I grew up watching All in the Family with my mother, who as I mentioned last class, is the last person you’d expect to be a fan. With this week’s blog, I hope to add to the discourse surrounding the Norman Lear sitcoms and how they appealed to a particular viewer-base which may or may not have been the intentional group.
I remember my mother opening a complete collection of all the seasons of All in the Family for Christmas one year. This present was the Christmas following her father’s death – who, for the record, was nicknamed “Archie Bunker” by family and friends.
In thinking about Gerard Jones’s perspective on this era and the sitcoms that were a part of it, I think my mother, as a viewer example, provides an interesting representation of the types of people who may have also watched this show. This week’s readings, interviews, and shows depict some truly embarrassing eras of sitcom in our country, as well as outlining the types of viewers that were often part of these popular shows. Though Lear himself was a liberal writer trying to reverse the use of these stereotypes, often his consumer base was the conservative, white men who frequently used this discourse, rather than the young, working-class people it was hopeful to appeal to.
I think my mother was a fusion of these two groups. Though she is very fond of her father, there are some scarring memories of his racist, often incredibly embarrassing remarks both to her mother and to other people they knew. My mother’s family was not wealthy nor well-educated in today’s terms, but today, they’d certainly be seen as a harsh family unable to move past conservative views – similar to the Bunkers.
Still from All in the Family Season 4, Episode 1, “We’re Having a Heatwave”
My mother is the first person in her family to go to college. In college, she was a young woman from a very sheltered background that always strived to be better than she was the day before – seeking new educational opportunities at every corner and trying her best to move beyond the restrictive walls of her childhood. I think her admiration of Archie Bunker comes as an attempt to be able to laugh at the hardships of her family life from childhood, but move past it through laughter as a younger member of a new, more accepting generation. Though she has never nor will ever participate in the hurtful discourse that is so prevalent in All in the Family, that particular series allowed her to laugh at something that is not laughable, nor is it able to penetrate every day conversation the way the TV series confronted this issue in the 70s. For my mom, I take All in the Family as a redemptive attempt at encouraging the generation that bridged us (her generation as the bridge from my grandfather’s to mine) to an inclusive generation that still works to achieve total equality.
I love this article about Archie and All in the Family. “[Lear] hoped that audiences would embrace Archie but reject his beliefs.”