Sixty-three-year-old Abraham Zapruder is on the way to his offices in downtown Dallas, where he works as a clothing manufacturer. It’s the morning of November 22, 1963. Abraham’s offices are on the fourth floor of the Dal-Tex building, on the corner of Elm and Houston Street in Dealey Plaza. Across the road is the Texas School Book Depository.

Abraham had hoped for better weather: the president is visiting and he wanted to capture it on his new Bell & Howell 8mm home video camera. But it has been raining.

After arriving at his office, Abraham’s staff insist he return home and get his camera – the weather is clearing up and the sun is coming out. Abraham hesitates at first, but his secretary points out that it’s not every day the president comes by. It’s already nearly ten o’clock when Abraham drives home to pick up the camera.

At roughly twelve o’clock Abraham prepares the video. Just shy of half an hour later, he starts to film, but realises he’s only capturing police motorcycles, so he stops. The president’s motorcade arrives at 12:30 p.m., and Abraham resumes filming.

President John F. Kennedy smiles and waves to the people lining the streets. Jackie Kennedy sits beside him. In front sits Governor John Connally and his wife. The presidential limousine has its roof off due to the pleasant change in weather. As Kennedy waves, the car disappears behind a sign, out of Abraham’s view. As Kennedy reappears in view of the camera, the crack of a gunshot echoes through the plaza and his head jerks back. He lifts his hands towards his throat and Jackie reaches an arm over to check he’s okay.

The sound of a second gunshot slams through the streets. Kennedy’s head explodes and the governor slumps onto his wife’s lap. Jackie frantically climbs towards the back of the car, looking for a way to escape. She’s stopped by Secret Service agent Clint Hill, who has been riding in the car behind them. He jumps onto the limousine’s rear bumper to prevent Jackie falling. The car zooms off beneath an underpass.

Abraham Zapruder films all of this: creating one of the most important pieces of film in American history.

There are few things that continue to impact society like the killing of John F. Kennedy. Without the Zapruder footage, the assassination would have faded into obscurity long ago.

And although it would be easy to place it in the same perverted trophy room as events like September 11 or the Vietnam War, I really don’t think we should, because the J. F. K. assassination is in a room of its own. There’s something about it that’s different.

The shooting possesses an unlikely combination of elements that bind together to form some kind of super event, unlike anything we’d seen before and anything we’ve seen since. There’s drama – think Kennedy’s head exploding right in front of his Texan supporters – and tragedy, with Jackie climbing across the back of the car to scoop up her husband’s brains. There’s even conspiracy – think the FBI, the Soviets and Lee Harvey Oswald (and were they working together?). But most of all, it has mystery – who shot John F. Kennedy? Was it one person or two? Where were they shooting from? Did they have an agenda? Was the US government involved?

It’s an epic combination. The whole event has an addictive sheen. It just keeps pulling you in for more. Proof of this is found in the plethora of documentaries, books and fictional works that all revolve around the assassination.

Western culture has, in many ways, become obsessed with the Kennedy shooting.

I can’t remember when I first learnt about the assassination. I certainly didn’t learn about it at school, although I knew about it well before I began to enjoy studying history. If anything, I would say the Kennedy assassination is somewhat responsible for my love of American history. If I were an American I could say it’s a formative part of my nation’s history; part of our collective memory. But I’m not American – at a stretch you could call me a Yankophile, although I hate the word.

Admittedly, I wasn’t invested in the assassination until I viewed it through the lens of mainstream media. I was fifteen when I came across the latest Stephen King novel in a Sydney bookshop. The book, 11/22/63, had J. F. K. and Jackie on the cover, waving from their infamous motorcade. A quick read of the blurb had me convinced. The novel followed Jake Epping, a divorced English teacher who discovers a way to time travel back to 1958. His mission is to live six years in the past and try stop the Kennedy assassination. I’d never read anything by King before, but I devoured 11/22/63 in two weeks and it remains one of my all-time favourite books.

There are few things that continue to impact society like the killing of John F. Kennedy. Without the Zapruder footage, the assassination would have faded into obscurity long ago.

But King’s novel is only one of many representations of the assassination in the media: I own four books on the subject, I’ve watched two TV series and I’ve loaned multiple books from my local library. An Amazon search for ‘Kennedy Assassination’ brings up 9,097 results in the books category, with forty-two of them published in the last thirty days and 127 of them in the last ninety. Just over 1,000 are classified as fiction.

Without a doubt, the Zapruder film is the reason behind society’s continual obsession with Kennedy’s assassination. The footage runs for 26.6 seconds at 18.3 frames per second, totalling 486 frames. Although short, watching the footage seems to last a lifetime. The film was valued and sold at USD$16 million, which went to Zapruder’s heirs. (If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend you do.)

By itself, the story of Kennedy’s death is naturally alluring, but the footage really brings it to life. The event becomes tangible. No other images or footage from that day are nearly as revealing as Zapruder’s, and none have the same scope.

More importantly, the footage is a piece of evidence. To some, it’s proof that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. To others, it’s the complete opposite. The footage simultaneously sparks conspiracy theories and shuts them down. It shows you Kennedy’s death, the reactions of the public, and then leaves ambiguous hints as to who did it and why. The footage can be proof for whatever you want to believe. It’s miraculous.

Without the Zapruder footage, solid evidence for the Kennedy assassination is hard to come by, which I think is another contributing factor towards the ongoing obsession. There are millions of ways to interpret the event. It’s a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream. There are enough books for you to keep reading for the rest of your life and still not have the answer. The uncertainty and open-ended nature of the event fuels our continuing obsession.

But isn’t that obsession a bit fucked up?

There’s not enough evidence to draw any conclusions around the assassination of Kennedy. And perhaps it’s time for the world to realise that this may remain the case for years to come. What we’re left with is an ugly snapshot of human obsession and voyeurism.

We’re talking about a man’s death here. These were his final moments, something that is usually sacredly private, and yet we continue to scrutinise them, rewatch the footage and come to conclusions about the circumstances. It’s not like Kennedy is waiting for us to figure it out.

I’m guilty of this addiction myself, as are many others. We know that, from a historical point of view, there comes a point where there’s nothing more to be found. And yet we continue. The events are dramatised, reordered, re-examined and picked apart until there’s nothing left.

It’s sick. Why can’t we just leave it alone? Stop watching, stop researching, stop writing out of respect for John F. Kennedy. Doesn’t he deserve that?

He does. But let’s not talk in impossibilities.

Harry Baker is a Melbourne-based writer and student, currently completing a bachelor of arts in creative writing.