I remember watching All in the Family as a kid. My liberal mother loved the show. She saw Archie as a figure of fun, and rightfully so. The show dissed conservatives even as it gave voice to their beliefs. As it does above, with the “laughable” suggestion that Alabama Governor George Wallace might not have been disabled by an assassination attempt if he’d had a “rod” to shoot Arthur Bremer. What’s intriguing about that clip: Lionel’s reply to what “his people” think about guns. “Depends who’s holding it.” Someone was thinking outside the box there. Here’s Archie’s gun control editorial . . .
Archie’s rant begins powerfully. The Queens’ resident reveals himself as a “veteran of the big war” in a matter-of-fact way. His initial argument makes perfect sense: asserting that gun control was key to the Communist’s power grab. And then Archie’s off, linking American gun control to a conspiracy by “international bankers,” code for Jews.
You’d think that the show’s producer, a Connecticut Jew who flew 52 combat missions during World War II, would hesitate to connect Bunker’s belief in armed self-defense as a bulwark against Communism with thinly veiled anti-Semitism. Especially as Bunker synched with blacks on the issue (as above). Nope.
Norman Lear (now 91) adheres to the stopped clock theory of conservatives: even when they’re right they’re wrong. They’re not right for the right reasons. In other words, they’re stupid. Like many Jews taught to value education above all else, Lear looked down on those who lacked a liberal (in the traditional sense) education. His progressivism is nothing more or less than paternalism.
That’s why Lear couldn’t let Archie make a sensible point about gun control without revealing him as an ignoramus. Or, more charitably, a lovable loser. Same thing with the bit about arming passengers against skyjackers. Lear’s writers undermined Archie’s “common sense” approach to the horrific terrorism through reductio ad absurdum. Passing out pistols and collecting them at the other end. Geddit? Well the California studio audience did.
Gun rights conservative Archie Bunker endeared himself to middle America because he was one of them. His appeal was as much as a testament to Carroll O’Connor’s acting ability as it was to the writers’ understanding of the conservative mindset. Right thinking viewers knew well enough when Archie went over the top, but they were right there with him. Even though the liberals always got the last laugh. (You could tell when Archie’s rants got a little too righteous; a malapropism would cut him off at the rhetorical knees.)
Even when the All in the Family, its spin-off and ancestors finished their run, Lear kept the progressive flame burning. In 1981, Lear founded People for the American Way, dedicated to “making the promise of America real for every American: Equality. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. The right to seek justice in a court of law. The right to cast a vote that counts.” But not the right to keep and bear arms. An America that “respects diversity, nurtures creativity and combats hatred and bigotry.” But not the right to keep and bear arms.
Watching YouTube clips of All in the Family, the program doesn’t seem as dated as Lear’s other, equally liberal-minded productions (e.g. Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, Maude). Archie Bunker had something that Lear’s other comically accomplished, perfectly cast characters lacked: gravitas.
O’Connor’s Archie was a working stiff and a combat vet. Right or wrong, he’d earned the right to his opinions. You could imagine an Army rifle in Archie’s closet, exactly where it should be. Just as you can imagine a current vet’s AR-15 in his gun safe, right where it should be. And while Archie was portrayed as a racist, anti-Semite and idiot. But, as BDub says below, you could always count on him to do the right thing. Which is why my mother loved him. [h/t DrVino]