These are divisive days, whether the issue is politics, war, sexuality, religion or race, opinions often polarize friends and family alike. Debates, especially those on television news shows, often degenerate into rants and diatribes – but that can make for good ratings. There will, of course, always be divergent points of view, it’s what makes the world go around, to say nothing of those all-news television channels. However instead of trying to drown out one another, listening might be a good idea. Not only might we better understand each other, but with a bit of luck we may even have a laugh or two. To that end, I believe we need a beacon, a common lightning rod at which we can hurl our invective, bounce our opinions off. We need Archie Bunker.
And you knew who you were then,
Girls were girls and men were men,
Mister we could use a man
Like Herbert Hoover again.*
In the 1970s on CBS’s All in the Family the late actor Carroll O’Connor portrayed Archie Bunker, a lovable classic redneck Republican who made us laugh at his foibles. He interacted with his stereotypical liberal Democrat son-in-law Mike, or as Archie called him, Meathead. The good and bad aspects of both sides of the philosophical divide were played out weekly in the often hilarious dialogue between the two. Viewers saw traits of family members and friends in the characters; that’s something so-and-so would say, or he’s just like so-and-so.
CBS took a chance on the show which was cutting edge before that expression existed. I imagine there could be a similar show now, but with so many cable and specialty channels, the impact is not the same. When All in the Family was broadcast there were but three main networks. The tumultuous decade of the sixties was just done, leaving many bruised relationships in need of healing. Archie, with his long-suffering wife Edith at his side, and Mike provided us with an opportunity to let someone else work out the differences while we had a laugh.
Didn’t need no welfare state,
Everybody pulled his weight.
Gee our old LaSalle ran great.
Those were the days.*
There are analysts and television talking heads galore, espousing their take on everything under the sun from positions all along the spectrum. Liberal, conservative, middle-of-the-road, ultras at both ends and literally countless variations in between. Rarely if ever do these pundits say anything truly and legitimately funny. By legitimate I mean not merely chuckling at the perceived ramblings of someone who holds a position opposed to yours, but actually humorous. The ability to laugh at oneself is, I believe, integral to being a well adjusted member of society.
Archie Bunker gave us all someone we could relate to, not necessarily agree with, but relate to. An uncle or neighbour who wouldn’t hurt a fly, but had his troubles with gay people. His opinions were often based on bigotry, yet you knew he had a warm heart. The character taught us about ourselves by example. If ever you found yourself in agreement with Archie’s position, you knew it was time to take a good look inward. By the same token his idealistic liberal son-in-law Mike sometimes forgot how the real world has a way of thumbing its nose at ideals.
Nothing like a few chuckles to get the message across.
*All in the Family theme song Those Were the Days by Charles Stouse and Lee Adams