Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Archie Bunker, Meet Sarah Palin

Sometimes two unconnected thoughts just come together. About a week ago, when Going Rogue by Sarah Palin was first making news, I participated in an online discussion on a message board I frequent. Someone asked, basically, "what's the attraction to Sarah Palin?" In a veritable ocean of partisan abuse, I actually took it upon myself to answer the question, as best I could (I'll get back to the answer in a minute).

Then today I finished up my lessons on the 1970s, which today included a whirlwind tour of the pop culture of the decade. I hit disco, movies (Jaws, Rocky, The Godfather, and Star Wars), Fonzie, MASH, and Archie Bunker. The part on All In the Family clicked in with my earlier thinking on Palin.

For those who are not old enough to have seen the show, All in the Family was one of the most cutting-edge, socially-conscious TV shows ever made. But something unexpected happened. Producer Norman Lear intended for the main character, Archie Bunker, to be an object of scorn and derision. For Lear and his social circle, nothing could be funnier than pointing and laughing at an ignorant, blue-collar, intolerant, sexist, bigoted, out-of-touch conservative from Queens. But Archie became the hero of the program. I remember watching reruns of the show with my grandfather in the late 70s and early 80s. He loved Archie. And why shouldn't he have? My grandfather was born in 1922, lived through the Great Depression and WWII ("the big one," Archie called it). Like Archie, he could see that some (not all) of the "gains" of the 60s and 70s were just foolishness. And Granddaddy never did have much time for foolishness. As it turned out, many Americans didn't see Archie as the bad guy--he was something of a spokesman for the "silent majority." (Let's not forget that over 60% of voters and 49 states chose Nixon over McGovern in 1972, even though ALL the "smart people" voted for McGovern).

That brings me back to Palin. Let me begin by saying I don't think she ought to be president. I don't think she has the requisite preparation, and an attractive personal narrative and ability to excite a crowd are no substitute for that. (Sadly, about 53% of voters apparently felt otherwise in November.) But what I do like about her is that she has all the right enemies. Not just the snobs of the left, but also the snobs of the right (I'm thinking David Brooks, for starters). She drives them absolutely batty, and that makes me happy. She also has the effect of shining a bright light on the amazing double standards at work in our modern media culture. When the Associated Press assigned 11 reporters to "fact-check" her ghostwritten autobiography--more than they could spare to analyze the multi-trillion dollar health care bill in the senate --well, that says a little something. I get tired of people who think they are smarter than me defining what is the "conventional wisdom." They say Palin is dumb because she didn't go to an elite school. They also say Bush was dumb, despite the fact that he went to Yale and Harvard. But then they say that the very fact that Obama went to Columbia and Harvard is proof-positive that he's a genius. Maybe that's even correct, but it is not so just because they say so, nor is it logically consistent.

Anyway, back to Archie. I think there is a "silent majority" today, too. And maybe we/they are not sophisticated enough to know when we're being mocked, or maybe we think it's the mockers who are out of touch. We recognize that Sarah Palin and Archie Bunker are far more genuinely American than Norman Lear and David Brooks and Jon Stewart put together.

1 comment:

bekster said...

Whether they get made fun of not, I just appreciate people who tell the TRUTH--even if the truth is ugly. I get so fed up with people who won't "tell it like it is" because they are afraid of hurting someone's "feelings." It makes sense, logically (unfortunately), that the people who DO tell the ugly truth would get beat down by those who are afraid of "offending" anyone. People would rather give up knowledge of how the world REALLY is just so they can feel good about themselves. As the professor in my advertising class used to say, "The masses are a--es." Now, Archie Bunker could have used a little more, uh, grace in his speech, but it does make me feel good in my gut to hear people like him who don't care if the masses don't like what he says. It's just a shame that the masses are how they are because no one who is willing to shatter the illusions of society will ever be popular enough to get in power.