Thursday, February 3, 2011

Anti-Neuromancer: Norman Rockwell's Comeback

Location: Waiting for my apple pie

image credit: public-domain image from Wikipedia

The BBC carries this story today about the "curious resurgence" of Norman Rockwell's artwork.

Disclaimer: Rockwell is a guilty pleasure for me. I love the man's gentle sense of humor.  But back to the Gibsonian connection: there's not a thing curious at all about the renewed interest in Rockwell's art.

In a present that looks so difficult, and a future that appears bleak if you ask most any SF writer, why not return to an invented world that was a pastiche of actual pre-Counterculture events but framed so that it looked typical?

Rockwell does grate on me at times. In none of his works do I see my Arabic-speaking grandmother and my dad, both hungry enough in the early 1930s to rely on an urban waste-spot for picking dandelion greens. I don't see dad's daily onion sandwich (to his death, he really hated onions).

But I have to put aside my Cybperpunk preference for dark visions and say, "many folks need this stuff and I enjoy it, too."

Or are such delusions dangerous?  As a Peak Oiler who thinks the current downturn is a symptom of longer-term hardships to come, and that technology will not solve but merely mitigate the worst effects of oil depletion and climate change, I wonder if visions of a past-that-never-really-was don't lull us into thinking we could somehow remake it.

Or perhaps we can still enjoy Rockwell for what the work is: comforting eye candy. Perhaps it is a brand of eye-candy with something more substantial inside. I find hope in a statement made by David Kamp, quoted in the Beeb's story:

"To go back to Rockwell's vision of the more community-based, and modest, American Dream has the appeal it might not have held five or six years ago."

That would be welcome news after a time with bloated Hummers with single-digit fuel economy and outsized, land-gobbling McMansions defined US life.

Rockwell's vision might have been middlebrow and whitebread, but it was modest.  That's not been a signature trait in our self-invention of American identity for a while. Like thrift and economy, it may make a comeback.

I believe that identity is invented, in real life as well as in virtual worlds, so Rockwell's return offers some hope.

Have a look at the online gallery at The Norman Rockwell Museum and see how his work moves you.


Miso Susanowa said...

Isn't this what the Republicrats have been attempting for the last 20 years, starting with The Gimper and his smiling recap of "Father Knows Best"? I see it in the Xian "Promise" movements, the war-against-intellectualism/science, the Nanny State resurgence, the "adjusting" test scores so that people don't get their feelings hurt, the arranging of offstage bogeymen to replace The Great Red Menace...

To quote Rocky Horror Picture Show:

Magenta: "How sentimental."
RiffRaff: "And all so presumptuous of you."

Iggy O said...

To quote my linguistics teacher from grad school, "when times get scary, it seems that everyone needs a tribe."

Idealized Middle American white folks with small-town values are a comfortable tribe to many Americans, past and present.

Unless you are not white or small-town. Then they can scare the snot out of you. I bet we fall into that category, Miso.

But I still like Rockwell. I like The Andy Griffith Show; the "pickle" episode is not to be missed.

Best virtual worlds before we invented computers, eh?

We need us a Sheriff Taylor. Now where in the hell is my apple pie, Aunt Bea??

Iggy O said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Iggy O said...

Let me retry with a working link. Rockwell did some edgy stuff, too, to tweak the conscience of those who might otherwise ignore social reality. Case in point, his "The Problem We All Live With":

Miso Susanowa said...

ahhhhh ty for that Rockwell link! Very worthwhile.

The problem I have with the whole "Idealized Middle American white folks with small-town values" thing is that it feels fake to me. I have lived in Mayberrys (towns with pop. less than 3000) and most of the "small-town values" thing was closer to "The Truman Show". I think it's extremely hard, if not impossible, to have that type of pre-1950s "small town" thing anymore given the communicative environment we have presently (even in tiny tiny towns, people have cell phones, cable and news).

I object more to the plastification and myth-promulgation of a stripped down, simplistic and idealized "small town mentality" similar to what Disneyland provides; a row of nice tidy white-picket-fence houses that are merely props; the falsification of that "tribe" and ultimately demeaning to the idea of that tribe; a kind of condescension.

But that doesn't mean I don't want to ride a pink bicycle with handlebar ponytails and a white basket in front containing a little fluffy kitten wearing a bell on a ribbon collar down to the malt shoppe on a cloudless and shiny Saturday afternoon *^_^*

Lalo Telling said...

One thing you and I share, Iggy, is a nostalgia for "past Futures". I think there's more than science geek history involved in that... and I think it may be related to how Rockwell's art speaks to you in spite of your not coming out of that worldline, so to speak. It's not about the stage setting and the props, it's about the feelings invoked: a yearning for simplicity, whether it arrives in a flying car or in a sailboat piloted by an Explorer Scout.