Last night, while watching the Super Bowl (The tears! The Taylor!), I nearly fell off my couch, thinking I was hallucinating when a spot for Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. popped up right before half time.
The spot repurposes an actual vintage ad from his uncle JFK’s 1960 presidential campaign, which is primitive, animated, and pink, filled with stick figures.
It reminded me of spots from the 1950s that played in movie theaters that were later thought to be subliminal, in hypnotically urging theatergoers to load up on Coke or popcorn.
The song in the spot repeats “Kennedy” 15 times.
What could be more distasteful and insensitive than purloining this artifact to begin with, and then appropriating his uncle’s politics -- when his own views would have been so repugnant to his uncle?
How about this: the “creatives” left it exactly as it was, save superimposing a black-and-white cutout of RFK Jr.’s head over the head of his Uncle John. That translates into sharing a body, which essentially makes them the same person.
Consider how appalling the idea of messing with JFK’s head is. In November 1963, during a trip to Dallas, a bullet blasted through the president’s brain, assassinating him. The country hadn’t seen an assassination in 100 years, and the shock, sorrow and disruption caused a national trauma throughout the heartbreaking weeks of official funerals, memorials and beyond.
JFK’s son, not quite three years old at the time, was the subject of a heart-wrenching photo, with John-John dressed up and saluting his father’s funeral cortege as it passed by. The picture said everything about the depths of the tragedy.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was 10 at the time, and then his own father, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, was also killed by an assassin’s bullet when the son was 14.
Almost immediately after the Super Bowl ad appeared, RFK Jr. cousin Bobby Shriver, son of JFK’s sister, Eunice, posted this on X: “My cousin’s Super Bowl ad used our uncle’s faces – and my Mother’s. She would be appalled by his deadly health care views.... Respect for science, vaccines, & health care equity were in her DNA.”
RFK Jr. responded with “Bobby. I'm so sorry if that advertisement caused you pain. … I send you and your family my sincerest apologies. God bless you.”
In between, the presidential candidate explained that “the ad was created and aired by the American Values Super PAC without any involvement or approval from my campaign. F.E.C. rules prohibit Super PACs from consulting with me or my staff.”
His press secretary publicly thanked the PAC. It’s hard to buy that he didn’t know about it or see it. But I almost believe him, given that he was so affected by both deaths as a boy! You’d hope he would have cancelled the offensive spot immediately had he known.
It turns out the Super PAC is part of a $50 million PAC bankrolled by, among others, MAGA megadonor Timothy Mellon. Why would he bankroll RFK Jr.? If his candidacy could successfully siphon off Biden voters with this blatant attempt to position the libertarian/Independent as a Democrat, it could increase the chances of Donald Trump winning.
Now that the ad is out, it is still pinned to the top of RFK Jr.’s X account, with the campaign claiming to be thrilled with the attention and Google searches it is garnering.
Okay, but as RFK’s Jr’s first communication with 100 million people, the ad is culturally and historically tone-deaf. In its flabbergasting denseness, it doesn’t give us any particulars on who the candidate actually is and what he stands for.
No wonder JFK’s grandson, Jack Schlossberg, spoke out last July in a video saying that that his uncle is “trading in on Camelot, celebrity conspiracy theories and conflict for personal gain and fame.”
Mercifully, the ad came in dead-last on USA Today’s Superbowl Ad Meter.
That doesn’t seem to be worth $7 million.