They were shown only the image and were given no other information.
Fire is one of the most compelling psychological symbols. Throughout time, it has represented anger, passion, consumption, transformation, purification, sexual energy, and power. Here, we see a woman fantasize about setting fire to her home and destroying her role as a 1950s housewife. Yet, it is also possible we are seeing her dream and not her waking fantasy. Regardless, she can no longer tolerate serving her husband and maintaining their home. Forensic sychologists would classify her as a “Revenge-Motivated Arsonist” (opposed to a “Profit-Motivated Arsonist”). Also, an important detail is that the fire is spreading into the surrounding neighborhood. Such a fact suggests that her destructive wishes may be far greater in scale. For instance, she may want to obliterate the entire 1950s home life structure. Freud theorized that people are driven by sex and aggression. We certainly see these urges here. Indeed, this woman is serving up revenge!
—Davis K. Brimberg, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist
This image depicts the truth behind the American Dream and how it impacted changes in America. The typical suburban family is all smiles and laughs when out with their friends, but hidden in their eyes is the fire of their home life. When in private, the apparent perfect life of family and white picket fence house preached to children is actually full of turmoil and disappointment. The man and the woman represent your authentic couple. There’s the workingman shown still wearing his gloves being waited on by the housewife with a tray of beer for his relaxation. The distance between them and the look the woman has gives me a sense of animosity between the couple. She seems angered by the constraints of having to stay home and please her husband. Her positioning higher than him shows that she looks down on his power and also that she is the unappreciated source of his success. The significance of the house on fire is the woman destroying the gap between men and women. The conceited demeanor of the perfect American man at home in this image caused the push towards woman’s equality. Even though, in the past, this lifestyle has been plagued with destruction, people still strive to have the dream. This is also shown in the couple’s apparent ignorance of the destruction happening in the picture. The American Dream includes ignoring the bad others deal with since they should have worked harder themselves to also enjoy your life of “perfection.”
—Michaela Chapman, Intern at 203 Fine Art, Taos
This image with its retro look portrays an idealized vision of middle-class American life in 1950s suburbia where, as in TV series such as Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, and Leave it to Beaver, the fathers always have the answers, a world where there is never any contention or heartbreak. This is the time of black-and white twelve-inch televisions, when everyone is happy. Where everyone is well fed and well dressed. When the populace lives in nice homes and all have the same values. It is also the era of the Cold War, the fear of atomic weapons, and of nuclear fallout. And the time of the so-called “Red Menace,” and the “Yellow Peril”— a decade when the majority of the population lives with a daily fear of annihilation. The 1950s is also the birth of the cocktail hour, that time of day when father (affable, and probably a little bumbling) comes home, kicks back and relaxes with a drink, his perfect wife by his side after a hard day at the office. This image of the perfect couple—father with his pipe, and wifey with her loving smile show them ignoring, or just plain oblivious, to the fact that their perfect little world is going up in flames. This couple who cannot see the danger, conjures up the image of Nero calmly playing the fiddle while Rome burned and his people cry out in suffering, and of the popular metaphor that ostriches bury their heads in the sand to avoid predators. This image is a warning for all of us to not ignore obvious facts, hoping that simply denying the existence of a problem will make it go away.
—Ruth Eskanas, Art Tourist, Rochester, NY