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How 'All In The Family's Archie Bunker Helped Us See Ourselves

Culture | October 3, 2017

Left: Sammy Davis Jr. guest-starring on 'All In The Family' with Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker. Right: Archie gears up for one of many arguments with his son-in-law (Rob Reiner). Source: Bettmann/Getty; IMDB

On All In The Family, Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) was the patriarch of a working-class white family in the early '70s. As expressed in the show's theme song -- the nostalgic "Those Were The Days" -- Archie and his wife Edith see changes in the America they knew, and have trouble accepting them. Archie embodied a familiar American intolerance and even racism, as well as a general bewilderment about what the hell had happened in the late '60s -- and yet, he was human and lovable in his way. The show challenged audiences to think about their own attitudes, and made us laugh too.

Prior to the arrival of All In The Family in 1971, the television industry was best known for broadcasting programs that portrayed families who were the epitome of everything that was wholesome and perfect. Instead of the family coming to the dinner table with clean hands, good manners and pleasant things to discuss, the Bunkers let it all hang out!

Archie Bunker Knew What He Knew

The Bunker family, who lived in Queens, NY, consisted of, husband/father, Archie (Carroll O’Connor), his wife Edith (Jean Stapleton) and their one daughter, Gloria (Sally Struthers). Archie was a white, working-class bigot who couldn’t see past the end of his own nose. He was extremely self-centered and if anyone disagreed with him, he was skeptical about their credibility or intentions. Edith was a doting wife who was ever mindful that her one and only role in life was to please her husband. Gloria was kind-hearted like her mother but stubborn like her father.  

The Generation Gap Was Alive And Well On 'All In The Family'

In Archie’s mind, all was well. Enter, Mike Stivic (Rob Reiner), who was the poster child for the 1960s counterculture movement. He was a staunch liberal and fun-loving, Polish-American hippie with no tolerance for authority. He challenged everything that Archie knew was good and right! Gloria and Mike fell in love, married and proceeded to continuously torture Archie with their progressive thinking. Mike refused to be boxed into the traditional, socially acceptable role that was expected of him. Because he was a full-time college student, he lacked the earning capacity to provide for himself and his wife, so they lived with Archie and Edith for years to save money. Gloria was the main breadwinner of the couple and that didn’t go over well with Archie. To add insult to injury, Archie was supporting a man who stood for everything he despised, which was another source of contention for him. Not only was Mike, who he referred to as either, Meathead and/or Pollack, a liberal thinker, influencing his one and only child, but he was also living under his roof and eating his food. Edith did her best to run interference between the two ideologies but was always just short of making it happen.  

Archie Felt Superior To Everyone -- Especially Edith

Archie never saw Edith as his equal. She was, admittedly, naïve and he often referred to her as, "Dingbat." However disrespectful that was, she never challenged him on it. He was the man of the house and he saw Edith as his subordinate. She was a dutiful wife and did her best to please him, although she did occasionally assert her opinion. Often Edith’s opinions were not always well received but at times they were considered; not that Archie would ever admit it.  

Archie Had An Ingrained Racial Prejudice

Despite the fact that Archie Bunker didn’t always think as much of his wife as he should have, he though less of others. He found himself living in the same neighborhood as Hispanics and African Americans, who he didn’t understand and couldn’t relate to. He eventually realized that he had to live in harmony with his neighbors but wanted to be true to himself as well. He often stuck his foot in his mouth while trying to maneuver his way around this dilemma.

'Meathead' Was The Father Of Archie's Grandson

Prior to the end of the series in 1979, Mike finally graduated college and became a teacher. Mike, Gloria and their son, Joey, moved into their own house, although they didn’t go far at first. They bought the house right next door to Archie and Edith, which previously belonged to George and Louise Jefferson (but that’s another story altogether). They later moved to California, after which, their marriage sadly crumbled.

The Show Challenged Viewers From The Get-Go

Reviews of the first season of All in the Family were guarded. This was due to the nature of the topics depicted. Conventional America was on the edge of accepting (or not) racy topics that challenged conformity. The show often portrayed social issues that were previously considered controversial and/or unacceptable for public television. Despite the bumps in the road of the first season, the program became a huge hit; probably because people were ready to, “get real.” The show eventually even ranked No. 1 in the Nielson ratings for 5 years. Whether people liked the show or not, it definitely had everyone talking!

Each episode began with Archie and Edith sitting at their piano singing, “Those Were The Days,” which came to be their signature song.

Those Were The Days
Boy, the way Glenn 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!

Tags: All In The Family | Archie Bunker | Caroll OConnor | Edith Bunker | Popular Lists Of Everything From The Groovy Era | Rob Reiner

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.