Well, Whoop-De-Do!: An “All in the Family” Deep Focus

Story posted March 19, 2023 in

“All in the Family” was the show from the 1970s that changed the landscape of television forever. The show remains extremely relevant because the context of the original historical period is not too different from ours. How much has really changed?

The show is about Archie Bunker (Carroll O’ Connor), a man from the “Greatest Generation” who is unsure of why the world around him is constantly changing and has many rebuttals against the social and political changes that occur. Archie is a staunch conservative as a result but is also partially a bigot as well. He is not particularly fond of anybody who is not “White and Protestant,” detesting people of all different kinds of lifestyles and ethnicities.

This is, of course, contrary to everyone else’s point of view in the show.

His wife, Edith (Jean Stapleton), is simple-minded and while sharing some of her husband’s conservatism, she treats people with more respect, no matter who they are. She is a good Christian, something Archie is not.

Archie's daughter, Gloria (Sally Struthers), is a follower of women’s liberation (which he detests) and his son-in-law, Mike Stivic (Rob Reiner), is the opposite of Archie as far as political ideology is concerned, and because of his “hippie beliefs,” is constantly under Archie’s scrutiny. Hence his famous nickname, “Meathead.”

Week after week, Archie is presented with a new issue, whether it be with politics, race, or the recession that was prominent during the 1970s, and as always, offers his stubborn rebuttal.

The biggest aspect of the show is the character of Archie Bunker, a staunch conservative “American,” who is anti-hippie and anti-liberal in every way, even defending Nixon after the Watergate scandal. He is also notorious for his controversial views on race and gender. However, his prejudice stems not from malice, but from his abusive father during the Depression.

In a way, he does not know any better. As the shower progresses, he does slightly soften up to the people he was prejudiced against, becoming more accepting despite their differences. Amidst all his bigotry, he is still a loving teddy bear underneath, defending his family at every turn, and even helps the people he does not appreciate depending on an episode’s given scenario. In one early episode, Gloria experiences a miscarriage.

Archie recognizes the sadness in his daughter, and the two embrace. Archie Bunker is not a character that is meant to be embraced, but one to learn from. How can we learn how to purge our own bigotry and accept others for what they are, therefore completely embracing the “Golden Rule?”

The show also tests the boundaries of what television was capable of at the time. No longer was there the typical “family values” where “father knows best,” but a portrayal of a more realistic American life. Its success boosted audience scores week after week as households were always tuned in to what Archie would do next. Ironically, “All in the Family” launched a whole family of spin-off shows. It directly spun-off “Maude,” “The Jeffersons,” and “Archie Bunker’s Place” (which served more as a sequel).

Ironically, “The Jeffersons” lasted longer than “All in the Family,” running for about eleven seasons before its 1985 cancellation. Gloria even got her own show in the early 1980s, but it was quickly forgotten. Additionally, even the spin-offs got spin-offs. “Good Times” came from “Maude”, “Checking In” sprung from “The Jeffersons,” and “704 Hauser Street” launched from “Archie Bunker’s Place,” becoming the final show in the “Bunker-Verse.”

“All in the Family” is a brilliant idea as a retrospective, because it is not terribly different from the world we live in. Although it is set in the 70s, there are many aspects of life that are still prevalent. There is still the generation divide concerning political and religious beliefs, as well as a recession, not to mention the numerous social changes in America. While the 60s and 70s had many progressive movements, so did the 2010s and 2020s, resulting in #MeToo and BLM movements.

There is certainly no way Archie Bunker would agree with any of them, though. Even recent sitcoms like “Last Man Standing” are similar in their premise, where the conservative father continually disagrees with his socialist son-in-law. The times are a’ changing and yet still the same. In the world we live in now, “All in the Family” continues to be relevant each and every day. 

Logan M. Sharp is a third-year student majoring in film production. To contact him, email lxs5590@psu.edu.