On a Friday evening on January 12, 1979, much of America allowed a chubby man and his family to enter their homes. The man brought his wife, daughter and future son-in-law with him and each week at the same time the family would visit American homes again. The man was not handsome or educated, his wife was not shapely or attractive, his daughter an adult only child, threw tantrums often and made faces at her father. The boyfriend of the daughter was the most extremely liberal and did not believe in God.
The man’s name was Archie Bunker and the manner of his entrance into our homes was the CBS show, All in the Family. My grandmother and I watched Archie Bunker, we did not like but we respected and appreciated his honesty. We did not like that he was the personification of every American that was white and racist in 1979. To us he was a reminder of much that was bad, prejudice and unfair about America and most of what caused so many African Americans pain. What we respected about Archie Bunker was that unlike so many of his peers, he was honest and in your face about what he thought and how he felt. Archie did not have any cut cards, what you saw was what you got. He was not a phony, he was real and raw.
Archie and his bigotry up got close and personal and in our face every Friday night; he may have made our skin boil but each week we tuned in again for him to put the intolerance kettle on the fire once again. He caused us to confront our own prejudices and the reality of an America divided by race, gender, economic, sexual orientation, religious, ethnic and educational lines. Archie Bunker made me laugh, he infuriated me and sometimes he brought me to tears.
All in the Family was a controversial sitcom. Many whites did not like it because they did not want to see themselves; other whites were offended by the unintelligent and underclass status that they themselves put Archie in. Some of my family members thought it was insulting to have a show with a white man as prejudice and clamorous as Archie on the air. They thought that Archie would cause any social or civil progression to regress. Groups for gays, Catholics, those of the Jewish faith and women’s group each at different times during the show’s airing complained about its portrayal of those in their aggregation.
I believe that Archie Bunker and All in the Family was a significant part of the growth of America. He caused us to see ourselves the way we really were; to see America as it really was. In an episode that aired on February 1972, Archie moonlighted as a cab driver. Archie picked up a fare that inadvertently left his brief case behind. The passenger was Sammy Davis Jr. Davis calls Archie to make arrangements to retrieve his briefcase and Archie’s intolerance is so perplexing to Davis that he wants to give Archie something to remember him by so he kisses him. Archie’s reactions was said to be one of television most memorable moments; it was one of my favorite episodes. In other episodes Archie unknowingly kissed a Transvestite, lived next door to a Black Family, helped his neighbor Irene, a devout Catholic get a job as a forklift operator that Archie and many in America felt was a man’s job. In his world on Hauser Street he forced us to look at ourselves, to listen to each other and to change the way we lived together in this country.
Edith Bunker, Archie’s wife was an obedient one; she stayed home and almost always did exactly what Archie told her to do. But Edith (Jean Stapleton) also taught us lessons. She spoke up when you least expected her to do so; she saw the good in everyone regardless of color, size, height, sexual orientation or religion. She was a good and loyal friend and a supportive and caring mother and grandmother.
Mike and Gloria were opposites that made love and marriage work in an interesting and humorous way. They had their share of pain, miscarriages, financial setbacks and infidelity. The house at 704 Hauser Street paved the way for sitcoms such as Maude, The Jefferson’s and Good Times.
Today I still watch reruns of All in the Family; as I watch the Bunkers, I laugh more often now than I did forty years ago. The years and some resolve have softened my sense of humor and the pain of some racial scars. As I watch my heart is warmed by the memories of my grandmother’s reaction to what she considered Archie’s outrageousness. Thank you Norman Lear, (the show’s creator) the late Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers for being a part of American television history and for using Hauser Street to change the streets, neighborhoods and lives of all of America; happy 40th anniversary Archie and Edith Bunker and Michael and Gloria Stivic, you helped us realized in America it is in All in the Family.