventually when Man is up for judgement, people like Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin, shall be counted as the rotten scum of the world who destroyed faith, while Bobby Kennedy will always be remembered a Hero who restored faith.  For me, the film has endless repeat value because of the hope and inspiration it arouses.

look forward to a good cry every time I watch the movie(crying during a book/film reassures me I am still human) – as much of art has inspired and strengthened my resolve to become a lawyer, say movies like Philadelphia, Erin Brockovich, V for Vendetta & Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi; I also loved Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ – and knowing that the powerful have a history of purging all those who are truly committed to serve the republic, while such service doesn’t further the interests of the elites, it is clinically depressing to acknowledge the loss of someone like Robert F Kennedy.

Emilio Estevez is immensely able to evoke the mourning of the loss of a promising leader, even though the film presents events for just one day in the life of RFK, combined with archival footage of his rhetoric to provide a perspective of his policies. But can a film based on just one day of a prominent politician who belonged to the foremost dynasty in American politics that pledged to begin a new chapter in American society by doing away with all that was rotten with it – uncontrolled clandestine agencies like CIA, involvement in Cuba and Vietnam, nuclear arms tests and the Mob(of course the real story in case of JFK was much different from all the fluff glorified by the consent-manufacturing machines)– entirely capture the essence of a man? Is this film the product of a propaganda machine clearly ignoring less-popular aspects of RFK’s political life while selectively displaying those that put him on a higher pedestal?

A more informed audience versed with Robert F Kennedy’s history would give more thought to the motivations of the assassination (I believe that as my perception slightly wavered after I researched more), which is not to say that context justifies violence/murder. But we always need context to make sense of seemingly disconnected issues. Robert F Kennedy as a young man of 22, traveled extensively to Israel in 1948 to cover events for a Boston newspaper sometime before the official establishment of the Jewish State, and during his stay grew fond of the Jewish inhabitants. He came back to declare his solidarity for the Israeli cause. So when the 6-day war broke out between Israel and the Arab states in 1967, Bobby Kennedy pledged America’s support with Israel, which irked Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian – a dissenter of the Israeli occupation of Palestine – who cited Bobby Kennedy’s lifelong support for Israel as his primary motive for the assassination and the devastating implications it could have to have a Zionist President in America. Eliminating the only moderate guy definitely plunged Palestine’s hopes to win international support, once the way was cleared for the crazies(read: extremist Republicans/pseudo-liberal Democrats) to occupy the Presidency, who have always maintained a strangely close relationship with Israel post WW-II  as USA’s formal Foreign Relations Policy, considering they didn’t consider the Holocaust victims’ cries for help worthy of responding soon enough. The roots for this friendship, I believe, dig much deeper than just the common fabric of overlapping faiths of Christianity-Judaism they share, as US Vice-President Joseph Biden would have the world believe.

With the shadow of the New Order of the Ages/ New World Order looming over America, the groundwork for liberalizing the world economy(read: no holds barred Capitalism) was laid by promoting the ideals of Democracy around the world (Hail America, the latter-day imperialists of the world!). For those who are quick to dismiss the NWO as ‘conspiracy theory’, it’s credibility can be attested by testimonies of Professor Carroll Quigley and former House of Reps. Larry McDonald. Now, there are myriad conspiracy theories concerning CIA’s involvement in RFK’s assassination, which shouldn’t be so shocking, considering if RFK did become President in 1969, he would be doing something that went against their ambitions – withdrawing from Vietnam, allowing Communism to thrive and thus sending a blow to the economic interests of the military-industrial contractors – remember Dwight Eisenhower’s words, they hold relevance for India too. The CIA could’ve easily set up Sirhan Sirhan as their ‘fall-guy’. In fact, while I am editing this post for the hundredth time, revising content about my theory, I have just gotten hotter to the mysterious involvement of intelligence agencies. Consider this – Sirhan Sirhan claimed his sole motivation for shooting RFK was his pro-Israel stance. But it wasn’t RFK who dictated America’s friendship with Israel, but the official Foreign Relations Policy of the US that is the domain of several shadowy think-tanks . If that were really his motivation, Sirhan Sirhan would have to work at overthrowing the American government as it’d be a bitch of hard work to influence international policies without radical change. But my theory goes for a toss, if, this Sirhan Sirhan guy was originally a Bobby-fan, but got disillusioned after Bobby’s public declaration of his support for Israel…then it all boils down to a crime of passion of international proportions! Whatever his intent, he shall rot in hell, a Jewish one at that! The purpose to link CIA is – if they get a ‘Manchurian Candidate’ to do their job, they have a dual-accomplishment of objectives – eliminating a liberal candidate like RFK while simultaneously demonizing Palestinians. Looking back at how Representative Democracies have fared across the globe, I’m reminded of a Greco-Roman concept of government  – the popularity for the idea of governance thrives under the assumption of people’s will to be servile. Ha! Whoever wired us to believe that? It doesn’t mean that all politicians have misgoverned us; they just tried to make the best of they had, like a scientist does until stumbling upon a discovery. Surely representative-democracy isn’t the only way to run the world now that we’ve seen enough and survived the experiment for a little more than two centuries.

I myself found out of RFK’s support for Israel after I saw the film for the first time.

Before I was familiarized with his politics, I watched the film with all-heart, numb at the loss of the world so much so that the injustice of it played a key role in shaping my personal aspirations. I get mildly depressed everytime I see the film.

After I am aware of RFK’s support for Israel, the ‘rational mind’ sets in and views the assassination in a more philosophical light. My mind, even if for a brief moment, almost learns to ‘rationalize’ his assassination as respite for the Palestinians, which doesn’t mean that now when I see Bobby, I overlook the heinous act; I feel the same angst as I did before, nothing can redeem such an act especially when the victim happens to be someone who was almost a Messiah to thousands of persons and still continues to be so. For a moment my mind sympathizes with Sirhan Sirhan, who committed an act of desperation for safeguarding the survival of his country – but soon as I come to my senses I realize that by killing RFK he has robbed the world of a great humanitarian. It is the ambivalence of it that bothers me. I feel confused to the extent of feeling bi-polar to have such contradictory emotions, but looking at the state of Palestine today, how they are terrorized everyday with Israel’s aggressive land-grabbing ultimatums, knowing that it could’ve translated into more hopelessness of existence for ordinary Palestinians with someone even as Bobby Kennedy – who represented a promise of peace and justice – pledging support for Israel, then with Bobby Kennedy dissociating himself from that cause, even if it meant him ‘eliminated’, could explain why I underwent that momentary lapse of judgement. Maybe it has to do with the conspiracy of our media-culture to excessively stimulate our minds with war, to the extent that our diminished capacities readily accept it as a way of life and justify subsequent violence. When a unanimously admired man makes an unpopular decision, it manifests into a moral dilemma for his followers to revisit the ideology of the man they once idolized. With Bobby Kennedy gone it obviously got worse, because even though he sided with Israel, his motivations were not politically inclined for serving any ulterior interests; he supported Israel on a simplistically human level because he couldn’t bear to witness the suffering of Jews, trying to reach some kind of agreement between Israel and Palestine to co-exist peacefully. Let me also play America’s favourite card by launching a pre-emptive strike and declare that I am NOT anti-Semitic. YHWH knows how often I’ve been ambivalent, but watching the horror repeat at the end of the movie everytime is agonizing.

I think I’m learning something new I hadn’t realized earlier even as we speak. On one hand i see RFK, on the other Palestine – and yet the remorse I feel for RFK’s demise out-depresses Palestine’s eventuality of annihilation. I guess then an attempt to quantify human lives is a moot point in measuring it’s worth. There is a verse from the Quran I heard from a televangelist that made perfect sense for me – the death of one innocent man is the death of humanity.

It is immeasurably depressing for me to make peace with the loss of a life that can undoubtedly be held in the same league of extraordinary men like Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Martin Luther King and John Lennon(if you’re so much as wondering why him, I won’t bother explaining), for what promise each held to the world had they been around longer – so much so that it makes me disbelieve in everything I have learned, with my feelings finding resonance in U2′s ‘City Of Blinding Lights’ – the more you see, the less you know, the less you find out as you go, I knew much more then, than I do now… The best I can do to keep Bobby Kennedy’s spirit alive is to never forget his message and strive to live that way – “Surely, this bond of common faith(humanity), this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again” – Pure genius! I wish I was alive during his day; I would have loved my life to have been in some sort of way shaped by his, to personally witness the man’s compassion, sincerity and an affable sense of humour. It is reason that such men’s ideals are universal and timeless that they’re essence survives forever and they continue to inspire lives in a way that transcends. Off late, I’ve been rehearsing to talk like him, repeatedly listening to his speeches. Man, I can’t stop gushing about Bobby, I don’t care, I love this guy.

A moment in the Senate

Robert F Kennedy inspires me, and I proudly take him to be my idol. Bobby realized very early in life to devote his life towards public service. He was a fine lawyer advocating civil rights in USA as well as Apartheid-struck South Africa through his youth, became the country’s Attorney General and represented America’s best and only hope during that period for reuniting the whites, blacks and the latinos, after MLK, and bring in what the country had been starved off for a decade – peace. And when you combine RFK’s surreal character-arousing oratorical skills with his witty and endearing personality, he makes one helluva role model. When he announced his desire to run for the Presidential elections in 1968, he was met with “boo’s” from certain hecklers in the crowd. And how did RFK deal with the haters? He joined in to boo himself in good humour! While addressing his nation several times in moments of crises, Robert F Kennedy displayed amazing deftness in the understanding and purpose of human life, quoting his favourite poets and writers several times; his words always have a balming-effect on his listeners. Listening him speak, OMFG, is truly an intellectual intercourse. It is an experience to behold, believe me, and hence I am uploading the clip towards the end for you to enjoy (it doesn’t work now, but i let it be there so you can see what douches the Weinstein brothers are). It makes my heart heavy even as I am finishing this eulogy, thinking of what we lost had Robert F Kennedy lived several more decades. He surely would’ve been fighting the good fight and be at the forefront leading the world away from all the BS it has gotten itself into; in the same league of heroes as Ron Paul, a minority of American leaders who incorruptibly still represent the original values of a free, yet responsible, society – justice, peace, equality, freedom, liberty and fraternity – values of universal constitutional relevance.

Coming to a close, I’d like to throw some light on the curious choice of the title. Knowing RFK’s politics and watching Bobby, I fear skeptics would wrongly perceive it as a brainwashing, propagandist film – intellectually castrating it’s audiences. It risks coming across as a hagiography, but like I just served up to y’all, we know better than to expect our role models to be God-men – to err is human, and it’s all good!

Emilio Estevez probably came around making Bobby around the time George W Bush’s re-election in 2004 shocked the conscience of a global community that had pledged to oppose unjust wars. Maybe he wanted audiences to identify once again what represented their best hopes as a community and their role in the world, as RFK’s message is still relevant today as it was in the ’60s. His sole intention was to tell the human story behind the immense popularity of Bobby and why people loved him. Being a product of the ’60s, Emilio Estevez’s films reflect his anti-war stance recurringly. He has done a terrific job of using his talents and educating audiences to mobilize their thoughts and actions. And why shouldn’t more filmmakers attempt to create political awareness in an engaging way, when special interest groups in America have an entire channel dedicated to ‘recruit’ for what their consider to be their ‘worthy causes’? FOX HISTORY’s what I’m talking about – a mass-disinformation program, guilty of perversion of history to suit the needs of the powers that be .

Bobby isn’t so much of a political film as much as it is about the man behind it all, recreating an era when people believed they were poised for the New Age, and what better vessel to carry forward that hope than a message of peace. Barring the Maoists, I can’t remember the last time the collective Indian conscience came together in such force to share their grief over a national tragedy. Bobby also best conveys what I feel emerges out of collectively-tragic moments – grief has an overpowering unifying force to bring polarized peoples together and force them to revisit their differences. The film possibly leaves the audience wanting for more – more out of their leaders. In a film replete with stalwart actors like Hopkins, Moore, Stone, Hunt, Sheen and Fishburne – Kennedy emerges as the clear hero for his act of a lifetime – a good guy.

And if you still haven’t seen Bobby – do yourselves a favour, go catch it!

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    • Harsha
    • July 5th, 2010

    Everybody has a role model,it’s nice to see you’ve found yours. It is indeed very depressing to think about how MK Gandhi,Abraham Lincoln etc got killed heinously,we might have witnessed a better world.

    • Zihan
    • July 6th, 2010

    “Tomorrow can be made better than today, and everyone of us has a personal and universal duty to help in doing so…”- Go be the change Suraj…

  1. Sorry for the incorrect attribution of a quote to RFK, I got carried away while I was writing, and it just struck me, but I have corrected it, and it is as inspirational, even more so.

    • Aashna
    • July 19th, 2010

    as you quoted: “the death of one innocent man is the death of humanity…” sad but true.
    i would however like to compliment you on your writing..it is as simple as it is brilliant and makes me want to watch the movie asap. keep it up. cheers!

  2. HELL YEAH!

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