The John and Linda Coker Lecture
Steven Watts’ JFK and the Masculine Mystique: Sex and Power on the New Frontier argues that John F. Kennedy may best be understood as a cultural rather than a political figure. A widespread crisis of manhood in the 1950s pictured American males as falling victim to the drudgery of bureaucracy and the softness of consumerism. The fighting man of World War II had given way to the timid, domesticated suburban father and husband in the Age of Eisenhower. Then the youthful, vigorous JFK burst on the public scene as the picture of male physical fitness and glamor. His ethic of “tough-mindedness,” energy, and “cool” promised to regenerate American public life as he swept into the presidency.
JFK’s masculine mystique was heightened by his association with virile icons such as Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Norman Mailer, Hugh Hefner, General Maxwell Taylor, the Green Berets, and the Mercury 7 astronauts. But the New Frontier’s vigorous masculinity was nowhere better reflected than in a British writer, Ian Fleming, who became friends with the young president, and his creation, James Bond, a fictional secret agent who starred in some of Kennedy’s favorite books.
Speaker: Stephen Watts
Steven Watts is Professor of History at the University of Missouri, where he has won several prizes, including the Kemper Teaching Award, the Faculty-Alumni Award, and the system-wide Thomas Jefferson Award for research, teaching, and creativity. He also served two terms as chair of the Department of History. Watts has published seven books: The Republic Reborn: War and the Making of Liberal America, 1790-1820 (1987); The Romance of Real Life: Charles Brockden Brown and the Origins of American Culture (1994); The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life (1997); The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century (2005); Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream (2008); and Self-Help Messiah: Dale Carnegie and Success in Modern America (2013). His most recent book is JFK and the Masculine Mystique: Sex and Power on the New Frontier (2016). He has published many articles and essays in venues such as The Journal of American History, American Quarterly, Chronicle of Higher Education, Newsweek, The Nation, National Review, and Salon.
Watts has made numerous media appearances on NPR, C-SPAN, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox, Bloomberg News, Telemundo, the BBC, and dozens of radio stations around the United States and in Western Europe. He has contributed to documentary films made in the United States, Germany, and Brazil on the subjects of his biographies. Most recently, he has been a consultant and on-screen commentator for the History Channel’s “The Men Who Built America” (2012) and two PBS films: “American Experience: Henry Ford” (2013) and “American Experience: Walt Disney” (2015).