» Extending the Lesson
"Truth" and "Fiction"
Note to teachers:
The film, "Who was Lee Harvey Oswald?" is a documentary. It presents what its filmmakers have identified as facts in order to support the widely accepted view that Oswald was a lone assassin and was not part of a larger conspiracy. But, of course, even what seem like absolute facts are - for some - always open to interpretation. Some authors and filmmakers go further, believing that by fictionalizing parts of a true story, they are better able to convey the tone of the times and are therefore able to represent a larger "truth" more compellingly. For example, if students completed the Post-Viewing Activity of putting Oswald on trial, they acted the roles of composite characters created to represent several people who knew Oswald as a Marine, in the Soviet Union, and in the United States. Similarly, when we allowed a "psychiatrist" to testify in Oswald's "trial," we were creating a fictional character to present facts and ideas about Oswald.
» Lesson Objectives:
- To think about whether we can always draw an exact line between "documentary" and "fiction"
- To consider issues of media awareness and media literacy
» Materials Needed:
- If students completed any of the other activities in this guide, their notes will be helpful.
- Either selections from Norman Mailer's Oswald's Tale, an in-depth treatment of Oswald drawn from months of Mailer's research into his life, in particular his time in Russia, and also drawn from the files and material gathered by the major U.S government investigations into the assassination;
- Clips from JFK, Oliver Stone's film which outraged many by its use of fictional composite characters to support its conspiracy theory
- Students may also want to read a forum FRONTLINE conducted in which Don DeLillo and investigative writers Edward J. Epstein and Gerald Posner -- all of whom, like Norman Mailer drew on in-depth research and investigation into the assassination and Oswald's life -- debate the "Myth, Meaning and Mystery" surrounding Oswald.
» Time Needed:
One to two periods, depending on whether students read the excerpts or view the film clips in class or at home.
- Present a short excerpt from any of the works listed above (e.g. the written excerpt from Mailer, the FRONTLINE forum, or a video clip from JFK.)
- Discuss how viewers or readers can tell what is "true" and what is "fiction."
- Discuss what happens when it is difficult to discern the difference between "truth" and "fiction."
Note to Teachers: If you are using the JFK clips, you may also want to point students to "Hollywood and History: The Debate Over JFK" on FRONTLINE's Web site.
» Method of Assessment
Students should write a page agreeing or disagreeing with the following statement:
Once an author or a film director mixes fact and fiction, their work becomes useless as a means of discovering truth.