Recently, I stumbled upon some old episodes of All in the Family on YouTube, and it brought back a flood of memories from my childhood, as growing up in the 1970s meant roller skates, Gobstoppers, and Archie Bunker for many of my generation.
When I look back to the era of All in the Family, I find a comfort, and a familiarity, and a simplicity that my grandparents no doubt felt about reminiscing of the 1930s. The furniture and fashions were what I grew up surrounded by, and the issues raised, though I didn’t understand many of them when I was six or seven years old, were issues that I heard adults around me discussing frequently. Thanks to the world of repeats, the show was on television into my early adulthood, and the show both became funnier and more poignant as I re-watched episodes in my 20s. And now in my 50s, the show feels more powerful than ever.
Were today’s youth to watch episodes of All in the Family today, they would likely find themselves offended at many of the things that Archie Bunker says on the show, which was produced from 1971 to 1979. Good ole Archie Bunker had plenty of views to share on everything from abortion to race, to sexuality and equality, and in today’s world many of his comments would be shocking, but that was the point, and I have often thought that we could use a little more Archie Bunker in today’s world.
All in the Family was not about supporting shocking comments or views, but instead it used comedy to highlight ignorance, to shine a light on racism, sexism, and a host of other hot-button issues. The sitcom also helped to flesh out an understanding of how and why a crotchety older man like Archie Bunker is formed, the elements that help to condition people and their views. The show broke down barriers that surprised many, heck, it was even the first television show in which you heard a toilet flush – it took until the 1970s before bashful America would allow the sound of a toilet flushing on a sitcom. How far we have come, yet how far we have not.
Each generation learns new lessons, and rights previous wrongs, and though we hope that all adjust and shift with the times, we must appreciate the world within which someone has been conditioned. Without doubt, we would find a ‘respectable’ person of a century ago to hold some offensive views, though those views might only be offensive in retrospect, while in the moment were not considered so.
At the beginning of each show, in the early years at least, Archie and his wife Edith (affectionately referred to as ‘Dingbat’ by Archie much of the time) were seated at a piano singing a song that expressed a longing for the ‘good ole days’.
Boy, the way Glenn Miller played
Songs that made the hit parade
Guys like us we had it made
Those were the days
Didn’t need no welfare state
Everybody pulled his weight
Gee our old LaSalle ran great
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
People seemed to be content
Fifty dollars paid the rent
Freaks were in a circus tent
Those were the days
It might have been a half century ago, but in the first few verses of the song, we can see that many of the very same issues are top of mind today. In different forms perhaps, but the core issues are the same. The ever increasing cost of living, the confusion of older generations around gender identity and sexuality, the notion that everyone should ‘pull their weight’, and so on.
Not much has changed really. Though the issues might have changed in their form, the divide, the polarization with regard to today’s issues is similar.
When I watch old episodes of All in the Family online, I have memories of hearing the adults in my world when I was under the age of 10, discussing many of the same issues as were included in the story-lines on the show. I would hear adults commenting on ‘jobs being lost to new immigrants’, or the rising cost of rents or food, issues that real people discuss, often passionately, though typically not with the exaggerated ignorance of Archie Bunker.
We spend too much time being offended these days, in my opinion at least, and we could be well served by allowing ourselves to be teased, to laugh at ourselves, by accepting that humour can be found in the most repulsive views held by some. In today’s world you can apparently expect to be assaulted for telling a lame bald joke, a revelation to someone like myself who has been subjected to bald jokes for 30 years and never took any offence (nor did anyone ask me if I had any condition that caused the hair loss in order to avoid offending me with a joke).
No generation has found all of the answers, no generation has found its way to perfection, and I suppose I have finally reached the stage in life where I go on rambles about ‘back in my day’, but back in my day it was acceptable to poke fun, to make jokes, to explore complex issues with comedy, and I hope we see a return of that social climate at some point, because I can’t imagine how much energy folks use up by being constantly offended.