Kids today might not have watched All in the Family, but it was huge in its time and focused on a clash of cultures. Quoting Wikipedia,
All in the Family is an American television series that ran for nine seasons, from 1971 to 1979.
The show revolves around the life of a working-class father and his family. It broke ground on issues previously considered unsuitable for a U.S. network television comedy, such as racism, antisemitism, infidelity, homosexuality, women’s liberation, rape, religion, miscarriages, abortion, breast cancer, the Vietnam War, menopause, and impotence. Through these controversial issues, the series became one of television’s most influential comedies, bringing dramatic moments and realistic, topical conflicts.
All in the Family is often regarded in the US as one of the greatest television series in history. Following a lackluster first season, it became the most watched show in the US during summer reruns and ranked number one in the ratings from 1971 to 1976. It became the first series to top the ratings for five consecutive years. One episode was ranked number 13 on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. TV Guide ranked it as the number four comedy. Bravo named Archie Bunker TV’s greatest character of all time. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked it the fourth-best written TV series ever.
I want to call attention to two characters:
Archie Bunker: Frequently called a “lovable bigot”, Archie was an assertively prejudiced blue-collar worker. A World War II veteran, Archie longs for better times when people sharing his viewpoint were in charge, as evidenced by the nostalgic theme song “Those Were the Days”. Despite his bigotry, he is portrayed as loving and decent, a man simply struggling to adapt to a constantly changing world, rather than motivated by hateful racism or prejudice. His ignorance and stubbornness seem to cause his malapropism-filled arguments to self-destruct.
His foil was
Michael “Meathead” Stivic: Gloria’s Polish-American hippie husband is part of the counterculture of the 1960s. While good-hearted and well-meaning, he constantly spars with Archie and is equally stubborn, although his moral views are generally presented as being more ethical and his logic somewhat sounder. He is the most educated person in the household, which gives him a self-assured arrogance. He has intellectual belief in progressive social values.
Many Americans saw the clash between a racist, sexist, bigot and an intellectual, forward-looking egalitarian. It worked in part because the two lived in a house together, leading America to see the values of two generations clash.
Looking back and even in that time, I think people recognized that Archie’s views were unfair. He was racist and sexist, but you couldn’t blame him. He was living values that made sense to him his whole life. A wife lived at home. He grew up in a white neighborhood. He fought in war to defend these ways. Now these young people were undermining them. Why couldn’t everyone just live how they used to when life worked? Those were the days.
Many people who hear about my avoiding flying, packaged food, and takeout describe my choices as extreme. They consider them sacrifices. Even my mom and dad think I must be depriving myself. They see me as missing out on the Eiffel Tower and Machu Picchu. Like a flat-Earther of old bemused that someone could so disbelieve his senses and think the Earth was round, they’re viewing my world from their (and my old) culture. They aren’t flying to pollute. They’re flying to visit family, explore the world, learn new cultures. They use the riding mower to make their house complement the community. They fill several loads of trash a week to . . . hmm . . . frankly I don’t understand how they generate so much trash. In any case, to them, I’m Meathead.
All in the Family doesn’t explore Meathead’s views as much as Archie’s, probably because his values were becoming more mainstream, making his character less complex. Today, acting sustainably beyond token gestures remains rare, so let’s consider my Meathead views.
I know that the world is too big and beautiful and humanity too wondrous and diverse for me to experience all of it, meaning that if I focus on what I miss, I’ll always be wanting. To my ears, the term “bucket list” means craving and always wanting more. I couldn’t exhaust the diversity, wonder, and beauty within a train ride in my lifetime. I’m rebuilding the inborn human skills to discover and create that modern culture atrophied. Every child shows them but by adulthood, decades of advertising has crushed them with messages that buying things will give them results. So we pay airlines and amusement parks to deliver adventure we used to create ourselves without spewing tens of tons of carbon dioxide and poisons each time. Then we contort our consciences to rationalize that somehow our pollution doesn’t pollute. Likewise with family, career, cuisine, and other reasons for flying, going on cruises, and other ways to passively experience our world.
But I’m doing more than avoiding a negative. When I choose a clean lifestyle, supporting my community, picking up other people’s garbage, I’m looking across the ocean, thinking of people on the receiving end of our waste—nature too, but mostly people. The south Pacific Islands covered in Coca-Cola and Nestle wrappers, the indigenous people displaced from their homes to dig for resources, nearly everyone in the world’s bloodstream containing carcinogenic “forever” chemicals so we could have non-stick pans.
When I rely on turnips, radishes, and beets in February and March because that’s what farms around here produce then, I’m connecting with people cooking locally everywhere. People joke “whoever dies with the most toys wins,” but value, meaning, and purpose come from our connections with others, how we support them, help them, and receive support and help from them.
All in the Family helped America empathize with the “lovable bigot.” When we understand Archie Bunker, we don’t condemn him so much so we don’t feel so angry. In my case, understanding polluters, I don’t feel so angry, which enables us to communicate with each other and influence each other. This is important because, like Meathead, they include my family.
As much as we understand Archie, we don’t forget that a lovable bigot is still a bigot. Meathead was only Meathead to the bigot. To us today who don’t judge people by their skin color or believe a woman’s place is in the kitchen, he saw the Earth as round. Likewise, a lovable polluter still pollutes and a steward is only an environmental Meathead to polluters. Future generations will see today’s stewards as Galileos.
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