Pop culture is undoubtedly representative of the social and political climate of each era; situation comedies are no exception. During a session of digital broadcast TV channels, I ran into an episode of “All in the Family,” that groundbreaking (at the time) sitcom about a working-class couple living in New York. Archie Bunker, the lead character, was the epitome of the closed-minded, hard-headed racist homophobe, but he was hilarious as hell. The character was so well portrayed by Carroll O’Connor, that, instead of hating him, you just couldn’t help but feel sorry for his inarguable level of ignorance.
Jean Stapleton played a seemingly naïve Edith Bunker – Archie’s wife – who in reality represents the apparent complacency in society as a whole, through the eyes of a mild-mannered housewife, but one that also rises and rebels before the injustices and absurdities of intolerant mindsets. In 1977, I was too young to understand any of it. The opening and closing theme songs brought back fond memories, and the characters are as familiar as old friends; however, the storylines – once completely foreign to me – are now a fascinating subject matter.
The episode I happened to watch is as relevant today as it was almost 40 years ago. After attending a cousin’s funeral, Archie and Edith learn that her surviving best friend – also a woman – was actually her life partner. The facial expressions on both actors/characters are priceless; the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “partner” or “lover” are never uttered. Brilliant writing.
The diatribe than then ensues between the couple is typical of a conservative vs. progressive debate that continues today. The closing argument – stated by Edith after Archie insists that God judges all people – should end all arguments regarding gay rights today, especially when The Creator is brought into the conversation: “Yes, but he’s God; you’re not!”
As a lump formed in my throat, “thank you” came out of my mouth. We need more Edith Bunkers in this world; many Archies are still roaming around. I look forward to watching more of channel 39.2’s programming; I can’t wait to see what “Maude” has to offer.