When it comes to Norman Rockwell (“nudge, nudge”), homosexuality is in the eye of an obsessed culture

Norman-Rockwell-Triple-Self-Portrait-1960Back in the day, the Monty Python team was famous not only for its nonsense (“Dead Parrot” anyone?) but also for its edgy, modern, topical humor.  One of their most famous (and irritating) sketches was the “nudge nudge, wink wink” sketch, made all the back in 1971 (officially known as the “Candid Photography” sketch).  In it, Eric Idle played one of those awful people who believes that every word spoken is a double entendre about sex.  His character was both annoying and pathetic, as he responded to everything the stodgy, proper Terry Jones said with a leering “nudge, nudge, ya’ know what I mean?”

In 1971, that was still pretty ground-breaking stuff.  Before the 1960s, while people were thinking about sex, as people have done since time immemorial, most of them, barring New York sophisticates bathed in Freud and Kinsey, weren’t talking about it yet at cocktail parties or with strangers in pubs.  The 60s changed all that.  I vividly remember a family friend who pressed on my father a small book purporting to show that Madison Avenue had taken the famous “sex sells” dictum (pretty women in ads for everything from cars to cigars) and brought it to a whole new level with “subliminal” sexual images.  When you thought you were looking at a glass of Bacardi’s with ice, you were really seeing a subliminal image of a naked woman writhing sinuously in your rum — never mind that this invisible woman was missing three limbs and a breast.

By the end of the 1970s, the “everything is about sex” mentality had been mainstreamed.  One of the teachers who occasioned the most nervous laughter at my high school was the woman who insisted that Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are had achieved its iconic status, not because it showed a little boy safely acting out the frustration children so often feel in a grown-up world, but because Sendak had included couples copulating in the trees that are the backdrop to every image in the book.  If you didn’t see them, you weren’t looking hard enough.

Of course, once you’ve mainstreamed sex to the extent that everything is all about sex, you end up with blasé teenagers, instead of twittering, quivering, young sexual acolytes.  So where do you go from there?  Simple.  Everything is about gay sex.  That’s how gay activists manage to get headlines.  One of their big headlines was the claim that Lincoln was gay.  Their “proof” was less compelling than the certainty with which they expressed it:  in an era when it was the norm for men to have close male friendships and, when traveling, to share beds at inns, Lincoln had close male friendships and shared beds at inns.  If they could, the activists would have written QED after that one, not to say quod erat demonstrandum, but instead to say “queer everyone [who’s] dead.”

The most recent entry in the “if he’s a famous dead man, he must have been gay” approach to biography is Deborah Solomon’s American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman RockwellSince Solomon spent a large part of her career at the Wall Street Journal, I’ll let that publication describe her premise:

Deborah Solomon starts her new biography of Norman Rockwell, “American Mirror,” with a joke the artist once told his therapist about a man who wants to marry an elephant. Unattainable love proved a powerful theme in the artist’s life, says Ms. Solomon. Her book’s theory: Repressed sexuality, fear of women and fascination with manhood made Rockwell’s art brilliant and his personal relationships troubled.

The 56-year-old New York writer spent more than a decade on Rockwell. This wasn’t a painter of family life, she argues, but a man seeking comfort outside conventional relationships. Of Rockwell’s 322 covers for the Saturday Evening Post, only three depict a traditional family of parents and at least two children, she says, adding that his paintings instead largely feature boys and men.


Is your book basically saying that Rockwell was a latent homosexual?

I’m not a shrink, and I really don’t speculate about a life and a person’s psychology as a writer. As a critic, I can say when I look at his work I feel it’s possible to discern enormous homoeroticism as well as a desire to distance himself from his own desires. In his life, he did prefer male company. It was a special kind of sexual ambivalence that he may not have acted on. Do I think he had homosexual relationships? No. He goes camping and shares a bed with his assistant Fred Hildebrandt and the next morning he said, “Fred looked fetching in his pajamas.” He was very comfortable around men and he loved male bodies.

There’s more, but you get the idea.  Rockwell wasn’t actually gay . . . but he wanted to be.  In addition to the “I think he’s gay” stuff in the above interview, Solomon wrote other things in her biography that show a woman with sex on her brain.  The most bizarre theory comes when she discusses one of Rockwell’s more charming paintings.  It show a little girl on the cusp of adolescence, seen from the back, staring into a mirror.  She’s thrown her doll aside, and is longingly comparing her still childish face with a photograph of Jane Russell:


You and I see the moment a girl leaves her childhood behind and starts preparing to function (and compete) in the world of adult women. Solomon saw something very different:

‘Actually,’ says Solomon, ‘seen from the back, she could be a boy.’ And the girl’s doll, tossed on the floor? ‘A bizarrely sexualized object. With her right hand buried in her petticoats, the doll could almost be masturbating.’

Wow!  They do say that, to a hammer, everything is a nail, and I guess to a New York sophisticate, everything is about sex (the more deviant the better), but that really is taking the whole thing to extremes.  I’m surprised Solomon didn’t throw in something about drag queens and cross dressing.

Solomon doesn’t stop with the gay subtext of little girls.  She also takes a stab at analyzing Rockwell’s famous “freedom of speech” painting:


You and I see a man free to stand up in his community and speak his mind.  Solomon sees “out and proud”:

Her take on Freedom of Speech is that the man standing is ‘unattached and sexually available. Unbuttoned and unzipped.’

It seems as if Solomon’s take on the matter is like a parlor game.  “Pick a picture, any picture, and I can spot the gay subtext.”  Rockwell’s world is no longer one of small town innocence and all-American charm.  It’s a shadowy world of cross-dressing boys, men advertising their wares for sale to other men, and even predatory pedophiles.  What!?  Predatory pedophiles?  Yes, indeedy.  Take that famous picture of a cop sitting at a soda fountain next to small boy who has, at his feet, the stereotypical early 20th century symbol of an innocent runaway:  a bundle of clothes wrapped in a handkerchief tied to stick.

Norman Rockwell's runaway

You and I see the cop using folksy charm to get the clearly well-cared for child to head back home, as the man behind the counter smiles at the scene playing about before his eyes.  Solomon sees something sleazy:

In The Runaway, a painting of a burly cop and a little boy on adjacent cafe stools, the cop leans toward the boy ‘as if to emphasize the… tenderness that can form between a grown man and a little boy… the hint of homo-eroticism’ she writes.

No doubt, were Solomon to analyze “Two Flirts” (one of my favorite Rockwell paintings), she would assure us that the fact that there are two men in the truck means that they are indeed homosexual (after all, one of them is touching the other one), and that their blatant ogling at the pretty blonde is their way of trying to pass for straight in a homophobic society:

Rockwell's two flirts

Solomon made only one mistake when she decided to “gay up” Norman Rockwell.  She forgot that there are people still alive who knew the man.  Unlike Lincoln, who had no one left behind to speak about him when the “Lincoln is gay” theory hit the airwaves, Rockwell still has living children and grandchildren, and they are not pleased to see their relative painted as a depressed and repressed homosexual.  They’ve issued a strong public statement challenging the book.  Intelligently, they’ve attacked myriad provable errors in the book, rather than just saying, childishly, “She’s wrong.  Nyah-nyah-nyah.”

The Norman Rockwell Family Agency, in light of today’s New York Times review of American Mirror the Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, is compelled to finally address the many analyses of Norman Rockwell. The Norman Rockwell Family Agency is making this final statement:

Many of the reviews of Deborah Solomon’s American Mirror The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell have accepted her account of his life and work. Her account is essentially wrong. She has neglected or misused the sources which she cites. Her use of Norman Rockwell’s autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator, is highly selective. As Professor Patrick Toner of Wake Forest University states in his online review on First Things.com, “Solomon has a pronounced tendency to either distort or simply ignore evidence to the contrary.”

Garrison Keillor states in today’s review, “She does seem awfully eager to find homoeroticism – poor Rockwell cannot go on a fishing trip without his biographer finding sexual overtones. Keillor comments on Solomon’s suggestion that the doll in “Girl at Mirror” could be masturbating, “Well, I suppose that Michelangelo’s “David” could “almost” be masturbating”.

On page 94 of her book, Solomon describes how Rockwell would “hang about the schools at recess . . and stop little boys on the street . .” She then comments, “Today with our awareness of pederasty scandals (meaning pedophilia) this kind of behavior might seem problematic . .” She then omits a passage just below this in the Autobiography that fully explains what really happened – after Rockwell would convince a boy to pose, they would go to ask the mother’s permission. On page 101 she comments on his relationship with his models: “The integrity of the boys was never in question. But his own character was not nearly so straightforward.” Referring to Nabokov’s novel, Lolita, Solomon writes, “In a way Rockwell was Humbert Humbert’s discreet and careful twin brother, roused by the beauty of children but (thankfully) more repressed.” Many of the reviewers have ignored the claim of pedophilia, perhaps because the suggestion of it blows the credibility of the book out of the water.

She supports this unfounded claim with another phantom theory, that Rockwell was a closeted homosexual. To link pedophilia and homosexuality in this way is offensive and clearly homophobic. We have found at least 68 of these sexual references throughout the book. On page 168 she comments on his search for costumes for his models: “. . . he did enjoy acquiring clothing from men who caught his eye, as if it were possible to acquire the less tangible parts of them as well.” Solomon now claims that sex is only a “tiny part” of her book. But sex is a major theme of the book and her phantom theories color and distort everything, including Rockwell’s entire character and her interpretations of his art. There is no way to separate her sexual theories from the rest of the book. Her take on Freedom of Speech is that the man standing is “unattached and sexually available. Unbuttoned and unzipped.” Solomon also omits from the Autobiography many accounts of Norman Rockwell’s feelings and relationships with women.

There are also many other factual errors and omissions — we have found at least 96. Again, this is something that few reviewers seem to notice — they simply do not know enough about Norman Rockwell’s life, and are too dependent on Solomon’s flawed account. She inadequately interviewed Rockwell’s three sons and therefore her account of his life is often inaccurate. She gives an incomplete account of a significant difficulty with the Post when the art editor, Ken Stuart, painted out a horse from one of NR’s covers without consulting him. Solomon omits Norman Rockwell’s difficulties when his abilities were failing — in one instance he painted portraits of the Ross Perot family and they were so badly done that Mr. Perot sent them back and NR returned his check.

Most important of all, Solomon doesn’t understand the man, who Norman Rockwell was as a person. She says “On most days he was lonesome and loveless.” This is absurd. He did not mope, was not a chronic depressive, or a hypochondriac. He went through his trials and storms as we all do, but he was someone who ultimately affirmed life. People liked Rockwell and enjoyed being with him. He was interested in people and what they had to say. On a personal note, “I always had a wonderful relationship with my father, we were especially close when I helped him with his Autobiography.”

Solomon claims that her book is based on an examination of his art and that Norman Rockwell painted mostly men and boys. We counted all the Post covers from 1916 – 1951 and all the early covers for Life and Literary Digest. There are 172 covers with girls and women, and 141 covers with boys and men. Her theory is demonstrably wrong. Norman Rockwell also did 9 covers of Santa Claus. We’re not sure in which category Solomon would place Santa.

We are troubled and mystified that the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge has endorsed the book.

This is our last word, we are no longer going to participate in the drama Solomon has created. This book says a lot more about Deborah Solomon than it does about Norman Rockwell.

Thomas Rockwell and Abigail Rockwell

For The Norman Rockwell Family Agency
Cynthia DeMonte, 917-273-1717

The most telling error the Rockwell’s expose is the way Solomon asserts that Rockwell’s famous post covers gave short shrift to women, and the way that a simple count proves her error:  “Solomon claims that her book is based on an examination of his art and that Norman Rockwell painted mostly men and boys. We counted all the Post covers from 1916 – 1951 and all the early covers for Life and Literary Digest. There are 172 covers with girls and women, and 141 covers with boys and men. Her theory is demonstrably wrong.”  That one deserves a true QED.

Our society’s obsession with homosexuality is not healthy.  It leads us to pervert history, science, and the values that hold a society together.  I know I sound homophobic when I say this, but I’m  not.  When I attack American Jews who have replaced the Torah with the Democrat Party platform, I don’t see myself as being either antisemitic nor self-loathing.  I believe, instead, that I am pointing out ugly mutations in a culture that, when not mutated, is a health contributor to the world.  I believe the same is true of those who reside on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning spectrum, a spectrum that is a very small part of the larger range of human sexual behaviors.

I don’t doubt that some people (such as the ones who died in Soviet gulags and Nazi concentration camps because of their sexuality) are emphatically gay, must as others are emphatically straight.  I also believe that there are lots of people who could go either way.  They’re not bisexual insofar as they do not choose to go both ways simultaneously.  Instead, at a certain point in their sexual development, they look at a lifestyle and pick the sexuality that goes with it.  In the old days, social pressure said to men, “Pick the wife, two kids, and the house in the suburbs.”  By the late 1970s and pre-AIDS 1980s, when I was watching the gay revolution play out in San Francisco, an enticing social option to men with fluid sexuality said “Pick the lifestyle that allows you 100 orgasms per night” (which was precisely what was going on in the bath houses that were such vectors for the spread of AIDS.  The queer culture, with its press to be included in American education, is trying to revamp the 1970s and early 1980s pressure regarding gay sexual orientation.

We are an unhealthy culture when we force the brilliant Alan Turing, who may well have been the most important factor in winning World War II, to chemically castrate himself, a penalty (combined with public humiliation) that drove him to suicide.  We are an equally unhealthy culture when the prism through which we view ourselves paints everything — and I do mean everything — in terms of a sexual orientation that encompasses at most ten percent of the population (and, quite probably, far less than that).  A healthy, moral society protects the outliers from discrimination, but it must shape its values around the norm.  In our case, the norm is that big bulge in the bell curve that is heterosexuality.

Freud gave Americans permission to talk about sex, all kinds of sex.  At the same time, and long before Bill Clinton re-sexualized cigars, Freud is reputed to have warned that, at least sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.


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  • jj

    The book does indeed say a lot more about Solomon than it does Rockwell, as do many such exercises these days.  It’s not a surprise.  On the other hand, I do not – and am not required to –  give a rat’s ass what Ms. Solomon sees in his paintings at any time.  And don’t.  And am unlikely to be persuaded to.  (Terrible, ending a sentence with “to.”)  Happy New Year anyway.

  • http://www.amazon.com/Occupy-Innsmouth-ebook/dp/B009WWJ44A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1361504109&amp raymondjelli

    Biography and atheism can be pretty similar. You can’t explain the act of creation so they try to explain it away.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    And people wonder why the US is hated in the world, why our culture and economic imperialism is accepted for profit but sneered at as being inferior.
    To the rest of the world, THIS is America. This.
    The Soviets might have called it normalization. You normalize, in a mind control subject, what you want them to believe and think. Then you de-normalize, freeze, make him hate that which you want him to destroy. And the perfectibility of mind control is this: you can flip a switch and what a person hated before, he now loves, what he loved before, he now hates. Such is the perfection of mind control and the weaponization of zombies.
    The LA defends rapist Hollywood directors and actors because they want to preserve the moral authority of Hollywood by normalizing such behavior. Cause they know everyone on their side does it, sooner or later.
    On the other hand, they want to demonize, dehumanize, de-normalize behavior like Robertson’s anti-authoritarian Christian views. Free will that results in sin cannot be allowed. Sin cannot be allowed. Robots and livestock do not commit sin because they have no free will. That is the Final Solution. That is the Left’s solution.

    • Ron19

      I didn’t realize that patriarch Phil Robertson is Anti-Catholic.
      Thanks for the update.

      • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

        You should fix that. By my last intel analysis, Robertson is Christian but his loyalty to the Pope cannot be analyzed at the moment.

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    Thank you for writing this, BW.
    What a fetid swamp “our betters” have created for us to live in…..but I refuse. 
    I resolutely ignore this kind of c**p — don’t have TV, choose books and movies carefully. 
    However, I’m grateful to you for at least dipping your toes in so we can have reports from the front lines.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    By “short shrift”, she means that women were depicted as individuals, creatures with not only a soul but free will. She is disappointed that women aren’t portrayed as sex slaves on the Leftist farm/plantation. She is disappointed that women aren’t portrayed as biological animals that need to rebel against the authority of the man and the marriage. She is disappointed that women aren’t portrayed as gazing up with rapture at Dear Leader of a nation.
    She is also disappointed women aren’t portrayed with their legs for popular Leftists, making boat load of cash in porn and Hollywood.
    That is what they mean by “short shrift” to women.


    “The 56-year-old New York writer spent more than a decade on Rockwell. ”
    Sheesh…what a waste of time!

  • Charles Martel

    What often gets overlooked in the brouhaha over Robertson is that he did something one never does in polite society: He described what gets used and how in homosexual sex. As much as militant gays try to dismiss and deride the “ick factor,” it just doesn’t go away—even if people force themselves to sublimate the mental image.
    Robertson is like the bad guy who flashes a photo of dismembered fetal remains at pro-abortionists. By golly, it’s bad form and an assault on women’s rights!

  • MacG

    “A bizarrely sexualized object. With her right hand buried in her petticoats, the doll could almost be masturbating.’”
    Man! She is out of touch…the doll is obviously twerking… :/

    • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

      Thankfully, MacG, I wasn’t drinking anything when I read your comment.  Otherwise, my laughter would have saturated both keyboard and screen!

  • Charles Martel

    MacG, LOL!

    • MacG

      Gladd er uh HAPPY to provide a laugh Martel!

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    I had to look up the term “twerking” on wiki.

  • Matt_SE

    Let me put a more precise point on this:
    I would be greatly surprised if Ms. Solomon was not a graduate of an elite ivy-league school who majored/minored in women’s or gay studies.
    The panoply of victim studies “disciplines” embrace oikophobia, and use both deconstructionism and Marxist class ideology to justify their perverse conclusions. In Ms. Solomon’s case, she seems to see everything through the lens of sexuality. Once you see everything that way, you can’t un-see it.
    For this level of delusional counter-culture, “higher education” must’ve  been involved.

  • Matt_SE

    So to clarify, Book: this wasn’t the fault of “society”…it came directly from the academy.
    If we destroyed that dysfunctional institution tomorrow, America would be well on the road to recovery.

  • http://caedmon-innkeeper.blogspot.co.uk/ Caedmon

    Seems to me that if what I will politely call a misconception that NR was homosexual allows him to have a reputation as an artist, that is all to the good. Just over a decade I gave a lecture on NR in London, and met a lot of scepticism that he is worth serious attention. Yes h epainted a lot, mostly for magazine covers, but some of his work <i>Saying Grace</i> for example is astonishing – look at how the light in that painting moves around.  
    I picked NR however as a good and unfortunately rare example of a moral artist, or rather I wanted to demonstrate that art is not by definition an anti-social activity.
    My it is hard to make people use their eyes when they look at a painting rather than their preconceptions. 

  • rwturney

    “I know I sound homophobic when I say this, but I’m  not.”
    Working with the straight forward definition of “phobia” I don’t know how you would conclude this. But then, I have never seen the word used in a context consistent with its strict definition. I do wish someone would define this word so that we would all know what was meant when it was used, and could decide whether or not we thought homophobia was a bad thing or a good thing.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    It means Badthink, as opposed to goodthink.
    The Left uses the term to dehumanize target populations and freeze individuals, and as a way to describe criminal and inhuman thoughts. Thus it means anyone who thinks of gays in an inappropriate or disallowed fashion, as determined by the Left’s thought police and mind crime division.
    Book uses it in the traditional sense of someone who fears or hates homosexuals as a group category. But also in the modern sense where she denies that she is non-human. Thus she denies homophobia and in doing so, denies the Left’s claim that anyone who is homophobic is also a pig or animal that can be easily slaughtered, ignored, or destroyed.
    It’s a pre emptive defense amongst certain social circles.

  • Mike Devx

    This does say a LOT more about Ms. Solomon than about Norman Rockwell!  She’s got obsessions that you can only laugh at with ridicule.
    Norman Rockwell was interested in capturing Americana in all its forms.   That’s it.  That is so obvious that it’s ridiculous to try to claim anything else.
    Solomon’s obsession is troubling.  Our American discomfort with homosexuality has made it very difficult for straight men to express platonic love and affection for each other.   It’s not new.  But Solomon’s obsession reflects this.  Two guys can’t grin at each other without someone claiming they want to have sex with each other.  How frickin’ ridiculous!  Norman Rockwell paints a picture of a cop and a boy on stools, and a clerk, and all Solomon sees is pederasty.  That is so weird.
    I’m reminded of the scene towards the end of the first Lord Of the Rings movie, where Frodo tries to take a boat alone into Mordor, so that he no longer has to risk his companions, and Sam won’t let him; in this scene Frodo and Sam express their devotion to each other.  There’s nothing sexual about it at all.  They’re not going to take the boat to shore and have sex!  Yet a couple of teenagers sitting a row over in the theatre muttered mutually, “F%*cking faggots”.  Over an honest expression of non-sexual love.  Fortunately, New Zealand (and Peter Jackson) don’t share in our ridiculous hangups.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Mike D, the Left must destroy honest and sincere expressions of love. Because they cannot control people when those people are motivated by love. Obedience to the state, love of the state’s ideals, is the only thing they will allow the people.

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