Presented by Abram Friedland, 13 July 2014
Good morning. How many of you remember this song?
Boy, the way Glen Miller played
Songs that made the hit parade.
Guys like us, we had it made.
Those were the days.
And you knew who you were then.
Girls were girls and men were men.
Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.
Didn’t need no welfare state.
Everybody pulled his weight.
Gee, our old Lasalle ran great.
Those were the days.
Although many of you are not old enough to have seen “All in the Family” it is available on DVD, and it was the most important show that ever was on television. The central message of the whole show was not just about Archie Bunker’s bigotry, or his wife, Edith, and her seeming lack of any ability to stand up to Archie, “here’s yeh BEEH, Auchie!”, or, “Right away, Auchie”. It was not even about Archie’s son-in-law Michael Stivic and his hair-trigger liberalism, or Archie’s daughter Gloria and her hysteria. It was about all that and more.
Archie came from blue-collar conservative America. He had very little education and he was proud of it too. He remembered simpler times, when America was boss of the world after having won a war that didn’t tear at the heart of the country the same way the Vietnam War was doing at the time the show aired during the 1970’s. He remembered when all men had jobs, women stayed home, and when welfare recipients were considered losers. He fondly remembered times when “blacks” were waiters in coffee shops and foreigners had no chance at the American dreams unless they could assimilate to the American melting-pot ideal. As far as Archie Bunker was concerned, life was good in the late 1940’s. It was not so good in the 1970’s. Archie frequently gave Walter Cronkite the raspberry after his broadcasts. Archie disapproved of elections that his idol, Richard Nixon either barely won, or some democrat like Jimmy Carter barely won. What was wrong with America? What had changed?
Edith was the solvent character of the show. She seemed submissive and weak, and yet all anyone needed to do was put her in a crisis, and she always rose to the occasion. When she had menopause, she made it clear to Archie that she was not to be treated like a slave. “Don’t rush me, Auchie Bunker!!! You’ll get ye dinner on time!!! You always get yer dinner on time!!! And don’t you forget in neither!!! If you’re askin’ for a fight, you’re gonna’ get one!!! Leave me alone!!!” Edith could always handle everyone else’s problems. She knew what Archie wanted, even if he rarely said: “Thanks, Edit!” She knew how to hug and pat Gloria when she was in tears, and she knew when to scold Michael Stivic for being too stuck up sometimes. When the challenge was hers to handle, she was always able to stand up, even to Archie. She seemed like the weakest, yet she was the strongest. She never needed to flout her inner powers. When the intruder entered the house to try to rape her, she was able to stand up and fight. The live audience cheered her.
Meathead was the rebel. He always argued with Archie, and he never won. Archie and Meathead sparred in every episode, every night, over everything. Every topic was a reason for an argument. Whether it was guns, taxes, Nixon, an election, money, chipping in, clothing, grapes, lettuce, whatever; Archie and Meathead were arguing. Meathead had his problems. He was not the secure fighter everyone knew arguing it out with Archie. He was in fact quite insecure, very vain, and very jealous. He needed to prove his intelligence at every turn of the road. He needed Archie, not just for a roof, means and heat in the winter. He needed someone to feel superior to intellectually. Archie needed Meathead, not just as a burden to support, who happened to be married to Gloria, but as someone to feel superior to, someone against whom Archie could feel more responsible, and more like a providing man.
Gloria found feminism early in the run of the show, during the first season, and she would be happy with the progress to power that women have made in America. She would want Hillary Clinton to step forward and run for president again. She would still be just as hysterical as ever. She would want to have a job, and she would fight school officials tooth and nail over how they treated her son, Joey. She was the hysteric, the cry-baby, but she had inner strength too. She understood what Edith meant when she took Gloria aside to talk to her the night of her wedding to Meathead.
Archie was deathly afraid, not of “blacks” or “Jews”. Those were pet peeves for him. He worried that someday, nobody would need him anymore. He even had visions when he was locked in his basement, drunk on Polish vodka. He was terrified that the world would get on just fine without him. “I don’t need to hear that, Edit! How youse all conna be fine?? Hou youse all gonna’ live without me around??”
In the 1970’s, Conservatism was on the defensive and Liberalism was on the rise. Now it’s the other way around. America is becoming more conservative again. President Obama may be a liberal but he won’t stop the conservative tide that has flooded the country. Would Archie be any happier now? He would certainly approve of the way the US government did away with welfare. He would approve of George H. W. Bush’s quick victory against Iraq, although Archie would not approve of the way George W. Bush went into Iraq a few years later with not enough troops. He wouldn’t like the selective service system. Archie always favoured conscription. After all, he went to war, and he did just fine. Why couldn’t everyone do that??? Archie wouldn’t understand why the US has such a huge debt, but he wouldn’t blame it on the Bushes, or on Reagan. Debts are the trademarks of Liberals and Democrats as far as he cares. “Yeah, well I hear it takes a while, to get through to the Kremlin!” That was his answer to Meathead spending several hours at George McGovern’s headquarters making phone calls.
Archie would approach America today the same way Theodore Roosevelt, another arch conservative, would see the US. He would approve of some things. He would disapprove of others. Archie would be happy with the conservative trend. He would be happy with the progress the religious right has made since the 1980’s. He would be unhappy with the way Americans depend on computers, and how there’s no more draft in America. He would be unhappy at Barack Obama being president. He would be furious about the power position of Hillary Clinton. If he was the news now, he would still give Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather the raspberry.
“The problems that were presented in the show are still with us today. Just because the Western World has gone through a long, conservative trend since the time of “All in the Family”, that doesn’t mean the problems that seemed to beg for people like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher have been solved. In fact, the solutions that Reagan, Thatcher, Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole and George W. Bush tried then did not work. The debts have not gone away. The poor people have not disappeared. The sick people are not cured. “All in the Family” did more than present both sides of the issues, both the conservative view (from Archie) and the liberal view (from Michael Stivic and Gloria). The show called for people to laugh at their differences in hopes that the laughter would take everyone’s mind off the hatreds and the concerns that were worrying those who saw the show. “All in the Family” presented a strange, unlikely solution in that it said people should laugh at what set them apart from one another. There’s nothing wrong with not taking everything so seriously. Archie did not take Walter Cronkite very seriously, and if he saw today’s talking heads on the news, he would respond the same way he did to Walter Cronkite. There is nothing wrong, nothing unethical, nothing unholy, nothing insulting to our nation or our flag or our anthem in just laughing from time to time.