The Archie Bunker vs. Meathead Election
And why we can no longer laugh on the left
I was listening to a podcast by someone on the conservative side who is really funny and he made a joke about Jack Dorsy’s beard. I laughed so hard and I realized it’s been so long that I even laughed. I also realized there really isn’t humor anymore on the left. Poof. Gone. Just like that. Where did it go? It got swallowed up into the beast that has deemed everything potentially offensive. Well, humor has to be offensive to be funny.
It isn’t a coincidence that All in the Family was such a successful television show from 1971 to 1979. That was really the sea change for American culture when it shifted from JFK’s America - the 60s and early 70s - to Reagan’s America in 1980. All in the Family was a show about bridging the gap between the Greatest Generation and their children, the baby boomers who had defined liberalism up until 2008. Somehow they managed to get across the conflicts of the day while delivering a gentle message to those who were still resistant to change.
In 2020, there is no need to deliver a message gently. Our message is: you are with us or against us. Conform or else. Do what we say or you’re out. And thus, not only does the message never come through (especially if you call anyone you disagree with a racist) but it sent millions over to Trump’s side of things where at least people could still make jokes without being called out.
It might seem like a little thing but humor exists for a reason. It exists to relieve tension. It exists to help us find the boundaries and mostly to laugh at ourselves. The media never shows this side of Trump - the one where he has humility and makes fun of his hair or his weight. They only show a side of him that makes him seem like he has no self-effacing humor and that he is all arrogance and bluster. They take him seriously.
Imagine taking Archie Bunker seriously.
Back in the 70s when Nixon rose to power American culture needed All in the Family because the left and the right were as divided as we are now. The difference is there wasn’t the level of self-censorship that exists now.
The modern left could not laugh at All the Family. It is far too controversial - and it was then too. The difference is that networks were more daring. The truth wasn’t something reporters or artists or filmmakers or journalists ran from. There was the idea that when something was tense you made fun of it. That is why there were so many great comedians that came out of this era - George Carlin and Richard Pryor. They made fun of things you could not make fun of. That tradition continued up until recently. Though we have a few still willing to poke the beast - most of them have been canceled.
Trump is popular for the same reason All in the Family was popular. The things Americans think and do, the ways we are all imperfect IS FUNNY. You would never know this unless you pulled yourself out of the bubble on the left and got to know Trump and Trump world on your own. The very idea of humanizing him or his supporters is like suddenly waking up one day and talking about Hitler was nice because he liked dogs. To the majority of the left it is THAT bad. Even though we share our country with millions of Trump supporters.
For me, I began to sense something was really really off with how the news was being delivered and how people were interpreting Trump and Trump world. I had to find out for myself whether it was true or not. Turns out it is only true if you interpret it a certain way. For instance, imagine you were a millennial who had never seen All in the Family and you didn’t understand why it was funny because it was just this old white guy yelling about “blacks and Jews” - and you ran back to tell your community about this dangerous show about this awful racist that people watched in the 1970s. Was Archie Bunker a racist? Yes but that was what was funny about it.
So one could argue that Trump’s version is more sinister - that he uses very loud dog whistles in his speeches. But remember, the same could be said about Archie Bunker if you cherry picked the things he says. With Trump world you have to look at the bigger picture, like who is supporting him and why he has black supporters, for instance. What Trump is offering, I think, is freedom from the confines of what the left has become. It is nothing more or less than that.
We will never bridge the gap by screaming at people and lecturing them about how they should live their lives to be as “good” as we are 24/7, like the “good” Puritans of Salem or the Amish or Scientologists who banish people for daring to think for themselves.
What we need is humor and art and real news and daring storytellers to expose our differences in the light of day, make fun of them and bring us all together, the way the brilliant All in the Family did.
Instead, we are all Meathead on one side and all Archie Bunker on the other. Trump isn’t an Archie Bunker type but he is the only place left for Archie Bunker types to exist, to not be hated, to feel like they at least exist. Not to mention, the point gets across so much better with humor than with lecturing, don’t you think?
All in the Family was able to discuss events of the day, tensions of the day and all the while help bring people together, flaws and all.
What does the left plan to do with the millions who support Trump? Put them into re-education camps? Throw them in the garbage? Pretend they don’t exist? And what world are we asking them to hop aboard? A strident, dour, sanctimonious community that strives to be perfect and doesn’t accept any human frailty? I’m not sure that is a successful pitch.
Sam Harris, whose hatred of Trump has been all-consuming, did a short podcast of his epiphany about why Trump has appeal right now. He finally understood what it took me too long to realize.
Here is Sam Harris:
A show like All in the Family could never be on television today, we know this. Art isn’t really that powerful right now because to be powerful art often has to be offensive. And movies will be neutered for the foreseeable future to continue to do what most of modern American culture has done since the rise of President Obama: feed a utopian vision by giving us the world they prefer rather than explain the world we have.
Even news is offensive now. Everyone must be protected from the truth because the truth itself is offensive.
All in the Family was funny because it WAS offensive. It was funny because it brought out into the light of day that which people thought but couldn't say. That is what Trump has always done. For him, a guy with no political experience who could barely handle the job Americans recognized something in that, something they felt like they lost.
What happened to me, in case anyone is wondering, is I stopped liking the left. I started to see them as strident puritanical bullies who suppressed everything I held dear. I know I’m not the only one because I have found others who feel as I do and we’re part of a growing community of outsiders and dissenters. It’s a little lonely but hey, as Dave Rubin says, “think freely or die.”
If the Democrats cannot find a way to bring back nothing so much as our ability laugh at ourselves? Well, we are in bigger trouble than we realize because even an election isn’t going to stop the great divide.