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Submitted By Nevaeh2015
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Family Values Ward Cleaver he wasn’t. Danny Thomas? Forget it. Ozzie Nelson? Yeah, right. In the early 1970s, television audiences said goodbye to the goody-goody TV fathers that they had grown up with and witnessed the birth of a new kind of TV dad—a real dad. Gone were the distinguished, upper-class fathers with the pipes and sweaters with the leather patches on the elbow—the guys who gently sat their children down and explained to them in a calm voice that the kids had messed something up and then gently gave them moral advice on how to fix the situation. Oh, yes, those men were gone. Enter the new guy: Archie Bunker. This dad was middle-aged and middle-class, he believed in family and country, and he feared everyone who was different from him. He yelled at the top of his lungs about anything and everything, and he showed his sensitive side only in the most serious of situations. Archie and family were introduced to America in 1971 by sitcom genius Norman Lear in a show called All in the Family, an American remake of the British hit Till Death Us do Part, which ran for ten seasons in England from 1965-1975. Initially, the show didn’t do well in the ratings. America’s response to the character who would become “America’s most loveable bigot” was outrage. Many wondered how CBS could air a show whose main character used words like “jungle bunny,” “jigaboo,” “fag,” “fairy,” “Mick,” “Spick,” “dumb Polack,” and “Hebe” on a regular basis. The audience was shocked and, at first, put off by such a character. However, the show was saved from cancellation by the popularity of its summer repeats, and had finally earned a place on CBS’s fall schedule (IMDB). Still, the show was shrouded in controversy, which continues to this day, twenty-six years after the 1979 cancellation of the original version of the show. Even though some critics maintain, however, that All in the Family is nothing but a platform for racist whites, in actuality, it is an important part of the television landscape, in that it shows the ignorance of racism, it offers a positive portrayal of a Black family, and it portrays realistic dynamics between the generations. In 1971, the cultural climate in the United States was one of great change. The 1960s had seen the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, and many Americans were ready to put the segregation and inequality that had marred so much of our collective past behind us. One such man was Norman Lear, who, in doing his part to help race relations, created a character through whom he could show the complete ignorance of racism by allowing him to spout such outrageous and unbelievable racist comments that audiences couldn’t possibly take him seriously. Through Archie Bunker’s ignorance and bigotry, viewers were able to see how misinformed Archie was about every race and ethnicity, including his own. In writing Archie as a misinformed man, Lear was able to also make him the brunt of many of the jokes in the episodes. No character was better at putting Archie in his place than his son-in-law, Mike Stivic (played by Rob Reiner), whom Archie relentlessly called “Meathead” and “dumb Polack.” It is through the many confrontations between Archie and Mike that Archie’s ignorance is made clear, and the viewer has no choice but to laugh at and feel sorry for him at the same time. Another character who highlights Archie’s ignorance is Lionel Jefferson (played by Mike Evans), who moved in to the neighborhood with his family, making them the first African Americans on the block. During his interactions with Lionel, Archie brings racial stereotypes to the television screen like no other character before him. In one second-season interaction, Archie and Lionel, who has not broken the news to Archie that it was his family that has moved into the neighborhood, discuss how awful it is that the neighborhood is allowing a Black family to move in. In fact, Archie asks Lionel to support his idea of circulating a petition around the neighborhood for the White neighbors to sign that would keep the Black family from moving in. Archie suggests that the family would be happier living downtown, “closer to the rib joint” (pronounced “rib jernt”) because everyone knows that African Americans love ribs. Lionel gives Archie just enough rope to hang himself, and then he tells Archie that it is his family that is moving in next door. In that moment, Archie is exposed, in front of his daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers) and his son-in-law, Mike, as the bigot he truly is. The audience, of course, roars with laughter, not because the truth in what Archie says is funny, but because the ridiculousness of his thinking and his bigotry being brought into the light in such an embarrassing way are funny. In this scene, Lionel isn’t the brunt of the joke; Archie and his bigotry are. Insert Discussion of Reason #2: Positive Portrayal of a Black Family Here. Even though the show did its best to portray the ignorance of racism and offered a positive portrayal of a Black family, many viewers and critics still protested the show’s sensitive material, basically calling it a platform for racist whites to espouse their hateful beliefs over the airwaves. Many groups like the NAACP called for the show’s cancellation on the grounds that words like “jungle bunny” and “jig” should not be heard on television, especially during the time between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m., known as the “family hour” (Briggs, 1973, p. 34). What these groups failed to realize, however, was the effect of such language being used in a purely satirical manner on the nation’s viewers. Many people who never considered themselves bigoted saw themselves in Archie Bunker and were embarrassed by what they saw as a reflection of themselves. As a result, Archie Bunker’s bigotry ultimately educated people on issues of race and ethnicity in a way that no other television program could. Insert Discussion of Reason #3: Realistic Dynamic Between Generations Here. By the end of the 1970s, much had been accomplished in terms of racial equality, yet much still remained undone. While there were more brave, innovative, and racially diverse shows on television, like The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, and Good Times, there were still many other shows that shied away from anything that smacked of diversity and controversy. Norman Lear’s All in the Family had blazed the way for the daring shows (actually spinning off two of the three named above) that lit up the landscape of ‘70s television and blazed the trail for shows like today’s Chappelle’s Show. Through its unflinching confrontation of bigotry, its warm portrayal of African American families, and its realistic portrayal of the generational dynamics, All in the Family can easily be considered the best sitcom of all time both for its humor and for its lessons.

References
Briggs, M. (1973, March 20). Family affair. Time Magazine, 86, (44), 33-38. Retrieved February 24, 2005 from Academic Search Premier online database.
IMDB. (n.d.) Trivia for All in the Family. In All in the Family [TV series 1971-1975]. Retrieved February 24, 2005 from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066626/trivia
I would, of course, add two more sources to this.

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