Why I’m hearing Archie Bunker in my head | AspenTimes.com

Why I’m hearing Archie Bunker in my head

John Colson

Sometimes it’s like the ghost of Archie Bunker has moved into my head, taken control of my sociopolitical reflexes, and is peering through my eyes in disbelief as the absurdities of life whiz by.

Archie Bunker, for those who don’t know, was a character in a 1970s-era sitcom called “All In The Family” that won uncounted accolades for its deadpan look at contemporary life over more than a decade on television; actor Carroll O’Connor’s portrayal of Archie earned the title of TV Guide’s “greatest character of all time.”

Most often described as “a lovable bigot,” he was a hard-pressed member of the working class, basically kind and well-meaning but never quite able to grasp many of the nuances and details of life around him. Archie was forever responding to perceived slights, or flights of liberal rhetoric, from his left-wing son-in-law, with malapropisms that left you rolling off the couch with laughter, as he disarmingly hammered home the very points he was trying to argue against.

His characteristic response to the equally well-meaning but often idiotic acts of Edith, his addled but loving wife best known by her nickname, “Dingbat,” was to mutter with indignant exasperation, “Aw, jeez, Edith.”

And that’s what I hear all too often in my head as I am confronted by the news of the day.

For example, I heard recently that the anti-abortion crusaders have renewed their hijacking of the character of Horton, as in “Horton Hears a Who,” a new movie based on a book by Dr. Seuss. These zealots, seizing on Horton’s declaration that “a person is a person, no matter how small,” have taken to demonstrating outside movie theaters in support of Horton’s supposed alliance with their cause.

“Aw, jeez, you morons,” the words escaped my lips as I listened in stunned silence.

The “pro-life” (I detest that misleading title) movement first drafted Horton into their insane ranks about six or seven years ago, prompting sharp criticism and resistance, and at least one lawsuit, by Seuss’ outraged widow.

The ironies here are quiet intriguing, if you don’t mind suspending your sense of injustice for a moment.

First, a short synopsis of the plot ” Horton is an elephant who talks to microscopic beings, the Whos of Who-ville, who live on a dust speck. Horton agrees to protect them from harm. He is beset on all sides by his fellow jungle denizens for talking to something none of them can see, and the dust-mote appears destined to become part of a “beezlenut stew” if the Whos don’t make themselves heard, which they ultimately do.

So, back to the ironies. Consider that the book was written in 1954, the second of Seuss’ Horton books, at around the climax of the McCarthy hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives, one of the worst examples of intolerance, fear-mongering and shameless lust for power ever to darken the American political landscape. Some believe that one of the least likable characters in the book is based directly on Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, who tried to use fear of communism to gain power and prestige and ultimately failed in disgrace.

It should be noted that in 1954 abortion was not exactly the political football it is now. It was, in fact, an issue that almost never was discussed publicly and rarely acknowledged in polite company. It was a secret response to troubled family dynamics.

Now, subtlety has never been the hallmark of the anti-abortion movement. Their tactics are more direct and noisy, ranging from screeching attacks on distressed women outside clinics, spittle flying from wide-open, screaming mouths, to the bombings of the clinics, the shooting of doctors who work in the clinics, and the denunciation in terms of religious outrage of anyone who dares to oppose their tactics or beliefs.

In fact, I’d say their tactics correspond closely in style and temperature to those of old Joe McCarthy himself, who, like them, used intimidation, misinformation and fanaticism as the stock tools of his trade. They both have ruined lives and helped erect a culture of fear and intolerance that has wounded this nation irrevocably.

So much for Horton’s gentle message urging tolerance and understanding for the little people of the world.

And so I say, again, “Aw, jeez, you morons.”



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