Norman Lear’s “All in the Family” resurfaces

In an argument about Jewish domination of the media, once you get your opponent to admit that yes, Jews do run the media, the usual fall back line is to say that it really doesn’t make any difference. Jews are Americans like everyone else, so we really couldn’t expect anything different no matter who was in charge.

I thought about this reading an LATimes article on the 40th anniversary of Norman Lear’s All in the Family (Norman Lear Recalls ‘All in the Family’s’ Beginning“). The article begins with Lear recounting how proud he is of getting “a reference to sex that would be considered tame today” into the first episode  The show was wildly successful: “The series was brilliant, daring, funny and poignant. Over the seasons, “All in the Family” explored racism, homosexuality, women’s liberation, menopause, impotence, the Vietnam War and the loss of faith. It was the No. 1 series for five years, won 22 Emmys including four for comedy series…”

I remember reading an article about Carroll O’Connor, who played the main character, Archie Bunker, being wildly applauded whenever he went out in public during the height of the show’s popularity. The show was indeed brilliant—brilliant propaganda because it managed to identify ingrain in the American mind the idea that illiberal thinking was a sure sign of being an uneducated buffoon.

It is repeatedly brought out that the main character, Archie Bunker, is uneducated and none too smart—constantly mispronouncing even ordinary words and lacking a basic understanding of geography or history—Lincoln signed the Declaration of Independence, Denmark is the capital of Colorado, and Florida is on the West Coast. But this TV show still shapes current attitudes about people who have a problem with multiculturalism. I found the following posted online by a fan of the show:

This is definitely my favorite show and I am glad that there are re-runs on Nick-At-Nite. One of my favorite episodes is when Archie gets locked in the cellar and is finally “rescued” by a repair man, but Archie is drunk, and he thinks that the repair man is God; little does he now, that the repair man is black! (Not that it matters, but to Archie?!) And when Archie bows down to him and lifts his head to see his “God” the audience roared in laughter as did I. . . . I hope this show remains  on the air for a long time, because I could never get sick of watching All in the Family! (see here)

Identifying racially conscious attitudes with  stupidity is brilliant because the vast majority of White people are insecure about their beliefs. They desperately want to feel that they are on the same page as the New York Times and National Public Radio when it comes to their attitudes on race. I am thinking mainly White people who have college educations or at least some college and who identify with the mainstream media and its opinions. They love to be seen reading the New York Times and can be relied on to spout “enlightened” opinions at the drop of a hat. These days, I suppose there is a similar phenomenon whereby mainstream conservatives like Rush Limbaugh have managed to convince their audience that intelligent people can be conservative, as long as they stay away from serious discussions of immigration and race.

All in the Family convinced a generation of Americans that race didn’t matter, and that changes from homogeneous White neighborhoods constituted “progress”:

Though he was a bigot, Lear said, Archie wasn’t a bad man. Archie’s opinions softened and audiences got to see the man behind the bluster as the series progressed. Archie, Lear said, “was just afraid.” That fear was reflected in the title song, “Those Were the Days,” sung by O’Connor and Stapleton, and written by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams of “Bye Bye Birdie” fame. “Archie was afraid of tomorrow,” Lear said. “That was his big problem. He was afraid of the progress that brought black families into his neighborhood. They wrote a song out of that and it served the show beautifully.”

Illiberal attitudes are the result of irrational fear. Nothing more. An irrational nostalgia about the past that is reflected in the words of Those were the days”:

Boy the way Glen Miller played
Songs that made the hit parade.
Guys like us we had it made,
Those were the days.
And you knew who you were then,
Girls were girls and men were men,
Mister we could use a man Like Herbert Hoover again.
Didn’t need no welfare state,
Everybody pulled his weight.
Gee our old LaSalle ran great.
Those were the days.

Of course, the idea that the White working class idolized Herbert Hoover is ridiculous, but that’ s Hollywood. One would certainly have to agree that the case that the best days of the White working class are long gone. Unlike more educated and well-off Whites, the working class can’t move so easily out of ethnically mixed neighborhoods or send their children to well-functioning public schools. The economic changes that have imported a new, predominantly Latino, working class in many parts of the country, the loss of private sector unions, shipping jobs overseas and the loss of social and religious support for the integrity of the family have had devastating effects on the White working class.

But the issue here is whether the values that Lear puts forward reflect those of the wider Jewish community which is well known to be well to the left of Americans. The following is from the Preface to the Paperback Edition of The Culture of Critique:

Perhaps the most important issue Jews and Jewish organizations have championed is cultural pluralism — the idea that the United States ought not to be ethnically and culturally homogeneous. As described in CofC, Jewish organizations and Jewish intellectual movements have championed cultural pluralism in many ways, especially as powerful and effective advocates of an open immigration policy. The media have supported this perspective by portraying cultural pluralism almost exclusively in positive terms — that cultural pluralism is easily achieved and is morally superior to a homogeneous Christian culture made up mainly of white non-Jews. Characters who oppose cultural pluralism are portrayed as stupid and bigoted (Lichter et al. 1994, 251), the classic being the Archie Bunker character in Norman Lear’s All in the Family television series. Departures from racial and ethnic harmony are portrayed as entirely the result of white racism (Powers et al. 1996, 173).

Since Jews have a decisive influence on television and movies, it is not surprising that Jews are portrayed positively in the movies. There have been a great many explicitly Jewish movies and television shows with recognizable Jewish themes. Hollywood has an important role in promoting ‘the Holocaust Industry,’ with movies like Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) and the four-part television miniseries Holocaust(1978), written by Gerald Green, directed by Marvin Chomsky, and produced by Herbert Brodkin and Robert Berger. Both of these films were lavishly promoted by Jewish groups. The promotion for Holocaust in 1978 was remarkable (Novick 1999, 210). The ADL distributed ten million copies of its sixteen-page tabloid The Record for this purpose. Jewish organizations pressured major newspapers to serialize a novel based on the script and to publish special inserts on the Holocaust. The Chicago Sun-Times distributed hundreds of thousands of copies of its insert to local schools. The AJCommittee, in cooperation with NBC, distributed millions of copies of a study guide for viewers; teachers’ magazines carried other teaching material tied to the program so that teachers could easily discuss the program in class. Jewish organizations worked with the National Council of Churches to prepare other promotional and educational materials, and they organized advance viewings for religious leaders. The day the series began was designated ‘Holocaust Sunday’; various activities were scheduled in cities across the country; the National Conference of Christians and Jews distributed yellow stars to be worn on that day. Study guides for Jewish children depicted the Holocaust as the result of Christian anti-Semitism. The material given to Jewish children also condemned Jews who did not have a strong Jewish identity. This massive promotion succeeded in many of its goals. These included the introduction of Holocaust education programs in many states and municipalities, beginning the process that led to the National Holocaust Memorial Museum, and a major upsurge of support for Israel.

In general, television portrays Jewish issues ‘with respect, relative depth, affection and good intentions, and the Jewish characters who appear in these shows have, without any doubt, been Jewish — often depicted as deeply involved in their Judaism’ (Pearl & Pearl 1999, 5). For example, All in the Family (and its sequel, Archie Bunker’s Place) not only managed to portray working class Europeans as stupid and bigoted, it portrayed Jewish themes very positively. By the end of its 12-year run, even archenemy Archie Bunker had raised a Jewish child in his home, befriended a black Jew (implication: Judaism has no ethnic connotations), gone into business with a Jewish partner, enrolled as a member of a synagogue, praised his close friend at a Jewish funeral, hosted a Sabbath dinner, participated in a bat mitzvah ceremony, and joined a group to fight synagogue vandalism. These shows, produced by liberal political activist Norman Lear, thus exemplify the general trend for television to portray non-Jews as participating in Jewish ritual, and ‘respecting, enjoying, and learning from it. Their frequent presence and active involvement underscores the message that these things are a normal part of American life’ (Pearl & Pearl 1999, 16). Jewish rituals are portrayed as ‘pleasant and ennobling, and they bestow strength, harmony, fulfillment, and sense of identity upon those who observe them’ (p. 62)

So yes indeed, it does matter who runs the media. As also noted in the Preface (also a theme of Edmund Connelly’s work on TOO, e.g., here and here), while Jewish interests are suffused in a positive aura, Christian images are often linked with pathologies of various sorts.

So yes indeed, it does matter who runs the media. And it ain’t us.

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