Last year Oxford Dictionaries named ‘post-truth’ 2016’s International Word of the Year defining it as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than rhetoric that appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
The word was chosen because it spiked in use last year, alongside the phrase post-truth politics, due to the Brexit result of the EU Referendum and the outcome of the US Presidential Election. The post-truth political climate of 2016 was fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source, allowing public opinions formed subjectively based on emotional response, to circulate nationally and even internationally.
Seeing major publications make abrupt claims in their titles to trigger an emotional response without clarifying the objective facts fully, 2016 saw high profile political campaigns that were run off the back of emotional and opinion based stories. Across social media news article titles become click-bait, embodying the post-truth political climate of today.
How then does Jackie, a biopic set in 1963, reflect the post-truth political landscape of today? The biopic follows bereaved widow Jackie Bouvier Kennedy (Natalie Portman) following the assassination of her husband President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Unlike most widows, her grieving process was heavily televised.
The film is preoccupied by television, exploring its link between politics and the people. Throughout the flashbacks of Jackie and her husband’s time together, there is the black and white footage of ‘A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy’, a documentary that aired in 1962. Jackie is encouraged in these scenes by her husband’s team to call the White House the ‘people’s house’. The film examines how political advantage relies on the public feeling that their voice is important in the social landscape.
One scene shows Kennedy speaking of the importance of television, a technology which allows the public to see for themselves history and news as it happens, advocating the importance of emotion and personal responses in politics. Television, still a fairly new edition to family homes in the 1960s, reflects what has happened with advancing technology in relation to news and politics since.
Throughout the film, we see Jackie manipulate the public and a journalist to achieve the desired response of sympathy for the Kennedys’ presidential legacy of Camelot. Flash-forward to now, a time where all eyes are on America and the new Trump presidency, a president well versed in the spectacle of the media. Jackie not only holds a mirror to history as myth but draws parallels with modern day and how the media is writing history as we speak, a warning that not everything you read is truth. This is what we now identify as post-truth – the waters are muddied with the pride and fame which are used to craft a legacy.
In Jackie, the 35th US president is a spectre in the peripheral of the film, yet it puts the political climate of today at the forefront along with the current US president. Jackie reminds us that political figures are not afraid to rely on your emotional inclinations to manipulate a desired response.
Katie Rose Smart