When you’re in a relationship with someone from a different nationality, often you find out that you don’t have the same cultural touchstones that you experienced as you grew up. Sometimes that can be disconcerting and force you to explain things in detail that would only require a few words to a fellow countryman in your same age cohort (‘Pet rocks…yeah, good times’). But, it can also be quite fun as you get to experience those things all over again or for the first time (depending on whose culture you’re dipping into).
This weekend, I took my wife on a brief tour of the American culture of my childhood by watching most of the first season of All in the Family. I have vaguely disappointing memories about the end of the series (don’t all sitcoms go on too long) but the early shows were pure gold. The hair, the clothes, the styles all bring back memories of the early 70s (and relief that I was too young to be held responsible for any clothes I may have been put in) and many of the attitudes ring true as well. I can well remember the anxiety in my blue(ish) collar neighborhood when word spread that a black family was moving in, when my parents got laid off and getting up at 5 a.m. in order to get in line to get gas.
The show navigated the difficult terrain of addressing controversial subjects without trivializing them or getting too preachy (as MASH was prone to do) yet staying funny. Now, it’s clear the show wouldn’t be able to find space on the broadcast networks today given the racial slurs thrown but such a show wouldn’t be nearly as funny. After all, we’ve changed quite a bit in the past 30 years and it’s rare (at least in my experience) to hear the that easy, unthinking racism that Archie Bunker espouses.
It’s also worth watching to see what issues were considered important both in terms of discussions (race relations, poverty, crime, the economy, etc.) and what’s in the background as atmosphere. For example, in several episodes, Archie is reading the newspaper and it struck me as odd that every front page had a headline about a hijacked airline.
Maybe we haven’t changed that much after all…I think you could either of these on Fox tonight.
UPDATE: J makes a good point in the comments. What was a blatantly ridiculous punchline in the 1970s about giving everyone guns as a way to solve crime is now the official position of the NRA and much of the right.