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Norman Rockwell is Dead

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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.

Dave

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About Dave Nalle

  • Shark

    Rockwell rocks!

    BTW, Dave, this is your best piece of writing during your tenure at BC.

    …and although I have so minor quibbles with your ‘assessment’ of Rockwell, I realize that wasn’t the gist of your piece — it’s not enough to harass yer ass;

    so we’ll just sit back and enjoy the love for a moment.

    xxoo
    S

  • http://gonzo-marx.blogspot.com gonzo marx

    i gotta agree with Shark here…

    Mr Nalle deserves a..

    /golfclap

    enjoy…

    yer in Maine, eh? i guess i should get some pies ready…

    after this nice Article, i may even defrost em first

    maybe…

    {8^P~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Excelsior!

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    Dave, nice article. What people need to understand are that the true values that Norman drew, values of childhood discovery, values of mischief, love, nurturing, play, the apple pie in the window sill, etc. all these values are alive and well in todays real world, just as they are in Norman Rockwells world. People need to ask themselves what is truly different about the two worlds, because they still really are very much the same, if we choose them to be.

    But I agree with the thought that it is time to rethink old thoughts in light of real, current families.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Hearkening back to Shark’s comment I will admit to doing Rockwell a slight disservice. He actually painted quite a variety of images, including some which are much more realistic and included racial minorities, immigrants, the poor and quite a diverse set of characters and lifestyles – tho no kissing lesbians that I can find, close though Rosy the Riveter comes. But it’s still his pictures for the newspaper weekly magazines which he’s most remembered for.

    To me it seems like a matter of pure efficiency. People who continue to pursue the cause of banning gay marriage are wasting an awful lot of effort which could be spent more productively. Christianity drives them, but there are a lot of other ways they can serve god which would do more good for more people and be more likely to produce actual results. Hoping that somehow they will be able to miraculously turn all the gay folks straight or remove all the moral changes in society by just not letting people of the same sex marry is just not realistic.

    Dave

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    >>Dave, nice article. What people need to understand are that the true values that Norman drew, values of childhood discovery, values of mischief, love, nurturing, play, the apple pie in the window sill, etc. all these values are alive and well in todays real world, just as they are in Norman Rockwells world. People need to ask themselves what is truly different about the two worlds, because they still really are very much the same, if we choose them to be.<<

    Largely true, Steve. But it is true that we can no longer let our kids out to just wander around the neighborhood the way I did when I was a kid, and the way generations past did. The world is not quite as safe, secure or comforting a place as it once was, and that’s a real loss.

    My solution to this was to move to a smaller town, but even that’s not really sufficient to restore the days when as an 8 or 9 year old I could ride my bike down to the local grocery store and sit at the lunch counter and drink a coke, or down to the park a mile away to play with friends, all without any kind of adult supervision.

    I wonder what effect the current environment of constant, ongoing adult monitoring and the attendant guidance is having on kids developing an independent sense of self.

    Dave

  • http://adamantsun.blogspot.com Steve S

    But it is true that we can no longer let our kids out to just wander around the neighborhood the way I did when I was a kid, and the way generations past did. The world is not quite as safe, secure or comforting a place as it once was, and that’s a real loss.

    Yes, I agree. I don’t understand how a picture of two lesbians with a red line across them brought you around to thinking Norman is dead/America’s innocence is dead, but yes things aren’t as safe as it once was.

    My thought on that, is that people are suffering from a sense of helplessness and of powerlessness. For several decades now, right wing radio and other outlets have portrayed conservatism as being under attack, by gays, by judges, by the left, by Osama, by Democrats, by the whole damn world. Add 9/11 and it’s psychological effects to that feeling of victimization and that a lot of people today were raised with the value of irresponsibility and laziness and a huge percentage have ADD. Makes for an increase in everything from school violence, to road rage, to office shootings, etc. That’s what I think.

    I wonder what effect the current environment of constant, ongoing adult monitoring and the attendant guidance is having on kids developing an independent sense of self.

    I don’t know, much of what I see people trying to protect their children from, I don’t really see as a threat in the first place, so I can’t imagine what to me looks like overreaching paranoia in childrearing, will affect how kids get raised. I mean, I can’t imagine what the effects will be.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    >>Yes, I agree. I don’t understand how a picture of two lesbians with a red line across them brought you around to thinking Norman is dead/America’s innocence is dead, but yes things aren’t as safe as it once was.< <

    The America's innocence thing isn't really part of my original article, it came up in the comment stream. My point was more that the worldview of Rockwell's era is gone whether for good or ill.

    >>My thought on that, is that people are suffering from a sense of helplessness and of powerlessness.< <

    Some may be. I don't see it much in the circles I move in - mostly entrepreneurs and middle class working folks.

    >> For several decades now, right wing radio and other outlets have portrayed conservatism as being under attack, < <

    Not conservatism, traditional values. They're very much two different things. Conservatism is a political philosophy which may be under attack as well, but what the right is defending is a value set which they don't want to see changed.

    >>by gays, by judges, by the left, by Osama, by Democrats, by the whole damn world. Add 9/11 and it’s psychological effects to that feeling of victimization and that a lot of people today were raised with the value of irresponsibility and laziness and a huge percentage have ADD. Makes for an increase in everything from school violence, to road rage, to office shootings, etc. That’s what I think.< <

    Except that in fact, school violence and office shootings and the like are not statistically more common, we're just more aware of them and more concerned about them, largely because of the media - same thing with most of those threats that face our kids. The threats were there when I was a kid, but no one knew about or worried about them.

    >>I don’t know, much of what I see people trying to protect their children from, I don’t really see as a threat in the first place, so I can’t imagine what to me looks like overreaching paranoia in childrearing, will affect how kids get raised. I mean, I can’t imagine what the effects will be.<<

    Well, I mostly worry about my kids being run over, bitten by wild animals, abducted and sexually or physically abused. Admittedly these things aren’t happening all around us, but just one such event is too many when they’re your kids.

    Dave

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Great piece, Dave. I remember a print of a Rockwell mag cover (Saturday Evening Post) hanging somewhere in my parent’s house growing up. A jolly, red-faced doctor, as I recall. Through today’s eyes, one would try to find something sinister or salacious in the happy-faced doc, but at the time I’m sure it represented a good spirited wholesomeness.

    I like how you relate Rockwell’s worldview to the gay marriage debate. On some days, I do see social conservatism, if it can be called a movement, as a rearguard movement against modern societal, well, norms.

  • Richard Church

    Rockwell’s America is dead you say? I beg to differ… The man and his art still embody values that are very much alive. The slices of life depicted in his paintings can also be found in household photo albums cross the nation.

    Just because crack whores and hip-hop gangstas never figured in his artwork doesn’t invalidate his vision of America. How many crack whores or homies do you have in your family album compared to Rockwellian snapshots full of warmth and charm?

    The violence, vulgarity and depravity peddled in Hollywood, the media, and in video games are the true — albeit negative — idealized reimagining of our world.

  • Nancy

    I knew Mr. Rockwell personally; I grew up there, & did a grade school paper on his work, which he graciously gave me an “interview” for.

    His world never did exist in reality, as he told me. It was an idealization of humor & touches he wished existed – altho those aren’t exactly the words he used to a 5th-grader. The subjects were models – neighbors, relatives, friends – and the scenarios posed. His pictures & illustrations represented his idealization of the best of what should have been, not what was. He didn’t paint reality (although he painted terrifically realistically) because reality was ugly enough, he said, and pervasive enough, and what we all really needed was a touch of humor & heart. That’s what he portrayed.

  • Kimberly

    “Just because crack whores and hip-hop gangstas never figured in his artwork doesn’t invalidate his vision of America. How many crack whores or homies do you have in your family album compared to Rockwellian snapshots full of warmth and charm?”

    So tell me again…what do “crack whores and homies” have to do with the discussion at hand?

  • Rosietheslavelaborer

    Norman Rockwell was a porpogandist for Hearst. His art is pretty bad as far as art goes because he used a projector to get his images and is usually catagorized as and illustrator not an artist. If he were alive today he would be working for some conservative media outlet pushing the crackerbarrel stuff he did back then.

  • Dash Riprock

    While the author of this sophomoric analysis of society, and what may or may not be “dead” in it, is most likely correct about the “quality” of “art” in Rockwell’s work, he labors under commonly held brain-damaged beliefs and misconceptions of the fringe elements in our civilization:

    — Gay is cooler than straight.

    — Straights are lowly “breeders” and homophobes.

    — Black is cooler than white.

    — All values and standards from the past are to be shunned, overturned, destroyed, and replaced with “new age thinking.”

    — We can SPEND our way out of a brutal recession/depression.

    — We can add tens of millions of more people to our already over-loaded medical systems and lower costs.

    — We can add tens of millions of more people to our already over-loaded medical systems, lower costs, and improve the quality of care.

    — We can add tens of millions of more people to our already over-loaded medical systems, lower costs, and improve the quality of care WITHOUT increasing the number of doctors, nurses, technicians, hospitals, or clinics.

    — Socialism and communism are “good” forms of government.

    — Tyrannical theocratic dictatorships are also “good” forms of government.

    — There aren’t any such things as terrorists or terrorism — we just need to “talk” to these people!

    — We can “negotiate” and “become friends” with terrorists, communist dictators, and theocratic tyrants.

    — It’s “OK” to marginalize white heterosexuals in favor of gays, blacks, and other minorities.

    — It’s “OK” to massively expand government while TOTALLY tanking the economy.

    — It’s “OK” for our politicians to “financially freebase” and destroy the future of America.

    — It’s “OK” when our children perform miserably on SAT, ACT, GRE, and other academic tests when compared to past generations.

    — It’s “OK” when half of our children contract an STD before age 20.

    — The unemployed don’t need jobs; they need more useless, flowery speeches from President Obozo, The Turd of Doom.

    — Everyone has a “right” to own a home, even if they don’t have a valid ID or any semblance of a credit history.

    — If you don’t “feel” like working for a living, the government should support you.

    — Minorities are MUCH, MUCH, MUCH more important than the stupid majority, which is our “cash cow” as we raise taxes to draconian levels and far, far beyond….. Isn’t this FUN !!!!

    If all of the above moronic beliefs weren’t such brain-barfing BS, they would be laughable.

  • Pride
  • Dash Riprock

    Remember…..when you think of harmful things like serial killers, venomous snakes, and rabid dogs, think of Obozo, The Turd of Doom, and ALL of his commie friends in the White House and in **BOTH** houses of Congress.