I didn’t expect the end of The RFK Tapes, a podcast investigating the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, to leave me feeling so disheartened, especially not in ways that have very little to do with the death of Robert F Kennedy. If you are listener of that podcast, and don’t want to be spoiled, finish it and then come back to this, because I’m about to spoil the whole thing.
It became clear as “The RFK Tapes” went on that co-creator and host Zac Stuart-Pontier was having a more and more difficult time with some of the prevailing conspiracy theories regarding Robert Kennedy’s assassination. There’s mind control and wide spread, high level cover ups at play so this is an understandable, logical stance for the journalist to take. But the tragic conflict comes in how his co-host William Klaber, a long time champion of RFK assassination conspiracy theories, reacts to his co-investigators eventual conclusions.
At the beginning of the series William and Zac riff for the typical podcasts advertisements for home security and whatever else. They seem like friends, bonding over a shared interest in Bobby Kennedy and the many conspiracy theories that spread in the 60s and 70s. Zac and show co-creator Marc Smerling even makes jokes about Marc being jealous of not getting to hang as much with Zac on the investigation or riff during those aforementioned ads as they had in previous shows they produced. Now that I know the whole thing ends with Zac and William hardly able to talk with each other, those jokes take on an entirely sour note.
William Klaber doesn’t take Zac’s disbelief about mind control and wide sweeping government agency cover ups as just two people coming to two different conclusions based on the same pieces of evidence. He seems to take it as some kind of weird betrayal. “They got to you” he seems to desperately want to say in the series finally, to the point of joking, but maybe not really joking that another investigator of the assassination must of have “slipped him a mickey” in order to pull the wool over his eyes. An awful joke in today's climate, and he follows it with “I’m serious.” I cringed at the awkwardness while I listened.
The moment he said that I was reminded of moments in my life where someone equated my disagreement to betrayal. In a moment in history where our disagreements feel particularly divisive, I’m sure I was not the only listener who instantly thought of a family member or friend whose entire identity seemed wrapped up in how they viewed a political figure, party or event. We live in an era where conspiracy theories are extremely popular. I’d imagine many of us have had almost the exact conversation that Zac and William had.
Part of me wonders if this was supposed to be the point of “The RFK Tapes” all long, and if they manipulated me with sordid theories about mind control and a women in a polka dot dress to get there. As the final episode closed the state of Zac and Williams relationship is unclear. They have one last off the record conversation about it all, and I wonder how much of the whole thing was real to begin with. Did Zac always know it was heading there, with him and William at odds because Zac couldn’t buy the conspiracy? Which I guess is its own conspiracy theory. Except I’m not basing my whole identity on that theory. It’s just a theory.You can still be my friends with if you disagree.
Strange Perspective is a unique weekly look into today's pop culture by Progress columnist Rachel Strange.