FACT TIME WITH OLINE: that jackie episode of “the crown”

fine. we will do this.

(Jacqueline Kennedy on her way to the State Dinner with Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II)





my father had literally just, like, AN EPISODE before- the one where the windsors collaborate with the nazis in britain 2000.0- asked, “how much of this is true do you think?” and i said, “we must wait for jackie.”

because i know jackie and jackie is, therefore, a barometer of truth by which we can judge the accuracy of historical interpretations.

if they get jackie wrong, then it throws everything into doubt.

(Jacqueline Kennedy at President Kennedy’s Inauguration, January 1961)

i would like to start on the most superficial of superficial levels, with my usual complaint.

why IN THE HEAVENS can people not accurately recreate historical clothes for film and tv?

they have pictures!

they can SEEEEEEEEEEEEE the clothes!

they have access to the materials to make the clothes!

it is their job to make the clothes right!

and then they make the clothes wrong.

is this a copyright issue? that would make no sense because they copied queenie’s dress waaaaaaay better than they copied jackie’s. jackie’s dress is more a failed copy of this dress:

(via the JFK Library)

married to a recolored copy of this dress:

(via the JFK Library)

queenie’s seems to be a copy of the dress she wore in 1961 as she modified it the following year, with darker straps.

Queen Elizabeth II walks through a guard of honour formed by Boy Scouts during her visit to watch their 1962 gangshow at the Golder’s Green Empire in London. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)


that is just dumb. if you’re going to match the jewelry, why bungle the dress?

ok. so that’s that. that is MINOR, fyi. that is a detail of dress.

but i always start there precisely because that is MINOR. if you’re going to bungle the MINOR, if you’re going to miss on the shoulder strap color (WHY, tho??!!! why?!) then i think that’s worth questioning, because it opens up broader questions about truth claims.

but this is TV, oline! this is netflix fun! who is making truth claims?


the makers of the crown, my friends.

(via the daily mail)

“rooted” perhaps, yes, in the “fact” that these were real people, and then billowing wildly in the maelstrom of interpretation and invention.

i do not understand why we must insist on marketing these productions of creative nonfiction as though they were god’s honest truth. as though the things we do not know were knowable. and as though dressing up an actress in an interpretation of someone’s life in an exact replica of a hairpiece magically makes the interpretations in the script exact too.

it helps the actress, probably yeah sure. but each life is far more complicated than a hairpiece one wore of an afternoon.

again, these are small beans. a hairpiece, straps on a dress. but herein is the root of the problem. each of these things is one thing. in claiming accuracy for them, accuracy is being claimed for the whole.

(via the daily mail)

the research process here is, howshallwesay, NOT rigorous.

(via the daily mail)

some people read some things, watch some documentaries and visit the British Library (true story: literally pretty much anyone is free to do that). then they consult with robert lacey, who wrote some biographies of the queen.

ONE MAN, people. one man, who is deemed an expert because he is one of many people who first wrote a book about the queen twenty years ago, vets the script to ensure historical accuracy.

hey, what about a woman too? or a whole team of experts? there’s a cartload of things in the jackie episode alone which would not have survived peer review.

my point being: i don’t think we fully appreciate the power single individuals wield over our understandings of lives in circumstances like these. that is a lot of responsibility for one man- over the story of the queen and phillip and margaret and charles, but also all the ancillary characters.

here is my beef (and it is my beef with jackie too because my research is about the way we muddle in people’s life narratives to produce culturally useful stories and the ways in which those stories are connected to the times in which they are told while also having long-term nefarious effects):

this is awful, what we are doing to this woman right now.

(Jacqueline Kennedy at the christening party for Anna Christina Radziwill, London, June 1961)

inevitable probably and we’ve been doing it for years and whatever it is that i want to do with her may not be all that much better but i hope that it will be more humane and at least it will be something different.

i should say that i do not know jackie. i know a lot of details about her though i would not characterize them as “facts.” norman mailer’s marilyn monroe term “factoids” is probably the best we’ll ever have for most of these people that we talk about as though we really know them.

i have lots of factoids. and among those factoids, there ain’t nothing like what was depicted in the crown.

(Jacqueline Kennedy at the christening party for Anna Christina Radziwill, London, June 1961)

there are a lot of jackie biographies. a lot of them are problematic. and, collectively, they claim a lot of ridiculous things for which limited evidence exists. even in them, there is no account of the events the crown depicts.

jackie was in london. jackie and jfk met the queen. she reportedly wanted her sister there because her sister lived in london then and, given her position, she liked to include her sister in things so she wouldn’t feel left out and because she herself had more fun when her sister was there to share in it.

the kennedys were also in london, in addition to the state visit, to attend the christening of lee radziwill’s child.

5th June 1961: US statesman John F Kennedy (1917 – 1963) (left), 35th president of the USA, arrives at Westminster Cathedral, London, for the christening of his sister-in-law Princess Radziwill’s daughter. His wife Jacqueline Kennedy (1929 – 1994), holding Princess Radziwill’s other child by the hand, is on the right. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

the story that exists is that jackie wanted lee at the state dinner and the queen (or, likely her people), due to the restrictions against allowing divorced people in the monarch’s company, refused. at a dinner party later, jackie reportedly cracked a joke that she was punished for this and that the queen didn’t even invite margaret either.

that is the extent of it.

so no appalling judgements uttered indiscreetly at dinner parties due to an amphetamine-induced loquaciousness. no conspiracy by jfk and rfk to spread rumors of her statements through the court to guarantee british cooperation in ghana. no jfk abusing jackie in the east wing.

(Jacqueline Kennedy at the christening party for Anna Christina Radziwill, London, June 1961)

BUT. there are glimmers of truthiness here, which is why it reads as just close enough to something we think we know that it could be possible that it happened in this way. and those glimmers? they connect to the narratives that have already been constructed in other tv movies, films, etc.

yes, the kennedys were likely involved with “dr.” max jacobson during this period. he accompanied them to vienna for the khruschev summit. and, yes, the shots he administered were unlikely to have been “just vitamins.” familiar with the narrative of the kennedys? if so, then the events of the “dear mrs. kennedy” episode probably chimed nicely with the “moral issues and inner turmoil” episode of the kennedys, which, bizarrely, juxtaposed jackie’s alleged raging drug addiction with examination of the kennedy administration’ s desegregation policy.

(it would behoove us as a culture to ask ourselves why jackie keeps getting tarred so much more harshly with this drug business than jfk…)

thus, the crown simultaneously draws on the narrative constructed in the kennedys while contributing to it by providing further “evidence.” if you saw and believed the account in the kennedys, then the depiction in the crown provides further proof. and vice versa.

a fiction built upon a fiction reenforces the fiction as fact.

(Jacqueline Kennedy at the christening party for Anna Christina Radziwill, London, June 1961)

but the fictions are “rooted” in fact.

yes, jackie probably sometimes said bitchy things, sometimes at dinner tables. (this is, after all, a woman on record calling indira ghandi “a prune.”) accounts of her maliciousness, though, often suggest it was delivered through impersonations rather than cutting remarks.

she was (probably) shy, mercurial, liked to flirt, had more men friends than women, but there is also a lot of evidence to suggest that she had an unerring sense of judgement- of situations and people- upon which jfk relied enormously.

wouldn’t that have been interesting to see? jfk asking her for her assessment of the windsors rather than his manipulating her with hoover-like dexterity while rfk cackles in the distance…

you know, the men don’t have to be monsters for the women to be interesting.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, centre, walks with American President John F. Kennedy, right, and his wife Jacqueline Kennedy, as they enter an ante-room in Buckingham Palace, London, on June 5, 1961, before a dinner given by the Queen in honour of the visiting President and his wife. (AP Photo)

the women don’t have to be fighting for us to care either.

the story of the queen going to ghana was probably strong enough to stand alone, without being embedded in this broader kennedy narrative which- while effectively establishing the americans as gauche drug addicts who don’t look at their protocol sheets- also, in the end, detracts from the queen’s own character by implying she wouldn’t have gone to ghana and exercised such canny statecraft had jackie (puppetted by jfk) not hectored her into it with catty table talk.

earlier in the episode, when the two women are together at buckingham palace playing with the corgis,  jackie is vulnerable and the queen is nurturing. it’s a scene which suggests the possibility of a far more interesting, less demeaning narrative than that which the crown gives us.

this is the queen of the united kingdom and the queen of america. it is 2017/18, and this is the best we can do? what possible hope has everybody else?

One thought on “FACT TIME WITH OLINE: that jackie episode of “the crown”

  1. Pingback: i want to talk about carolyn bessette kennedy | finding jackie

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