” Rockwell is not culturally or artistically naive. Above all, he does not portray a bland style of American innocence. Rather he is a canny diagnostician of innocence, which he exposes as a fiction based on various forms of denial and disavowal. Rockwell fills his apparently mayonnaise world with dark and disturbing details which he dares the viewer to acknowledge.”
The Underside of Innocence is book by Professor Richard Halperin that examines the edgy and strange in Rockwell’s work and its denial of the perversions which creates the illusion of innocence in the oeuvre. The wholesome appearing apples contain worms, that may enhance Rockwell’s value as an artist. Mark David Chapman sold a Norman Rockwell lithograph for $7500, and used the proceeds to finance his assasination of John Lennon. Chapman was obsessed with Rockwell as well and his murder of Lennon was partly attributable to Lennon’s perceived betrayal of innocence and ideal. ” I find it suggestive that one icon of innocence was used to fund the assassination of another”.
On one part, Rockwell is reassuring and nostalgic, a sentimental journey to a period of innocence which never was, but one many need to desperately believe existed. Like Michael Jackson’s ”Neverland ” ranch and his equally intensive fetish for children that rubbed shoulders with the perverse and the innocent. ‘‘They are not so much innocent ( Rockwell’s work) as they are about the ways we manufacture innocence. For innocence is indeed something we make, not something we are born to- a story we tell about ourselves, not something we are… for that is what innocence is-an ingrained habit of denying what one knows but doesn’t want to know”.
Innocence as a necessary fabrication to divert attention from a more critical self-examination of ourselves. Or as Halperin states, ‘‘Most people one encounters are rather overgrown children, fully ensconced in a manufactured innocence that real children would have no difficulty seeing through”. Halperin’s thesis is that innocence is a pretense of ignorance. The pretense being a conscious decision enacted and constructed not so much for others as for ourselves. The conclusion is that people cannot choose to lie since they lie continuously and chronically to themselves in a sickness of bad faith.
” Innocence is a choice not to know something, and therefore a lie, since the very choice must be based on some presentiment, some suspicion, some tiny bit of knowledge we already possess”. In this analysis, one could only imagine how Rockwell would treat a subject like Franz Kafka; to create innocence out of a intensely lucid self reflection of guilt and responsibility. Perhaps Rockwell’s world is Kafka’s ”The Castle’‘ , dark and surreal with its authority based on illusion.