All In The Family, the 1970’s TV series in which Norman Lear sought to convince the world that Middle Americans were ignorant bigots like Archie Bunker, recently had its twentieth anniversary special on CBS. It brought back fond memories. Sure, the show was always—as Archie would have put it—your basic pinko propaganda through and through, designed to make us ridicule and repudiate our forebears and our traditions, and to turn us all into New Socialist Persons, or even worse, McGovern Democrats. But Archie Bunker was my first clue that there was such a thing as a reactionary, and that I could be one too.
Growing up in the 70’s in the campus town of Urbana, Illinois, I used to run home from high school indoctrination class to catch All in the Family in afternoon reruns. Archie was portrayed as a rude, crude blowhard given to mangling logic and the English language; his lefty son-in-law Mike (the “Meathead”) was shown to be intelligent, rational, enlightened, and progressive. I quickly decided I was an Archie sympathizer.
As it happened, I had a lot more company than I knew. A poll taken while the series was at its most popular revealed that the vast majority of Americans liked and respected Archie Bunker more than his son-in-law. Although they didn’t share his racial attitudes, they saw Archie as the solid, patriotic workingman; whereas the Meathead was just an atheistic student radical who sponged off Archie and the America he represented while ungratefully biting the hand that fed him. These results were reported with dismay in a TV Guide cover story I still recall for its tide: “All in the Family: Is America Missing the Point?”
As the years went by, events conspired to vindicate Archie, no matter how hard the writers tried to make him a fool. He proved to be a fair political prognosticator: in a 1976 post-election show, he closed an argument by hollering, “Yer gonna get REEgan in 1980, wise guy!” (The studio audience howled at that one.) Later, he worked his way up from foreman on a loading platform to owner of a neighborhood bar, which gave way to the spin-off series Archie Bunker’s Place. It was at this point that Lear gave up on satire and began portraying an Archie who had mellowed and begun to grow sensitive to minorities and left-wing causes, and it is also at this point that the show left the air.
And the Meathead? The last word came in the spin-off series: he ran out on his wife and son, took up with a younger woman, and retreated to a California commune.