The “Global Village” Started with JFK’s Televised Funeral

25Nov13
By David M. Lubin, Wake Forest University
Jfk funeral kennedy jackie

Half a century ago, Canadian media philosopher Marshall McLuhan coined the term “global village” to describe the inevitable social transformation brought on by new forms of electronic communications. Hitched to satellites whirring through outer space, these technologies, he predicted, would create unities in a world of opposing cultural traditions, religious philosophies, and political ideologies.

The funeral of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 25, 1963, showed how that could be done. It was the first globally significant event to be globally televised. Dignitaries from around the world, on learning of the assassination, had rushed to America’s capital city on intercontinental jet aeroplanes, a relatively new travel technology — only about five years old — that, together with satellite telecommunications, had begun reorganising humankind in McLuhan’s terms. 92 nations were represented at the funeral by 220 high-ranking officials of what appeared to be every possible racial and ethnic configuration. Dressed in their finest formal attire, military or otherwise, medals bristling from their chests, the leaders (almost all of them male) marched side by side in silent dignity behind the horse-drawn caisson bearing the coffin of their slain counterpart.

If the true stars of this hours-long, commercially uninterrupted, live TV broadcast were the president’s family — his handsome brothers, his adorable children, and, most of all, his magnificent widow — these assembled world leaders were more than simply a cast of extras. They were as essential to the larger meaning of that day as the neoclassical government buildings that lined the funeral route.

We can deconstruct their presence in this city and beneath those buildings as a sort of latter-day ancient Roman procession, in which all nations come to pay tribute. Those who don’t risk imperial wrath.

But, from another perspective, the mixture of races and faces among the official mourners may well have inspired onlookers with a sense of hope — justified or not — for a new internationalism, multiculturalism, and global justice.

JFK Jr. Salute Father's Funeral

Surely the most famous image of all from the Kennedy funeral is one that has had considerable staying power. It shows the president’s three-year-old son John Jr. — known affectionately as John John — clutching at his mother with one hand while raising the other to salute his fallen father, whose flag-draped coffin had been lowered onto the caisson.

Whether shown in a full shot that includes his mother, sister, and uncles, or cropped to show him alone (as presented on the closing page of Life‘s memorial edition, which appeared on newsstands a few days later), that single image probably did as much as anything else that weekend, or, indeed, the entire twentieth century, to pull together McLuhan’s global village. (Source: http://tinyurl.com/nbszxme )

Telstar.jpg Telstar

Telstar 1 was launched on top of a Thor-Delta rocket on July 10, 1962. It successfully relayed through space the first television pictures, telephone calls, fax images and provided the first live transatlantic television feed.

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