Guys Like Me

edith-archie-bunker-100

All in the Family, a sit-com from the seventies: Racist Archie Bunker and his cloying, supplicant wife Edith faced off weekly against their head-strong daughter and her liberal, snowflake husband. At the start of every show, Archie and Edith (Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton) sat at a piano and sang Those Were the Days, the show’s theme song.

Boy, the way Glenn Miller played
songs that made the hit parade
Guys like me we had it made
Those were the days

Didn’t need no welfare state
ev’rybody pulled his weight
Gee our old LaSalle ran great
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

People seemed to be content
fifty dollars paid the rent
freaks were in a circus tent
Those were the days

Take a little Sunday spin
Go to watch the Dodgers win
Have yourself a dandy day
that cost you under a fin

Hair was short and skirts were long
Kate Smith really sold a song
I don’t know just what went wrong
Those were the days

If you’re like me, you skipped over reading the lyrics and jumped down to this sentence. No, go back and read the lyrics. They say a lot about what’s happening in the world right now.

Often, I’d start an essay like this with a warning. Caution: Old dude writing. No one under forty knows about All in the Family. And they probably haven’t heard the song either.  The lyrics paint a Norman Rockwell picture. American life in the late forties, early fifties. Christ, we’re talking seventy years ago. Who even cares? Who pines for that life any more? If you asked me five years ago, I’d say All in the Family is no longer relevant.

Friday night TV (I think). My parents were out, my brothers and I sprawled on the family room floor and watched a two hour line-up of shows. Would my kids watch All in the Family? I doubt it. Four adults talking. That’s all it was. Archie railing against Blacks, Jews, Puerto Ricans and anyone else who doesn’t match his Euro/American ideal. Michael, his son in law, educated and unemployed, living (freeloading) in Archie’s house. Michael was ‘woke.’ The polar opposite of Archie. He called out Archie’s racist comments, arguments and hilarity ensued.

Archie was an angry man. His white, male birthright seemingly slipping away. He was pissed about it. He came of age in the forties, he fought World War Two. After that, life was supposed to be gravy. A steady job, a comfortable house, a loving wife and daughter. He says this right in the middle of the song:

Guys like me, we had it made. Those were the days.

But civil rights happened. Long haired hippies protested the government. Women wore pants. Archie’s guaranteed world began to fall apart. He became an inappropriate has-been. Like I said, he was pissed.

That show premiered in 1971. It’s been fifty years. Can you believe people are still pissed about this? A few years ago, I read in an article that Donald Trump insists the women in his administration wear a skirt or a dress. He “wants women to look like women.” Like Archie, he hates everyone of the wrong race or religion. Here’s the scary part. People agree with him.

In my last job, I was the finance director for the local YWCA. Everyone calls it the “Y” even though that’s branding for the YMCA. It’s practically identical to a Y–swimming pool, fitness center, child care. But the big difference is the organization’s mission. Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women. Archie Bunker would respond to that news with his trademark “Aww, Jeez!” And then he’d blow a raspberry through his lips. In my conservative town, top-heavy with retirees, we heard a lot of this. For at least eight years, a battle has raged over whether or not to air Fox News on the fitness center TVs.*

One morning as the facility opened up, the Aquatics department was setting up for a swim meet. A table stood by the entrance with a big sign that read “Race Info.” A woman stormed over to the reception desk screaming about the Y’s mission. “Four cops got shot last night in Texas! Don’t talk to me about race.”

Once, working a fundraising table, a guy came up to me, a young guy, maybe thirty-five, and told me it was time to stop advocating for minorities. “White people are the minority now,” he said. “We need to start working for our own rights.”

Every day, Trump pokes a needle into this vein. Law and Order. Immigration bans. Heritage. Liberty and Rights. And every day, I’m shocked at how this message still plays. Granted, based on recent polls it seems to be losing steam, but still, something like forty percent of the country has Archie’s theme song playing through their heads.

They’re desperately grabbing at a past that should no longer exist. A past of oppression. Oppression of anyone who isn’t white and Christian and straight. Closing in on the end of a bike ride around the Gettysburg Battlefield this evening, I heard Susan mutter “Oh, brother.” Coming at us was a pickup truck flying a Confederate flag. As they approached, Susan shook her head, and I gave the driver a long thumbs down. Just behind the truck was a Black man riding his bike towards us. He gave us a nod.

The world is changing, Donald. It has already changed, and it’s changing even more. Archie Bunker saw this a half century ago. Wake up and move on. You’re not wanted here anymore.

*In management meetings we debated this issue constantly. My vote: Get rid of the TVs all together. People are here to work out. They can watch TV at home.

15 thoughts on “Guys Like Me

  1. My first thought was, “Gosh, that show was aired that long ago?!” I know I watched it and never really thought much of it. Meaning it was just one of the shows in my lineup – I never set out to watch it but I did because it must have been between Newhart or Mash, which my dad always watched. But wow, yeah – I never realized how much bigotry I listened to as a kid with that show.
    Trump was an actual conversation that I listened to again today. “People older like me really like the guy. He says it exactly how he feels like saying it, no sugar coating. Does it offend? Sure. But he tells us exactly what he thinks. I like it.” Yuck.
    I am so glad they took down so many Confederate flags. They always represented hate to me. The one conversation Bob and I had where we thought they could still stand was next to the generals of the civil war to show the army they fought for. A part of history and that is it. Otherwise, to me, they show that you support hate and that is not something I can relate to or stand for.

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    • Since we’re so inundated with confederate statues and monuments, we’ve been talking about it a bit. Many are pretty pedestrian and I could care less if they remain, some are truly works of art. I keep reading that the statues belong in a museum, not in public, and I guess the battlefield is a museum. There could be much more signage giving context to the battle, slavery, treason, etc. I’m hoping for push back against the crackers with their confederate flags.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I defintely think the battlefield is a museum. There are so many tours – you can buy the tape, or I don’t know what now – I guess there is an app. You could go on one of the bus torus, or honestly, I have been well aware of the date the past three days and what was happening from Bob. You could even take the Bob Coupe tour. I do think it is interesting that you can look at each of the statues and know if the general left the battle clean, was injured, or was killed just by how the horse is standing. I think the battlefield is definitely a museum in itself and shouldn’t be messed with. I think those that want to see the battlefield, and those that celebrate the confederate flag are just two different groups.

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  2. I remember Meathead. I was a kid. I didn’t understand why most of the stuff was funny. I was fortunate enough to grow up and see gay couples, mixed race couples, lots of different cultures in my everyday life. TV was just TV.

    But yeah, it’s hard to believe people are pining over a world that was gone with their grandparents or great-grandparents.

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    • Something I’ve been thinking about since I wrote this is that there is a variable expiration date on that vibe from yesterday. In my suburban/urban environment, I’ve lived my whole life thinking social justice was a given. The rural area where I live now, it’s a very new concept. Think how Will and Grace brought gay lifestyles to mainstream America. That was 1998.

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      • It’s difficult for me to imagine how life is lived in the rural “red” areas. Will & Grace in 1998 shouldn’t have been a shock after the 80s. Bands like Culture Club and then the AIDS epidemic.
        I think the computers that everyone loves (even rural America has their cellphones) is part of the reason things changed. Robots are cheaper than workers. Blue Collar jobs disappeared and everyone lamented the “Glory Days” like Archie Bunker.
        Plus, we were taught that we were the greatest country so there was a sense of entitlement. My mother, a Boomer, feels like she should have a house and a nice retirement just because she worked and she was born here. She doesn’t take into account her life choices. She sees immigrant families working and getting what she doesn’t have and she feels cheated. Rather than look at her choices, she blames the immigrants.
        I’m glad that things are getting shaken up! We’ve needed this for a while. I hope it continues. It would be better for kids growing up now to know they are responsible for their own futures. They aren’t entitled to anything. We are ALL humans with the same desires to live and love. Maybe we can learn to help each other.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. All in the Family was groundbreaking satire at its finest. The joke was always on Archie, his racism, stupidity and general ignorance. Even though the setting rarely left Archie’s and Edith’s living room, it boldly tackled the most controversial issues of the day … abortion, protests, civil rights. It is certainly relevant today.

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  4. Great piece, Jeff.

    Loved All In the Family when it aired. I was in high school and I watched because Archie was the butt of the joke even if he (the character) never realized it. That joke was made all the better knowing that in real life Carroll O’Connor was a progressive.

    Change is really hard for a significant minority of the population. But change continues to happen, in fits and starts, making progress none-the-less. That’s what we’re seeing now; significant changes are in the wind and there’s lots of push back from those who fear it but change is inexorable, always winning in the end.

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