The Big Event, part 1


EVERY FRONTIER IS A NEW FRONTIER. It’s dreamscape and landscape, built from hope and danger. A frontier is a horizon, surely, dim and distant, but it’s also an architecture of belief, a place where you need a muse as much as you need a navigator, which is why the one true thing about every frontier that seems concrete and immutable is that it does not last. Sooner or later, everything that makes it a frontier collapses into maps and charts and roads and cities, and it becomes a place where we all go and live.
So in July of 1960, John F. Kennedy got up before an audience in Los Angeles, and he talked about the old frontier, the geographic one, the one that used to be right there by the Pacific, and he talked about a new one, and he stepped off into the geography of the uncharted imagination.
“We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier,” he said. “The frontier of the 1960s. A frontier of unknown opportunities and perils. A frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats. . . . The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises. It is a set of challenges. . . . Can a nation organized and governed such as ours endure? That is the real question. Have we the nerve and the will? . . . Are we up to the task? Are we equal to the challenge?”
This new frontier was supposed to be cool and ironic, technocratic and rational, settled by scientists and thinkers and theoreticians. But frontiers are wild and uncivilized places where people struggle to survive, where people die over private grudges, where people, a lot of people, carry guns and feel free to use them.