Sunday, November 12, 2017

Why my dad hated All in the Family.

I ran across an article on Politico today called, "Why Won't TV Show People Who Aren't Rich?" You may have seen it, too, when I shared it on Facebook earlier today (although probably not -- thanks for the lame organic reach, Facebook). The upshot of the article is that shows like ABC's "The Middle" -- which features a middle-class family and which is now in its final season -- are few and far between. The author of the piece, Joanna Weiss, goes on to lament that so few TV shows feature middle-class families these days. She says it's particularly sad because the gulf between haves and have-nots in this country is widening by the day.

Weiss says it would be useful for TV to feature more characters who live on the economic edge because it would help us "coastal elites" understand what the folks in the middle of the country are going through. But there's no guarantee people would watch it -- and I'm not just talking about folks on the coast.

The top-rated show in the 1970s was "All in the Family." Produced by Norman Lear, its main characters were middle-class -- maybe even working-class. Archie Bunker was the old-fashioned, Republican, opinionated patriarch; his wife Edith was a homemaker and kind of dim; their daughter Gloria was the apple of her parents' eye, and then she married a long-haired liberal named Mike Stivic. Lear himself is a liberal, and his political leanings were obvious. Archie and Edith were played for laughs. Archie regularly gave Mike a hard time -- his favorite nickname for him was "Meathead" -- but it was pretty clear that Mike's ideas weren't all that terrible and that Archie was objecting simply because he didn't like the source.

My father had a lot in common with Archie Bunker -- he was a working-class Republican and not very well educated -- and he wouldn't watch the show. He didn't like it, he said. He didn't think it was funny. To almost everyone else in America, "All in the Family" was a microcosm of what was going on in the country in the '70s: the old, conservative guard being upstaged by long-haired youngsters. It allowed us to laugh at ourselves. But I think for my father, it felt like people were laughing at him.

Entertainment allows us to escape from our daily cares. TV shows today feature the rich, or at least the financially secure, for a number of reasons, but chief among them is ratings. These shows draw a lot of eyeballs precisely, I think, because they offer financially unstable Americans an escape from their problems. The respite doesn't last, of course, but the fact that the shows only make viewers more miserable in the long run doesn't matter to TV producers. They're only in it for the money.

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These moments of economically unstable blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.
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