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Rehabilitating Dallas after JFK

Larry Hagman's Dallas TV series helped reform Dallas' image.
Larry Hagman's Dallas TV series helped reform Dallas' image.

Liberals considered Dallas, Texas a hotbed of conservative hatemongers. Then, Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy at Dealey Plaza. This confirmed the stereotype for the national media and progressives. The crime stained the city’s image and the liberal narrative took hold. The city’s reputation hit its nadir, but began its rehabilitation in the early seventies. The Dallas Cowboys success helped alter the nation’s perspective. Then, the television show, Dallas, completely destroyed the old perception. Additionally, the city enjoyed an incredible economic boom while the rest of the country suffered. By the mid-80s, people viewed Dallas through the lens of America’s team and J.R. Ewing as opposed to Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle scope.

Progressives thought Dallas was an alien nation. Some of the rhetoric coming from the city worried them. The area tended toward the far right and the extreme fringe distributed wanted posters with President Kennedy’s face. Interestingly, Kennedy was fairly conservative on economics and the Cold War. Nonetheless, a certain element disliked the president.

President Kennedy visited Dallas on a campaign stop to try and shore up the state for 1964. On November 22, 1963, he was shot and killed at Dealey Plaza by Lee Harvey Oswald. Leftists and Democrats initially believed a right winger murdered Kennedy. However, Oswald was a leftist that visited and venerated Castro’s Cuba and Stalin’s Russia. He was closer politically to President Obama than the far right John Birch Society.

The assassination left a dark cloud over the city. People immediately associated Dallas with Kennedy’s death. On top of this, the left wing stereotype took hold. The country viewed Texas, and especially Dallas, as the land of right wing huckleberries. Additionally, President Lyndon Johnson was from Texas and had been destroyed by the press. As a result, Johnson’s unpopularity translated to the city and state as well.

Perception began to change as time passed and attention turned to football. The Dallas Cowboys played their inaugural season in 1960. They finished 0-11-1 and did not enjoy a winning campaign until 1966. They made the NFL Championship Game in 1967, but lost to the Packers in the infamous Ice Bowl. The Cowboys evolved into an elite franchise by the early seventies.

The Cowboys branded themselves “America’s Team” in the seventies. Indeed, they enjoyed enormous success on the field. Dallas appeared in five Super Bowls in the decade and won twice. Their quarterback, Roger Staubach, was a Naval Academy graduate and could have played Captain America. The coach, Tom Landry, represented an earlier era as he stalked the sidelines. As the seventies progressed, America saw Dallas through the Cowboys. As a result, perceptions began to change. Instead of a hotbed of reaction, Dallas became the American ideal.

The Cowboys helped transform Dallas’ image while a real estate boom gave the city a facelift. Major architectural talent redesigned the city’s skyline. By the early eighties, the Dallas skyline rivaled any major city in the country. Dallas looked like the city of tomorrow especially when compared to other major metropolitan areas that suffered from urban blight.

The downtown facelift broadcast to the world Dallas had capital. That image translated to the small screen when Dallas debuted on CBS. The show featured the oil rich backstabbing Ewing clan. Dallas flaunted wealth and opulence. The opening credits show the city and surrounding areas in all its Texas glory. Dallas was an exciting place where fortunes could be made. Many Europeans and others believed the Ewings were the average American family. In fact, Eastern Europeans wanted to live like the Ewings and it helped spark revolution by the late eighties. Many Americans wanted to live like the Ewings as well. Dallas became a pop culture sensation. By 1980, Dallas meant the television show and J.R. Ewing more so than Dealey Plaza and Oswald.

By the mid-eighties, the assassination had become a memory. Dallas was no longer the scene of a crime as infamous as Jack the Ripper's White Chapel. Now, Dallas was the home of the Cowboys, real estate and oil barons, modernity, and the Ewings. Culture transformed the left wing narrative into something completely different. Dallas was now impacting society and culture as opposed to being the center of evil.

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