Archive for October 8th, 2007

Naughty Norman & The Innocent Criminals

October 8, 2007

Here’s an interesting piece from the Boston Globe.  Actually, symbolic of the entire modern information age, it’s a post about a post, containing an email about a symposium about a book about some paintings.  But that’s neither here nor there.

 I’ve got no view on whether Norman Rockwell’s art contains subtle sexual elements, nor do I much care whether it does or doesn’t.  What I find interesting is the conversation about America’s (and Americans’) obsession with innocence.

I’ve argued — possibly even around here somewhere — that, for instance, the pro-life movement isn’t really pro-life; it’s pro-innocence.  That is, what it values isn’t life, or even human life, but innocence.  The difference can be seen in its adherents’ positions on everything from capital punishment to war to the welfare state.    (The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is genuinely pro-life.  And pro-innocence.)

The same thing can be seen in much of so-called “family values” activism, which isn’t so much about the value of the family unit as it is about parents’ desire to extend their children’s “innocence” — or, more realistically, their own counterfactual perception of their children’s innocence. 

America as a nation-state is also obsessed with its own innocence, or, again, the myth thereof.  No matter what we’ve done or what we’ve gone through as a nation, the story we tell ourselves is always the story of an innocent nation.  We cling to that innocence tenaciously.  The dew is always just freshly off the rose. 

In some ways, I suppose that’s useful.  It seems to me those ways are extremely few, though; especially in comparison to the number of problems our innocence fixation causes.  Given that innocence is just ignorance with a nostalgic name, I frankly don’t know what it is we so value about it in the first place.  Why not happily be rid of it?

 Anyway, I thought the linked article was interesting.  (And apologies to anyone who googled their way here, expecting to find something about Ben Harper’s band.)