Norman Lear Frank Levy - Essay

Frank Levy

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

To assert, as the program's apologists do, that "All in the Family" is satire like "Till Death Do Us Part" is plainly to misunderstand what satire is. The kind of laughter which Bergson once described as "froth with a saline base" can hardly rivet 60 million people to the television set Saturday nights.

This is not to criticize the escape that situation comedy provides. Laughter for its own sake is an important part of television. Great comedians like Abbot and Costello, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, all steadfastly avoided politics or social reality of any kind. Where "All in the Family" differs from the tradition of television comedy or situation comedy is that it purports to deal with reality satirically. And what is reprehensible is that by taking real issues and extirpating all evidence of cruelty or consequence "All in the Family" essentially indoctrinates its 60 million viewers to believe they don't exist. Archie, unlike his precursor on the BBC, Alf Garnett, is no grotesque exaggeration, but a rather effective apologist for bigotry and reaction. Rather than allowing the American public to hold a mirror up to itself, "All in the Family" does just the opposite. Its pleasure comes primarily from producing forgetfulness, encouraging the hope that racism, welfare or discimination don't really exist and that the major problems of contemporary American society are the fantastical conjurings of "malcontents," "hopheads," "libs," "pinkos" and "eggheads." (p. 26)

Frank Levy, "In Defense of Prejudice …," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic: © 1972 by The New Republic, Inc.), August 5 & 12, 1972, pp. 25-6.