January 11, 2014

On "All in the Family"

In every human society, at any time, and any place, there have been rational and reasonable men and women. Alas, in every human society, at any time, and any place, they so far have were a small minority, that was often persecuted, and nearly always in danger.

MM - Comments on Chamfort's Maximes-1.29

If men in majority were good or intelligent, history would be completely different from what it is.

MM - Comments on Chamfort's Maximes-1.31


1. "All in the Family"

About ME/CFS


This is not a crisis item, but is a brief sketch about
"All in the Family", an American TV series that appeared originally from 1971-1979 in 209 episodes, to considerable acclaim, and that now can be seen on Youtube.

Since I have no TV since 1970, I had seen only a few of the series - at most 5 - in the 1970ies, but I have the past month seen nearly all of them, while I also read a considerable amount about the actors, producers, subjects and shows on Wikipedia, that is quite good, and also read quite a few other related items, both from Wikipedia and elsewhere.

The following is a brief sketch of why I really like
"All in the Family", in which most of the links are to Wikipedia articles - and here I made "brief sketch" bold, because a lot more could be said: this is neither an exhaustive nor a full treatment, but merely an introduction.

And I have left my initial quotes standing from January 1, 2014, because they are relevant, at least in explaining why
"All in the Family", although widely acclaimed, seems to have changed little. [1]

1. "
All in the Family"

I have added subtitles in the following piece, to show what the parts are about.

On TV:

As I have explained almost a year ago in Three things most other men do that I don't do - and why I have no television since I started living on my own in 1970. The main reasons are that I found most of it quite boring and stupid; that I had far better things to spend time on; and that I really hate advertisments and propaganda and "public relations". (I still don't have a TV and don't want one.)

This doesn't mean I have watched no TV at all, but it does mean I have watched far less than almost anyone else has, these 44 years, which I also do not regret at all: I still find it shocking most ordinary men in my country, and elsewhere, spend more than 3 hours a day - most of their free time! - watching TV.

On "All in the Family":

However, I am quite willing to agree that a few programs on TV are quite good, and that I mostly missed these by refusing to get a TV. So far, the best of these is the series "All in the Family", which was on American TV from 1971 to 1979, and also quite soon on Dutch TV, where I did see a few episodes - at most 5 - circa 1973, and that mostly because my parents had TV.

I want to say some things about
"All in the Family", that I have now watched almost completely since December 15 last year, and that I still found quite enjoyable, but for those who do not know it, here are two paragraphs from the Wikipedia on the subject:
All in the Family revolved around the life of a working class bigot and his family. Despite being considerably softer in its approach than its BBC predecessor [Till Death Us Do Part, from which the idea was derived - MM], the show broke ground in its depiction of issues previously considered unsuitable for U.S. network television comedy, such as racism, homosexuality, women's liberation, rape, miscarriage, abortion, breast cancer, the Vietnam War, menopause, and impotence. Through depicting these controversial issues, the series became arguably one of television's most influential comedic programs, as it injected the sitcom format with real-life conflicts.

The show ranked number-one in the yearly Nielsen ratings from 1971 to 1976. It became the first television series to reach the milestone of having topped the Nielsen ratings for five consecutive years (..)
To start with, you can find good versions of most of the programs on Youtube, and if you never watched them you may check them out: you'll probably like them. In case you need a little help, here are two programs of selections, the first presented by Henry Fonda, after 100 episodes, and the second presented by Norman Lear, after 200 episodes, which also was near the end of the whole series:
On why I like it:

I suppose the main reasons I really like it now, and really liked what I saw from it in the Seventies, is the combination of good texts, important subjects, and fine actors, especially Jean Stapleton, who played Edith Bunker, and Carroll O'Connor, who played Archie Bunker. I also like Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers, who played the Stivics, i.e. the Bunkers' daughter and son in law, but they are a bit less important, and also are a bit less marked.

Two important insights I had, seeing the whole series for the first time in the last weeks of 2013 and the first week of 2014, are that (1) actually little has changed these 40 years: All of the problems of
racism, homosexuality, women's liberation, rape, miscarriage, abortion, breast cancer, menopause, and impotence mostly still apply, if perhaps in a somewhat changed form, and that most notably as regards homosexuality, and that, consequently (2) the series, although it was very popular in the Seventies (something I also only learned in 2013), did not succeed in changing much about American politics.

On the changes in these last forty years:

Altogether I find far fewer things changed these 40 years than I would have expected from other similar periods, such as between 1770 and 1810, that is part of my favorite period in English literature, running from 1750-1830, and that I know fairly well for that reason. For these forty years comprised the American and French revolutions, the start of the industrial revolution, and also fairly radical changes in clothing, especially of males, and considerable changes in opinions.

In fact, if we look at 1970-2010, the clothing styles are mostly similar in these last 40 years, and so are the various kinds of - more or less political - opinions and the conflicts between these, though it also seems plausible to say that around 2000 two major changes started, namely the triumph of the personal computer, and the triumph of conservatism in the United States, at least, but also outside it, and this mainly through the stealing of the presidential elections in 2001, very soon followed by 9/11 (that may have been a false flag operation). [2]

I do think the two major changes I mentioned will be quite important in the following years, and indeed may throw most ordinary citizens back to a status that is akin to that of the feudal poor, that will also be far more controlled and surveilled. However, both of these changes are new, and may also, as regards conservatism and global surveillance of everyone, still be stopped, or slowed down and eventually reverted (which I think is necessary to maintain a real civilization).

As is, it remains true that
fewer things changed these 40 years than I would have expected, and that also includes the freezing of the incomes of all normal earners in the United States since 1980, when corrected for inflation, and the quite radical decreases in education and schools for the great majority, both of which changes also slowed down the changing of opinions.

But trying to take in all, I'd say that fewer things changed the last 40 years than I expected, and that the main conflict of opinions, namely that between the conservatives and the progressives, to choose two fairly general and imprecize terms, is one that plays out through the generations, and tends to be not resolved within a generation or two or three.

Finally as to the changes and non-changes, my personal take on why
"All in the Family" amused many but changed few is that it is mainly a matter of intelligence, which is a rather scarce good: The series taught me very little, because both of my parents were radical communists and leftist progressives with IQs of 135 or higher, and it also seems to have taught the more ordinary members of society, with IQs around 100, very little, except for being perhaps a little scandalized in the 1970ies, next to being amused.

On good texts and important subjects:

One of the things I had not realized, or at least had not realized as well as I should have, is that the TV in the US and elsewhere was a mostly quite conservative and quite heavily censored until the 1970ies: When Archie Bunker, who is a Republican conservative bigot, insists people should not speak of "pregnancies", in fact he articulated one of the principles of US TV in the 1950ies and 1960ies.

And it was especially "
All in the Family" that changed some of this conservatism in the TV - though to this day all the "fucks" are bleeped out, even in explicitly comical series as Jon Stewarts' "The Daily Show", and even while anybody with a fair command of English knows the words that are bleeped out.

But the texts of "
All in the Family" are good and funny, and indeed drew many a laugh from a live audience, that was one of the many other innovations of the show, and they often are about important subjects, that had many people thinking, and that also effected the daily lives of very many Americans, which holds at least for racism, homosexuality, women's liberation, menopause, and impotence.

It so happens that I did not learn anything new that I did not already know, nearly all because of my family, circa 1967, but this must have been somewhat rare: For many ordinary Americans, quite a few of the issues that were discussed explicitly and comically in "All in the Family" must have been new, and certainly were new on TV, in a sitcom format.

Then again, it is probably also true that the approximately 20 million viewers of the original series were - probably - mostly progressives, which explains at least some about the fact that the show does not seem to have changed very many opinions, though it was also influential and widely seen, and indeed also was used to further some progressive ends.

But it really seems to have found wide admiration only among the higher educated progressive class of people, who are always in a minority, which again explains part of the wide appeal of the Archie Bunker like character of Rush Limbaugh.

On fine actors:

The remaining reason for me to really like the show are the fine actors, and especially Jean Stapleton, and Carroll O'Connor: They simply are very good. [3]

It is a bit difficult to say they are realistic - nearly all parts of the series took about 25 minutes; a considerable part of the text was meant to evoke laughter, and did; and far too much happened to the Bunkers that would not have happened, to that extent, with any real working class member - but they certainly are credible, and that is mostly because of the actors who played these parts.

Overall, my favorite is the favorite of many:
Edith Bunker, played by Jean Stapleton, especially because she loves life, is good and honest and fair, and while not highly gifted at all, she is certainly the wisest of the Bunkers, and has quite a few quite good lessons for many, although they are never presented as lessons. Besides, while Edith Bunker is expressly portrayed as being of a fairly low intelligence, notably in her being slow to get commonsensical points, she not only has surprising bits of wisdom, but also makes quite a few good logical points, such as her attempting to know that she is sure that she is sure about being sure, about anything whatsoever - which is a level few philosophers reach.

But I like
Carroll O'Connor's Archie Bunker as well, and indeed he was the main motor of the series. The reason to put him second is mostly that I do not agree with his opinions, although he has some nice sides, and is well expressed in the Wikipedia article on Archie Bunker:
Famous for his gruff, ignorant, bigoted persona—blacks, Hispanics, "Communists," hippies, gays, Jews, Catholics, "women's libbers", and Polish-Americans are frequent targets of his barbs—Archie is in fact a complex character. Rather than being motivated by malice, he is portrayed as hardworking, a loving father and husband, and a basically decent man whose views are merely a product of the era and working-class environment in which he had been raised. Nevertheless, Archie is bad-tempered and frequently tells his long-suffering, scatter-brained wife Edith to "Stifle yourself" and "Dummy up". Series creator Norman Lear admitted that this is how his father treated Lear's mother.
The other regular actors in the series also are good, and this applies not only to Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers, but also to Danielle Brisebois, who played Stephanie Mills as a child actress.

Sum up:

In any case, this is one of the best shows and series that appeared on TV, and that not at all only according to me (who indeed is not much of a judge of things that appear on TV), but according to millions of American viewers.

I should also say that the Wikipedia-articles on the show, the characters, and the episodes, are quite good and quite detailed, and that I have learned rather a lot from these that is not written about in this article.

Finally, I am glad I've seen most of the series at least once, and may do so again
, and I certainly have laughed more the last six weeks of seeing All in the Family than I have done in the rest of the time since 2000, a fact that is explained by the quality of the series and my continued illness, that I endure now for the 36th year without any help other than minimal dole.

I may write more on the series, but the above is adequate as an introduction.

P.S. Feb 9, 2014: I added some links and made a few small corrections.


[1] I do believe that the problem of the average intelligence is the main human problem, and I also believe that most men and women are neither particularly good nor particularly intelligent, while some men and women evidently are.

[2] I am aware both opinions are contested and may be contested. I merely indicate my - quite well-informed - opinions.

[3] I do know both are dead now - O'Connor in 2001 and Stapleton in 2013 - but it seems more sensible and more fair to speak about them atemporally, and as they appeared in their roles.

About ME/CFS
(that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komarof

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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