20 January 2011

50 years since John F Kennedy asked not... (3) Modelled for the media

This is the third in a series of posts to mark the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy's inaugural speech on 20th January 1961. The first two were:
Now that the BBC website has gone live with an article and notes I wrote on the speech (HERE), I feel free to reproduce one of the points made in it, accompanied by another edited clip from the speech (above) and transcript (below).

The following section from the piece on the BBC website commends Kennedy for following 'the first rule of speech-preparation: analyse your audience'.

If you wonder where that came from, I have to confess that that I was immodest enough to have taken it from my own books Lend Me Your Ears (pp. 280-286) and Speech-making and Presentation Made Easy (pp. 34-37).

First inaugural designed for the media?
Impressive though the rhetoric and imagery may have been, what really made the speech memorable was that it was the first inaugural address by a US president to follow the first rule of speech-preparation: analyse your audience - or, to be more precise at a time when mass access to television was in its infancy, analyse your audiences.

In the most famous fictional speech of all time, Mark Antony had shown sensitivity to his different audiences in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar by asking his "Friends, Romans, countrymen" to lend him their ears. But Kennedy had many more audiences in mind than those who happened to be in Washington that day.

His countrymen certainly weren't left out, appearing as they did in the opening and towards the end with his most famous contrast of all: "Ask not..." But he knew, perhaps better than any previous US president, that local Americans were no longer the only audience that mattered. The age of a truly global mass media had dawned, which meant that what he said would be seen, heard or reported everywhere in the world.

At the height of the Cold War, Kennedy also had a foreign policy agenda that he wanted to be heard everywhere in the world. So the different segments of the speech were specifically targeted at a series of different audiences:

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill"
"To those new nations whom we welcome to the ranks of the free"
"To those in the huts and villages of half the globe"
"To our sister republics south of the border"
"To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations"
"Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary"

The following day, there was nothing on the front pages of two leading US newspapers, The New York Times and the Washington Post to suggest that the countrymen in his audience had been particularly impressed by the speech - neither of them referred to any of the lines above that have become so famous.

The fact that so much of the speech is still remembered around the world 50 years later is a measure of Kennedy's success in knowing exactly what he wanted to say,
how best to say it and, perhaps most important of all, to whom he should say it.

More on JFK's target audiences
In fact, Kennedy aimed his speech at twice as many audiences as those mentioned in the above extract from the BBC website. You can listen to edited clips in the video at the top of the page and follow them in the transcript below:

VIPs on the platform & US citizens
Vice-president Johnson, Mr Speaker, Mr Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice-president Nixon, President Truman, Reverend clergy, fellow citkzens…

Everyone in the world
Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill …

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share…

Emerging nations
To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free…

Third world
To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery…

Latin America
To our sister republics south of our border…

North & South America
Let all our neighbors know…

United Nations
To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations…

Communist countries
Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary…

US citizens
And so, my fellow Americans…

Citizens outside the USA
My fellow citizens of the world…

US + Non-US citizens of the world
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world…

Postscript: Kennedy's fashion legacy
Apart from putting much effort into what he wanted to say to whom, JFK also put quite a bit of thought into what the inaugural would look like in the global media. Jackie Kennedy's white coat was deliberately selected to ensure that she would stand out on a platform mainly populated by men in dark clothes.

And, the heavy snow in Washington the day before didn't prevent him from appearing without an overcoat or a hat. The former was made possible by his decision to wear thermal underwear - which presumably kept him warm enough not to bother wearing a hat.

This may have been all very well for him, but his hat-free head marked kicked off a new era for men in the Western world, in which routine hat wearing went out of fashion - look at any picture of a football crowd before 1961, and you'll see that the men all wore hats or caps. As a result, half the population has been condemned to being colder in winter than we'd have been without Kennedy's fashion legacy.

So, however much I may admire his rhetoric, I am definitely not an admirer of his lack of headwear.

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1 comment:

julie70 said...

Interesting article, and because of it I also found his speech, I like very much that he has given in Berlin, in 1963, a time, that me, just a few month out from the other side of the Iron wall, did not dream will come. A lot later, in 1089 it did.

I noted in that other speech, his slow delivery and his pauses!