To my mind, Normal Rockwell was an insufferably sentimental, relentlessly midcult, outrageously overrated hack—a minimally talented painter whose unceasingly mediocre depiction of an ersatz American imago disfigured the whole landscape of midcentury art.
But now Tylenol has made an ad featuring a lesbian couple in a contemporary reimagining of Rockwell’s famous Freedom From Want, and it’s actually pretty cute.
The ad, narrated by Rockwell’s granddaughter, is part of Tylenol’s new, gauzy “For What Matters Most” campaign. Other ads feature a black family and a Chinese-Japanese family re-enacting Freedom From Want; each spot attempts to illustrate, in Ms. Rockwell’s words, the “expanding and blossoming … definition of family.” And why bring Rockwell into it? “The core of Norman Rockwell’s work is about coming together,” his granddaughter informs us, “just being present for each moment. Family is what you make it out to be.”
Although the entire series is impressively progressive, the lesbian ad is particularly bold. While a few companies have recently ventured into LGBT-specific advertising, few have so audaciously depicted such a thoroughly modern family. The two women are raising their children with one partner’s ex-husband, plus another adult whose family role isn’t explained. But specifics aren’t important here. As the ex-husband notes, “We don’t talk about halfs or steps. We talk about families, and siblings, and parents.” That’s a tender, timeless sentiment—more universal and insightful than anything Rockwell ever painted. Nicely done, Tylenol.