Nov 5, 2016

Freedom from Want: Norman Rockwell's Parody of the Nuclear Family

The iconic Thanksgiving scene is Norman Rockwell's Freedom from Want, originally published in the Saturday Evening Post on March 6, 1943.  It was part of a series called the Four Freedoms, based on Franklin Roosevelt's State of the Union speech in 1941: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Fear, and Freedom from Want.

It's reprinted all the time as an example of what America was like, back in the "golden age": white, Christian, gender-polarized, and very, very, very heterosexual.

The usual interpretation: Mom and Dad serve a Thanksgiving dinner to their adult children and their husbands and wives, along with a grandchild or two, thus supporting heterosexual "family values," replicating the myth that everyone on Earth is, or will be, a heterosexual husband or wife, that no single heterosexuals or gay people exist.










But take a close look.  It makes no sense.

1. There's not nearly enough room to set that turkey down without knocking over a water glass.
2. There's no other food on the table except some gigantic stalks of celery and a weird centerpiece of pears and brown grapes.
3. Everything on the table is ghostly white.
4. There are five people on the left side, but only three place settings.
5. There's no way all of them could fit at that table.  They must be disembodied heads.
6. No one is looking at the turkey, or the elderly couple about to serve it.

I get the impression that they're not really there at all.

In fact, Rockwell took photos of his friends and associates, and painted them in, a sort of hodgepodge.

You think that the elderly couple at the head of the table are Grandma and Grandpa, but actually the woman is the Rockwell cook, and the man is a random old guy.  The nine guests include Rockwell's wife and mother, but the others are friends, most not related to each other by blood or marriage.  No attempt is made to suggest heterosexual male-female couples.

This painting actually critiques the nuclear family myth.  It's about friendship.

Maybe that's why it's been subjected to so many parodies and homages.


Joe Philips gives us a gay version, with a hunky couple serving (notice the hand on shoulder) and nine cute guys of diverse racial groups (but not ages) around the table.  The room is now a Castro Street Victorian with stained glass windows, and there's a lot of healthy food on the table, plus wine in the glasses, adding some much-needed color.











The Muppet version eliminates the background.  Kermit and Miss Piggy are serving.  There's not enough room around the table for nine muppets, so Fozzie and the Swedish Chef are standing aside.

Should that eagle be eating a turkey?













Evil Clown Comics was a series in National Lampoon written by Nick Bakay and illustrated by Alan Kupperberg.  Here there are seven people around the table, two helping to balance the carcass of Frenchy the Clown.

I have only two comments:

1. Frenchy has a very nice physique, for a clown.
2. Where did they put his legs?










ABC's Modern Family opens up the table to get everyone around it, with Jay and Gloria serving.  There still aren't enough plates for everyone, but at least they bronzed that weird pear-grape centerpiece.

Putting the girls in red adds some color, but Claire in a white wig looks strange, and why is Cam's hand pressing against the surface where his food will be soon?





Sam Spratt gives us the Redneck version, with the original characters modified slightly: tattoos, a Nascar t-shirt, Mohawks.  They're eating a canned boneless turkey.  Notice the Spam, beer cans, switchblades, and cocaine on the table.


By the way, the top photo is what popped up on Google images when I searched with the key words  "Freedom from Want", "Norman Rockwell," and "parody."  I guess the rationale is, if he's a guest at Thanksgiving dinner, you'll be free from want.

See also: Was Norman Rockwell Gay?