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American Gothic and Ma and Pa Kent

A first-rate video on Grant Wood’s American Gothic (1930).  One of the more famous pictures at the Art Institute in Chicago, I have long admired it.  Endlessly interpreted, the  picture lends itself to a Rorschach  type of test where what the viewer says about the painting says more about the interpreter than it does about the painting.

Whenever I look at it, I have always thought of Jonathan and Martha Kent, the fictional foster parents of Superman.  The date of the painting would have been when the future Superman would have been around 11 based on his original chronology.  The Kents would have been desperate to keep their beloved son, just beginning the mastery of his awesome powers, away from the notice of the World.  The figures in the painting seem to me to be keeping a great secret.  They look suspiciously at the viewer.  The shades on their house are drawn.  The averageness of the couple is belied by their desire to keep prying eyes away from that house.  At the same time there is nothing that gives any hint of evil about the man and woman.  They simply have something great that has been placed into their care and they wish to protect it from outsiders.

The association of the painting with the Superman saga is not original to me.  In Superman The Animated Series Mr. Mxyzptlk, the imp from another dimension who periodically torments Superman, turns Ma and Pa Kent into a facsimile of the painting.

One can imagine the encounter that led to the painting.

From the diary of Jonathan Kent: Continue Reading