Remembering Archie

July 28, 2022 Updated: July 29, 2022

Commentary

A once popular TV sitcom, “All in the Family,” which ran from January 1971 to April 1979, has been in the news again. Its producer Norman Lear wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times (July 27, 2022) on the occasion of his hundredth birthday.

Lear speculated about what his best-known figure from the series, Archie Bunker, would have thought of Donald Trump. Since Lear has never disguised his left-of-center politics, the reader could have easily guessed that the commentator would tear into our former president. But what was more striking was his insistence that Archie would have done the same:

“For all his faults, Archie loved his country, and he loved his family, even when they called him out on his ignorance and bigotries. If Archie had been around 50 years later, he probably would have watched Fox News. He probably would have been a Trump voter. But I think that the sight of the American flag being used to attack Capitol Police would have sickened him. I hope that the resolve shown by Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, and their commitment to exposing the truth, would have won his respect.”

Reading these lines from Archie’s creator and from someone whom I doubt ever voted for a Republican candidate for president, I have to wonder whether Lear is accurately representing his own invention. Although Lear would like to remember his series as centered around “issues that were dividing Americans from one another, such as racism, feminism, homosexuality, the Vietnam War, and Watergate,” that’s not what I remember as a viewer. It’s also not what my father liked about this sitcom.

The TV audience identified with the semi-literate, opinionated but obviously patriotic World War II vet Archie and were generally indulgent of his shortcomings. This fellow clearly loved his tastelessly furnished house and cared about his wife and daughter. His irremediably lazy, preachy son-in-law, played by the impeccably progressive Rob Reiner, was a far less sympathetic character, and Archie’s nickname for this character “Meathead” seemed just about right.

Whatever Lear would like us to believe was the ideological goal that he was pursuing with his sitcom, it didn’t top the Nielson ratings between 1971 and 1976 because viewers, or at least not the ones I met, cared about its creator’s personal politics. Contrary to what Lear might have hoped for his series, it was the Deplorable Archie who attracted the most attention—and much of it was quite favorable.

Over the years Lear seemed to polish Archie’s rougher edges and made him a bit softer. Lear also provided a continuation of this series until 1983 in the form of “Archie Bunker’s Place,” in which the central figure, although still played by Carroll O’Connor, no longer had his old supporting cast, Rob Reiner, Jean Stapleton, and Sally Struthers. But Archie, now a widower, is shown paling around with ethnic minorities who frequented or worked in his tavern. Moreover, he has a Jewish liberal partner. He’s also no longer quite as abrasive as he had been in “All in the Family.” Since O’Connor shared Lear’s politics, he might have been happier with this toned-down version of Archie. But it certainly never aroused the same excitement or enthusiasm as its predecessor.

Let me say as a longtime fan that the real Archie would have readily embraced The Donald. Our former president was a slightly more sophisticated incarnation of Archie and mangles his English in the same manner as did his TV counterpart from Queens. If Archie would have been “sickened” by anything that occurred over the last few years, it would have been all the violence condoned, incited, or financed by the Democrats in the summer of 2020. He would also be fuming at the high crime rates in New York City and at decisions to divest the police of effective power to deal with this problem.

I doubt Archie would have had any use for those who broke into the capitol on Jan. 6. But unlike his creator Norman Lear, he would have been even more incensed by other acts of violence to which Lear may be less sensitive. Archie survives as a separate persona from its talented inventor and may also be different from the actor who played him. That’s sometimes the effect of a memorable literary or cinematic creation.

Equally understandable is that the current left, which is far more woke than it was in the 1970s, rejects Archie as a homophobic, sexist bigot. According to Business Insider, the series revolved around Archie’s wife Edith and her “slow struggle to pull Archie away from his comfort zone of suspicion and bitterness.” The main theme of the series was supposedly Edith’s heroic struggle to help Archie overcome “his narrow view of the world.” As a viewer of the sitcom, I would never have picked up on that. And it’s unlikely that most of its fans did.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Paul Gottfried is editor in chief of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is also the Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years, a Guggenheim recipient, and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 14 books, most recently Antifascism: Course of a Crusade (Cornell-NIU Press, 2021), and numerous articles and book reviews.