Norman Lear Fred Ferretti - Essay

Fred Ferretti

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Tonight the Columbia Broadcasting System Television Network will find out if Americans think bigotry and racism, as the prime elements of a situation comedy, are funny.

It is funny, for example, to have the pot-bellied, churchgoing, cigar-smoking son of Middle America, Archie Bunker, the hero of "All in the Family," fill the screen with such epithets as "spic" and "spade" and "hebe" and "yid" and "polack"? Is it funny for him to refer to his son-in-law as "the laziest white man I ever seen?" Or to look at a televised football game and yell, "Look at that spook run … It's in his blood"?

The answer, I say, is no. None of these is funny. They shock because one is not used to hearing them shouted from the television tube during prime-time family programs. They don't make one laugh so much as they force self-conscious, semi-amused gasps.

They are not funny because they are there for their shock value, despite C.B.S.'s protestations that what are being presented are "familiar stereotypes" with "a humorous spotlight on their prejudices … making them a source of laughter," so "we can show how absurd they are." What is lacking is taste.

Fred Ferretti, "TV: Are Racism and Bigotry Funny?" in The New York Times (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 12, 1971, p. 70.