Friday, May 20, 2016

Archie and Alex and the Approaching Armageddon: How a couple of retro sitcoms called it for Trump World

The Republican party is in disarray during the 2016 election season.  A reality TV star has become the nominee by basically spouting xenophobic euphemisms and claiming to fight for the common man.  Establishment Republicans after belittling and ridiculing his chances are now being forced to fall in line with--as Democrats call it--a new form of fascism.

It bears revisiting two landmark sitcoms.  One changed the face of television in the 1970's by showcasing  the confusion and division of the time and the 80's followup reflected the ensuing culture of corporate obeisance that the radical seventies hangover incubated.

Norman Lear created a landmark sitcom in 1971.  Unlike anything on TV, the videotaped comedy series tackled subjects and used language which necessitated a warning during it's premiere on January 12.  Although based on a British series, the  Bunker household represented America in all it's schizophrenic glory.  Archie Bunker--brilliantly conceived by  character actor Carroll O'Connor--was part of the Greatest Generation. He was a veteran of the Great War full of patriotic bravado and gung-ho righteousness.  It was his way or the
highway.  Especially to his son-in-law Mike (or "meathead" played by Rob Reiner).  Mike represented the dissent at the time:  anti-Vietnam and championing all things Great Society.  Needless to say, most episodes during the first five or so seasons (while the writing and acting remained sharp) consisted of varying degrees of yelling and insults.  The fights were incredibly polarizing and in hindsight are almost shocking in their candor.  Archie spouted blabbering hubris using malapropisms that made Yogi Berra look like a statesman.  Mike responded with statistics and righteous rage.  The volume was
deafening.  But to many at the time, relatable.  Middle aged Americans were coping with a new class of progressive youths--sons and daughters--taking up for causes that were deemed off-limits during the Eisenhower years of Ozzie and Harriet.  This new generation was the epitome of laziness--dropping out--having sex and doing drugs--dirty hippies.  Sound familiar?

Lear and his partner Bud Yorkin were extremely liberal.  Lear eventually purchased the actual Constitution to promote civil liberties with his organization People For the American Way.  There is no question as to his liberal credentials.  However, he created a character (based on his father) that was so, well, representative of the right, that Archie Bunker became a cultural icon.  "All in the Family" was the highest rated show for five years.  And, much like the "Archie for President" bumper
stickers during 1972, his appeal was both satirical and emulative.  There were only a few hard-core conservatives who viewed the series as seditious and un-American.  For the most part liberals loved the crass and confused characterization O'Connor created--defending the horrible misdeeds of a Watergate soaked Richard Nixon with the faultiest of logic.  And conservatives completely adored this guy you want to drink a beer with:  "He says what I'm thinking."  Whether you are a racist union hardhat or a part of the new southern "democrat,"  a Bible-quoting theocrat or a Buckley-esque right wing apologist, you couldn't wait for Bunker to speak your mind.

And.....Trump is the Republican nominee.    And those few hard right Republicans who saw "All in the Family" as the Trojan Horse of socialism are now those hold-outs on the Trump train--whether holding out for a moral revolution a la Cruz or holding out for a crumbling status quo a la Bush.

Which brings us to Alex P. Keaton.  Michael J. Fox equalled O'Connor in the Emmy race and became a superstar in the process.  No one represented the "every-boy"--all genial and
bumbling, confident in his overconfidence--as the eighties wonder boy Fox.  How can you not like the guy?  So where Archie Bunker eventually became a cuddly-cute bigot that everyone loves and forgives, Gary David Goldberg created a right-wing ideologue cut from the most cuddly-cute mold he could find in this Canadian man-child.

Goldberg, fresh off of show running a couple of quality sitcoms for Mary Tyler Moore's production company, created "Family Ties" in 1982.  Ronald Reagan had just beaten Jimmy Carter whose sole term was predicated on a craving for normalcy and values after the Nixon/Ford fiasco.  Unfortunately, his inherent virtue couldn't overshadow what many  considered a weak presidency.  And the next thing you know an ex Movie Star is the President of the US.  Bunker was a satirical portrait of some conservatives at the time.  Keaton actually was a symbol of what conservatism would become in the ensuing decades.  Button-down policy wonks--not so much interested in the erosion of the white race but the erosion of their bank accounts.  It wouldn't be unusual for Alex to be listening to Rush Limbaugh in the early years of talk radio's rise--before it became a clarion call to division and hatred.

Once again, the brilliance of the show was actually the reverse angle of its Lear predecessor.  Alex was alone in his dogma.  His parent were, well, Mike and Gloria--hippies
who were still hippies working for the local PBS affiliate.  His sisters were apolitical.  Whereas Goldberg clearly milked the gag for all it was worth--a reflection of the growing ennui of the flower children among a more corporate driven culture of cool consumerism--he actually presaged the rise of the "compassionate conservative."  The love child of Michael
Douglas's "Greed is Good" and the emerging (market-driven) ethos of political correctness stirred up with W's soft bigotry of low expectations.

And now what do we think of a Republican front runner who may have been a hero to young Mr. Keaton during the heady days of young plutocracy, yet is capturing the hearts and minds of a new breed of victimized "little guys" who sound something like....Archie Bunker?

No comments:

Post a Comment