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All in the Family
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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that All in the Family features a main character who is racist and homophobic -- and was recognized as such even when the show initially aired in the '70s. Archie's bigotry is used to highlight serious social topics like rape, breast cancer, and homosexuality in a humorous, thoughtful, ultimately positive way. Racially charged language (like the "N" word) is sometimes used. In one episode, a guest character is killed by an explosion in the distance.
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What's the story?
Starring Carroll O'Connor as "loveable bigot" Archie Bunker, groundbreaking 1970s sitcom ALL IN THE FAMILY topped the ratings during much of its original nine-year run and has justifiably earned a spot in the TV hall of fame. Archie Bunker was a prejudiced, blue-collar white guy from Queens whose socially conservative opinions clashed frequently, and hilariously, with those of his lefty son-in-law Mike "Meathead" Stivic (Rob Reiner) and his daughter, Gloria (Sally Struthers). His long-suffering spouse, Edith (Jean Stapleton), was a traditional wife who usually deferred to her husband, even tolerating his pet name for her: "Dingbat." Episodes typically addressed Archie's bigotry, putting him in situations where he has to confront his prejudices. For example, in one show, Archie travels with Mike and Gloria on the subway back from a visit to the Bronx, where the couple was looking at a house. On the train, Archie warns Gloria not to sit next to "perverts" or winos, and he alludes to the Bronx being a place where African-Americans live -- and therefore, using his logic, not a neighborhood for white people like Mike and Gloria.
Is it any good?
Before this show, serious political and social topics like homosexuality, rape, racism, and women's rights weren't discussed on a network comedy show. Though Archie expressed his beliefs frequently, his illogical reasoning and hilarious malapropisms seriously decreased their impact. And Edith was funny, too -- her simple nature allowed for some humorous misunderstandings. In some episodes, Archie uses the "N" word and other derogatory terms for African-Americans and gay people. It's worth noting that O'Connor went on to star in the show In the Heat of the Night, in which he played a wise, tolerant sheriff in the Deep South. Obviously, Archie's intolerance was all an act -- and an excellent one, at that (O'Connor earned eight Emmy nominations for the role and won four times).
Families might enjoy watching All in the Family together, although it may seem too dated for the younger set. Much of what was considered risqué in the 1970s seems modest by today's standards (the sound of a toilet flushing had never been heard on prime time before this series). Parents will probably want to discuss Archie's prejudices with younger folks to help them put it in context and understand the subtleties of the show's humor.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about race and prejudice in All in the Family. How have discussions of race changed since this show began? How are they the same? What kinds of racial divisions do kids notice in their school? Have kids ever heard someone use a racial epithet? What do kids think about Archie's bigotry? Is this a racist show? Is it the media's job to bring attention to issues like prejudice? How do today's media tackle these topics?
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