Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Conscience & Conviction

The Jury, a Norman Rockwell painting, appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post published February 14, 1959.
This is one of several Rockwell paintings that can serve more or less as a civics lesson (cf. the 1964 painting, The Problem We All Live With; from 1963, Southern Justice; and New Kids in the Neighborhood from 1967). I was thinking about it again because it’s the cover jacket art for Kimberley Brownlee’s important new book, Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience (Oxford University Press, 2012). Brownlee wrote the entry on “civil disobedience” for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP). In the Introduction, she explains why she chose this painting for the cover of her book:
“It captures a charged scene of a jury of 11 men and one woman who are long into their deliberations. We do not know the facts of the case or what verdict they are debating. All we know is that the woman sits in a rickety chair with her back straight and her arms folded while 10 of the men stand or sit around her, leaning over her in united opposition. One man dozes to the side. In this smoke-filled, wood-paneled room echoing of a men’s club where jackets have been shed and tempers are running high, she is entirely alone. She is exposed. And, she might be wrong about what she thinks of the case. She seems to be aware of this since she is listening intently to the men around her. But, she is also unflinching. In her folded arms, straight back, and attentive expression lie the kernels of the conception of conscientious conviction that I defend in these pages.”
The following (sans notes) is from a “teacher’s guide” “developed to accompany the exhibition Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., from July 2, 2010 through January 2, 2011. The show explores the connections between Norman Rockwell’s iconic images of American life and the movies.”
“At the time Rockwell painted The Jury, eighteen states still imposed restrictions on women’s jury service. Jury trials, individual holdouts, and women’s roles were highlighted in television and film in the late 1950s. Greer Garson starred in an episode of the popular series Telephone Time that aired in September 1957, in which Garson’s character campaigns for women to be selected as jurors in a murder trial. Without women, the killer would go free because all available male jurors were either his friends or too fearful to vote for conviction. The most revealing connection between Rockwell’s painting and contemporary popular culture lies in the parallels it shares with the movie 12 Angry Men (1957). In the film, Henry Fonda stars as the holdout on a jury that, except for his dissenting vote, will impose the death sentence on a young Hispanic man charged with killing his father. Each of the other jurors votes to convict—some for personal reasons, some out of prejudice against nonwhite Americans, some because they simply wanted to escape the heat of the jury room and go to a baseball game. One by one, as the Fonda character poses reasonable questions about the value of the evidence presented, the other jurors acquiesce to his arguments. The final ballot results in a unanimous verdict of not guilty. As in 12 Angry Men, the jury deliberation portrayed on Rockwell’s canvas has been lengthy. Cigarette butts and crumpled ballots litter the floor of the smoke-filled room, but the holdout remains unswayed, despite the psychological pressure imposed by her fellow jurors.” 

Additional reading: A nice complement (owing to its historical focus) to Brownlees book is Lewis Perry’s Civil Disobedience: An American Tradition (Yale University Press, 2013). 


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