Who Killed JFK's Dream?

09/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I woke up out of a dream this morning, acutely aware that while I can go to any movie theatre and see America deeply involved in a space program, (the last Star Trek by J.J. Abrams, for instance, was great fun) but the real space program is nearly dead on the vine.

What happened? How was it killed?

There has been recent talk (typical assassination conspiracy crap) that JFK was killed because he was trying to regulate the Federal Reserve Board, which we all know isn't a government agency at all, but a tight-knit group of private bankers who have had a big say in our government's financial policies since the days of FDR. And while of course this latest assassination conspiracy is nonsense, JFK's murder sure did knock the stuffing out of America's sense of hope. This, without question, hobbled our doing the relatively un-fun work necessary to keep going out there in space. But setting aside the thorny issue of who knocked off JFK, let's explore who (or what) killed his dream of infinite possibility. How did that tangible idea lose out to the chimera of Star Trek?

George Lucas helped. I mean, I loved Star Wars. In fact, back in '77 I saw it the day it opened in a theater on 86th Street. But, as the title implies, it's really just another fantasy about war, set in space. Each incarnation of Lucas' space opera took us further from JFK's dream of the real cosmic frontier. And I'm not just talking about rockets launching into space or satellites being sent into orbit -- I'm talking about nurturing the belief that we, as human beings, can transcend grubby politics and expensive wars and take up the mantle of responsibility as citizens of the cosmos. That's the real frontier, that's the real space odyssey. But, what did happen, in the case of Vietnam, and continues to happen with every other war we underwrite, is that we dispense the currency of our ideals, draining the treasury of our souls. And so we hasten the demise of the space program, and of JFK's dream, or any dream for that matter.

The money spent on these wars is now dwarfed when compared with what is being handed over to the banks, etc., by a former Federal Reserve President (it might be noted), William Geithner. Maybe these trillions of taxpayer's bucks are doing some good. The malls seem fun again, filled to overflowing. The stock market goes up, up, up, which is lots of fun for those who can afford it, I suppose. But along the way, what happened to JFK's dream of going up, up, up into skies, back to the moon, onwards to the planets and beyond? What happened to his optimism?

And is fantasy enough, delivered on silver screens, now mostly set in malls that deliver even more fantasy -- for instance, that I can nearly fly across a basketball court in my Nikes, or power my BMW like a jet with plush leather seats, or be sexy, confident and powerful in my outfits from Banana Republic, Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, and Old Navy (even as I know the stuff is made somewhere down south of the border or in Asia in very un-fun sweatshops, feeling like variations on Abu Ghraib, an issue that's come and gone like water boarding, which, according to Congress, isn't really torture anyway).

But let's stay on point and rephrase the question. Does all this fantasy -- fun TV commercials, fun news programs, ubiquitous billboards and posters, even the cool logos on our hot shirts and biodegradable pants -- has all this somehow deprived us of the hard driving (not always fun) truths that emerge from a dream like JFK's or Martin Luther King's? The kind of dream that changes everything: Civil rights, rampant corporate corruption, a British King's stranglehold on a colony across the Atlantic, global warming, a world economy in crisis, even the unexplored cosmos which opens itself up to us every night in our dreams? In other words, does fantasy (with even the best of intentions) keep us from remembering and then acting on the kinds of deep, challenging dreams that bring us real change?