Coin of the Realm


Credit: Reason Magazine

If you ask for spare change in Camelot, you'll be tossed this lachrymose "Official John F. Kennedy Jr. Memorial Commemorative," offered recently as "an important issue" from something calling itself "The Washington Monetary Authority." You're looking at the reverse of the "coin," at least as it was represented in the ads. The tribute it pays the late Mr. Kennedy, who was pushing 40 when he died, suggests that his life's singular achievement occurred when he was three years old: saluting his assassinated father's coffin in 1963. Now, reads the apostrophizing commemorative, "The United States of America Salutes You."

Kitsch has ever been the currency of Camelot. But in this case there's more. The cult of sensibility from which such products ultimately issue is the flip side of the Age of Reason. Two centuries ago, republican ideals were illustrated by literary and painterly portrayals of the pathetic. For Enlightenment "Men of Feeling," liberty and "sympathy" blossomed together. What the Romantic Victorians made of the combination, however, was a doleful landscape of cheap sentiment, one littered with the dead and dying innocents of popular melodrama.

Sad Camelot occupies that territory today. Indeed, the salutation of "John-John" was the icon of our summer. A grown man dies; we tearfully bury a child.