Everyone's talking about JFK these days, and why not? He and his messed-up brothers from that twisted, doomed family certainly had style, even if the lads were — by and large — narcissists congenitally addicted to strange. Style. It's a slippery thing. Here, for example, is a picture of Jack tossing a football to his nephew at Bobby's Virginia home, Hickory Hill, in 1957, with everyone looking better than any of the rest of us ever will. How do they do it?
There are a lot of stories out there about the awful behavior exhibited by all of the Kennedy brothers through the years. But then there's all that beneficial legislation they helped push through when they were in office, as congressmen, senators, POTUS. It's complicated. And as a culture we keep coming back to them, seemingly incapable of letting go — or maybe just wanting to revisit an era that, even though we know better, looks and feels somehow simpler than our own age.
Whatever the reason, the Kennedy clan still exerts a kind of obscure, atavistic pull on countless people around the country and around the globe — a pull that can't be wholly explained away by how they looked when tossing the pigskin around.
So what's with the obsession? Are we that desperate for heroes? And, even if we are, is that really such a terrible thing?
Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com. Picture This is his weekly (and occasionally more frequent) feature for The Stacks.
Photo Credit: Paul Schutzer—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images