Archie Bunker, R.I.P.

The passing of Carol O’Connor in late June gives us pause for reflection on the meaning of his most legendary character. Archie Bunker was clearly the everyman of his day, and an unwittingly humorous one at that. He was a Nixon man, a proud member of the “silent majority” of bigots, war-mongers, and fools. Yet we loved him, or at least loved to laugh at him, and we could almost smell his cigar; he embodied the worst of the American soul, but there was at least one of him, and we could almost smell his cigar; he embodied the worst of the American soul, but there was at least one of him in all our families. Archie helped us mock out own prejudices to the point where we could no longer take them seriously, a truly radical act.

That today’s everyman is Tony Soprano also may reveal something about out current collective character. Tony, it seems, flaunts all the things that most of us lack, but apparently desire: cash, power, freedom from conventional morality. In the suburbs, where affluence is the norm, Tony’s dark and edgy mob cachet lets him rise above the mass. His politics are irrelevant, and only his personal struggle for power really matters. This is the everyman of our dreams, of early 21st century wish fulfillment. It is not a hopeful sign.

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