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Old April 1st, 2013, 04:04 AM
e of pi e of pi is online now
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Hello everyone! I'd like to thank the Brainbin for giving me this chance to poke around in some of the details of the TL, and I hope you'll bear with me and the somewhat different focus for this week's post. I think it’s interesting the way popular culture can influence how people think and the dramatic effects that this can then go on to have on the more “traditional” AH realms such as politics. With the Brainbin’s generous permission to play around in his world, I’ll be exploring that a bit this week. Sorry it's up a little bit than we'd hoped, but I hope you can forgive the wait.

Appendix E: A Taste of Pi, Part I: Fostering an Obsession

Over the past seven months I've left you dozens of poems, letters and love messages in the faint hope that you could develop an interest in me. Although we talked on the phone a couple of times I never had the nerve to simply approach you and introduce myself. [...] the reason I'm going ahead with this attempt now is because I cannot wait any longer to impress you.” – John Hinckley, Jr., personal letter written April, 1980. [1]

The history of assassination attempts is one which stretches since before the dawn of recorded history. From Julius Caesar to Franz Ferdinand, the use of targeted killings as a form of political speech has had a long and dramatic history, with equally historic results. This was no less true on the North American continent than it had been in Europe, with assassination attempts being made against many of the most critical figures in American politics – Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, James A. Garfield, and other figures of similar magnitude. Indeed, the 16-year Democratic domination of the White House in the “Great Society” era can be seen in part to be traced to the impact on the American psyche of the premature death of John F. Kennedy. [2] Whether the intent in each case was to make a political statement, or was simply a cry for help from a diseased mind, the presidential assassin has stood as a major figure in the history of the United States.

Born in 1955 as part of the later original “Baby Boomer” generation, John Hinckley, Jr. was in many ways ideally equipped to follow in these historic footprints, as his parents decided to bestow upon him a middle name, Warnock, after his father, a player in the oil and energy industries. [3] However, Hinckley Jr. would not be following in his father’s footsteps. The younger Hinckley graduated from high school in 1973, and quickly developed a pattern of leaving home to live on his own – pursuing a songwriting career in Los Angeles and an on-again-off-again attendance at Texas Tech University [4] – before failing, peppering his parents with pleas for money and exaggerated or even outright fabricated stories of woe, before finally returning to live at home. Withdrawn and largely cut off from meaningful interpersonal relations, Hinkley’s already unstable mind became fertile ground for an obsession whose effect would make news around the country, and even inspire a rash of high-profile copycat incidents.

In the fall of 1976, while in Los Angeles, Hinckley went to see the musical gangster film Bugsy Malone, which featured actress Jodie Foster, in whom Hinckley had already had an interest, playing a minor role as a singer at a 20s speakeasy. [5] Hinckley would eventually see Bugsy Malone a number of times, including one marathon viewing of more than 15 repetitions, which would foster his growing obsession with the actress and plant seeds for some of his future activities. As his songwriting career failed to materialize in the ensuing years, Hinkley began to spend his time stalking the actress. As his personal life and sanity crumbled, his obsession with Foster only grew. When Foster graduated high school and declared her intention to go to Yale, Hinckley (finally cut off by his parents, and thus unable to follow her on a cross-country move) decided he had to make his feelings more clear or risk losing his chance. [6] However, his poems, letters, and gifts had already gone unacknowledged, and he began to become convinced that the window of opportunity for finally getting her to realize the depths of his affection was closing rapidly. Desperate, Hinckley’s mental state collapsed still further as he racked his brain for options and retreated into fantasy based on past Foster films. Finally, though, he found his answer. Bugsy Malone itself had showed him exactly what he would have to do to impress Foster and earn the right to his happy ending and accompany her to Yale: to get his ending, he would have to finish things properly. The country was in a deep recession, and public press laid the blame on one figure. Hinckley became convinced he was in a unique position to finish him, leaving him all washed up and the country on a path to a better future. He would have to finish Ronald Reagan. [7]

To prepare, Hinckley had to sadly cut back on his time stalking Foster in order to pursue his great display of affection, instead devoting nearly the same level of detail to cataloguing the actions of the President as Reagan crisscrossed the country on the trail for re-election. Finally, he saw his chance at a campaign fundraising event in Los Angeles. [8] Hinckley joined the ropeline with his weapon, and managed to force his way to the front ranks, eager for his date with destiny. Finally, as the President left the rally, making his way down the ropeline, shaking hands and expressing his unmatched charisma, Hinckley saw his opening and took it. Opening the box he had smuggled into the event, Hinckley let loose with the first of six 9” diameter lemon curd pies, and then a second before being wrestled to the ground by courageous onlookers and restrained by the Secret Service. [9] However, the damage had been done – the President of the United States had been hit both times, once in the torso and once in the forehead. Globs of custard running down his distinctive hairline, the president was rushed to the motorcade as the media converged. The image would dominate the news cycle for days, and became a common punchline on late night television like The Tonight Show. The Pryor Show took its shot in an allegedly unplanned skit in which Robin Williams came in, high as a kite, and unleashed a devastating barrage on Pryor, his guest John Lennon [10], and the front ranks of the audience, even as the president was released from the hospital that evening and returned to the campaign trail. [11] However, Hinckley would not have the chance to reap his just rewards. Instead of getting to find his happy ending with Foster, he was arrested at the scene for assault and battery, though on the grounds of insanity his sentence was eventually commuted on the condition of pursuing treatment. [12] Still, he had already ensured that history – and certainly the late-night talk show circuit – would not forget the name John Warnock Hinckley, Jr, just as it would not that of Brutus, or Lee Harvey Oswald.


[1] IOTL, this letter was written in 1981, ahead of his attempt on the newly-elected President Reagan. Butterflies are awing, ladies and gentlemen, and the game is afoot.

[2] While of course the impact of Kennedy’s assassination and the “Death of Camelot” had been a major factor in the start of the 16-year domination of the White House by the Democratic party, by 1980 the American public had moved on, and was rather fed up with the incessant invocations of his legacy. [13]

[3] The middle name, of course, being a trademark of Presidential assassins. Perhaps we should institute a rule: anyone commonly known by their middle name should be restrained preemptively for their own good and the good of others – especially if their first name is “Lee.”

[4] Hinckley started at Texas Tech in Business Administration, but after returning to the school in 1977, he switched his major to English. He made no real progress toward acquiring either degree.

[5] At the time, Oswald was 21, while the object of his affection was 14. By the X/2+7 rule first proposed by the Ancient Greeks [14], this is officially creepy as heck.

[6] Butterflies at work – IOTL, Hinckley moved to New Haven, and enrolled in Yale writing classes to follow her, thus delaying his attempts and making him feel less “under the gun” schedule-wise.

[7] Reagan, of course, having been elected in 1976; see previous posts.

[8] Reagan was the unchallenged front-runner for the upcoming June 3rd GOP Primary in the state, but used the chance to stump in his home state as an opportunity to fill his campaign war chest.

[9] In the struggle, one bystander was hit in the shoulder, and a secret service agent sustained a hit to the cheek.

[10] Lennon sustained the lion’s share of the hits, though the audience received a fair number as well. Pryor also took a hit. [16]

[11] Reagan was diagnosed with no lasting injuries other than to his pride – in fact, the candidate himself would take part in the jokes about the “attack” at subsequent appearances through the rest of the campaign.

[12] ITTL, the choice of weapon and Hinckley’s genuine belief that his attack would finish the President make it clear that his insanity plea is justified, hence, there’s no motion to reform the insanity defense – only a vocal minority says, “What if it had been a gun?” including alt-historians.

[13] A factor of no small magnitude in the upcoming 1980 Democratic primaries.

[14] Citation needed.

[15] This would go on to have major historical significance.

[16] Hits of pie, sheesh, what’d you think of?


Anyway, once again, I’d like to thank the Brainbin for letting me make this foray into his world, and for his assistance making this post as good as it could be. I’d also like to thank the thread in general for expressing their interest in this, and in particular to Orville_third and phx1138 for their inspiration. I hope you all enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed writing it; as I noted, you all asked for it.
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