I was reading the New York Times today – a day late since I’m on vacation in the deep woods of Maine – and hit the New York Times Magazine after lunch to encounter the photo to the right on the cover, with two women kissing crossed out in red, and a thought popped into my mind and stuck – the stray musing that Norman Rockwell is long dead, and with him so is the America which his work represented, either for good or ill.
For the one person in the universe who doesn’t know this, Norman Rockwell was an illustrator of the 1930s through 1950s who specialized in topical magazine covers for weeklies like The New York Times Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post. His illustrations were unrelentingly wholesome and presented an idealized vision of American small town life which may never have existed, but which at least two generations of Americans believed in and idolized wholeheartedly. Rockwell was an enormously talented and energetic artist, and even if you consider his themes jejeune it’s impossible to ignore the uniqueness of his style and the quality of his technique.
Of course, the world which Rockwell’s work represented is long gone to the extent that it ever existed. It was the idealization of a society now two generations in the past, and something which I suspect many Americans under the age of 40 find hard to relate to as anything akin to their reality or even an idealized interpretation of any real world era they lived through. The picture to the left is about as close as Rockwell ever got to depicting a lesbian kiss, and about as close as his audience ever go to even imagining such a thing.
The article associated with the non-Rockwell cover is called What’s the Real Problem with Gay Marriage (It’s the Gay Part). The article is fairly interesting, but certainly not a revelation if you’re at all informed on the two sides in the issue. It’s an attempt to explain the prejudice against gay marriage in the heartland to the rather liberal readership of The New York Times Magazine and even to some extent humanize the Christian activists in the movement to oppose gay marriage. It does wrap up with a great conclusion which illustrates the misunderstandings on the two sides beautifully. The article’s worth checking out for that alone, so I’m not even going to quote it here.
The point which the article doesn’t make, and which occured to me on seeing the cover picture, is how far the country has come from the days when Rockwell’s work might have graced the cover of the magazine. His world was an idealized reimagining of a real world which itself has long ago become one with the dust of the ages. Trying to bring back that past – even the real version of it – is essentially like necromancy – the raising of the spirits or flesh of the dead. It’s an inherently unnatural and unholy act, a violation of the laws of god and nature. You can turn back the clock, but you can never actually make it yesterday. Time only runs in one direction.
That’s a message which the Christian activists opposing gay marriage really need to get. Regardless of their faith or what the Bible says, the time of cookie-cutter families in small town Norman Rockwell America is gone. Rockwell’s family and social values may live on in many of us, but they need to be adaptable and we need to be willing to apply those values in terms of the modern era and its diversity. Trying to cram everyone into the mold of Rockwell’s America is never going to work and it’s going to cause a lot of pain and suffering. Even in it’s own time Rockwell’s work defiantly rejected reality, but denying reality rarely works outside of the fanciful covers of magazines. You’re always better off accepting reality and making the best of it.
When you get right down to it, stopping gay marriage is not about helping out sexually misguided individuals or fighting sin, it’s about ‘saving’ society. Yet just as you can’t put the shock paddles to the ribs of a skeleton and bring it back to life, you can’t save a version of society which has been dead for generations. There are millions of gay Americans today. How do you save a group that big that isn’t at all interested in being saved? The answer is that you can’t, so the only solution is to either accept them or get rid of them. You’re never going to be able to legislatively oppress them into conformity and invisibility, so if you’re really serious about saving society you might as well set up the death camps now, because that’s about the only way you’re going to get the job done. If that choice doesn’t sound appealing to you then I suggest you bite the bullet, accept people for what they are, and let them make their own decisions on how to live their lives. It’s already too late to stop gay marriage no matter what you do to impede it in the short term, because Norman Rockwell is dead and we’re living in the real world now.
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