Norman Lear Laura Z. Hobson - Essay

Laura Z. Hobson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I have a most peculiar complaint about the bigotry in the hit TV comedy, "All in the Family." There's not enough of it.

Here, spade, spic, coon, Polack—these are the words that its central character, Archie Bunker is forever using, plus endless variations, like jungle bunnies, black beauties, the chosen people, yenta, gook, chink, spook and so on. Quite a splashing display of bigotry, but I repeat, nowhere near enough of it.

Let me back up a little. Years ago, after "Gentleman's Agreement," I decided I'd never again write about bigotry or prejudice, at least not about the racial or religious kinds. I've stuck to it. No lectures, no articles, no books about discrimination against Jews, against blacks, against whites, against Puerto Ricans. Perhaps I did not want to keep harping on one theme, perhaps I had nothing to say.

But after 24 years something happened. A television show that treated bigotry for laughs appeared on the screens of the nation…. (p. 1)

[I felt the show to be irresponsible] but beyond that I began to be haunted by the notion that there was something else I had to get hold of, for myself if for nothing else. Something the critics weren't saying, something nobody seemed to be saying, not even the people I sought out as experts in the field of race relations. As I kept on ploughing through all the reviews, the feeling intensified. I was pulled up often by the phrases "honest show" and "honest laughter" and "a lovable bigot."…

A lovable bigot. Your friendly neighborhood bigot. This is an honest show. This is the way it really is. (p. 12)

[The night I really tangled with "All in the Family" was during the Emmy Awards.]

Johnny Carson wisecracked, "Norman Lear—a nice guy for a Hebe." The audience roared with laughter.

I suppose Norman Lear laughed too. Would he have laughed, I suddenly wondered, if Johnny Carson had said, "Norman Lear, a nice guy for a kike"?

Unthinkable, Johnny Carson would never never—

I know he wouldn't. Besides, it was never never used in the show. Hebe, yes; chosen people, yes; yenta, yes, yid, yes. But kike? Never.

I began to listen for it as I began my little study of the reruns. Never. And sheeny? Never.

Had Norman Lear never realized that what bigots really...

(The entire section is 993 words.)