Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Archie Bunker Would Have Hated the Tea Party?

Norman Lear continues to miss the point.

I admire Norman Lear in that he had a great sense of character, dialog, and humor.  It's not quite accurate to say the Lear created "All in the Family" since it was derived from, I believe a British comedy called "Till Death Do Us Part", but Lear was a brilliant producer and writer nonetheless.

At the same time, he has always been a leftist.  Archie Bunker's conservative beliefs were held up to ridicule, though in a relatively sympathetic way.  Lear modeled the character given life by Carroll O'Connor after his own father and their conflicts.  What came as a shock to Lear and his like was that most Americans agreed with Archie.  He became a hero.  His traditional opinions were sensible and much more in touch with reality than those of his liberal hippie son-in-law and daughter.

When Archie expressed agreement with racial and ethnic stereotypes, Americans understood it as mostly harmless and humorous rather than hateful.  It's similar to Clint Eastwood's portrayal of Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino.  We challenge one another, and we give one another a hard time.  We want to see what the other person will say.  You may recall how Owen Wister depicted an exchange between the villain, Trampas, and the Virginian:

It was now the Virginian’s turn to bet, or leave the game, and he did not speak at once.
Therefore Trampas spoke. “Your bet, you son-of-a--.”
The Virginian’s pistol came out, and his hand lay on the table, holding it unaimed. And with a voice as gentle as ever, the voice that sounded almost like a caress, but drawling a very little more than usual, so that there was almost a space between each word, he issued his orders to the man Trampas: “When you call me that, SMILE.” And he looked at Trampas across the table.
Yes, the voice was gentle. But in my ears it seemed as if somewhere the bell of death was ringing; and silence, like a stroke, fell on the large room.
What sets this scene up so beautifully is often forgotten.  The Virginian's friend, Steve, had earlier called the Virginian an SOB.  The narrator had been shocked that Steve's epithet had elicited, not a beating or upbraiding but laughter.

It used to be common for us to use a misquote of the Virginian's retort when joking among a group of buddies -- "You'd better smile when you say that."  Male bonding involves insults and name-calling.  Sometimes more physical conflicts were involved.  That's the way it has worked for, I don't know, a hundred thousand years?

If you are in my tribe, I may mock you and make fun of you, but if we are attacked by another tribe, we will stand shoulder to shoulder.  Civilization can't really alter that reality.  So, in America, we have our groups, and we mock other groups, but, when the hammer falls, we used to stand together.

The Tea Party embraces traditional values.  It has nothing to do with race.  We have black, brown, yellow, and white, male and female in the Tea Party because truth and good sense are not a matter of pigmentation or plumbing.

Archie Bunker is Norman Lear's fictional character.  Good characters do tend to get away from the author, it is true, but Lear could make Archie a Tea Party antagonist if he wanted to.  What he can't do is alter the thinking of the American prototype on which Archie is based, the simple man who holds to faith in God, who values family, who loves his country, who cherishes individual liberty and responsibility. 

Archie might agree with Lear, but, as he raises his cigar, he will look our way, lift his brows and smirk.

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