I was reading one too many references to "Archie Bunkers" when it occurred to me that Archie is getting a bad rap.
Yeah, Archie was a bigot in 1971 when "All in the Family" went on the air, but he changed over the years.
During the series' run, it would be revealed that, while he did disagree with his son-in-law's political views, much of his resentment stemmed from the fact that Mike was attending college and would be able to chart his own successful future, while Archie was forced to drop out of high school during the Depression to help support his family. One episode showed very clearly that both Archie and Mike were not above twisting the truth to make minorities into stereotypes. Interestingly it is Edith who exposes both Archie and Mike prejudices-yet neither Archie or Mike will admit the truth.
While locked in the store room of Archie's Place with Mike in the episode "Two's a Crowd", Archie confides (after getting drunk), that he was a poor kid who was teased in school for coming to class wearing one shoe and one boot, since his family could not afford to buy him new footwear. ("They called me Shoe-Bootie.") In the same episode, it becomes clear that Archie was also an abused child — yet he then goes on to vehemently defend his father who he says loved him and taught him "right from wrong."
In spite of his numerous flaws, Archie was simultaneously portrayed as being basically decent and, rather than motivated by genuine malice, a product of the time in which he was raised. In the episode "Archie and the KKK," for example, Archie is invited to join a secret "Christian" club which turns out to be a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. In spite of his inherent discomfort around people of color, Archie responds with genuine revulsion at the group's violent methods, and attempts to thwart a cross burning. It should also be noted that as the years went on, Archie grew more accepting of people different from himself, albeit partially out of necessity. For example, in 1978, the character became the guardian of Edith's nine-year old niece, Stephanie (Danielle Brisebois), and when it was revealed that Stephanie was Jewish (episode 197), Bunker accepted her faith.
Archie's racism had strongly subsided by the time Archie Bunker's Place began in 1979. During that program's second season, he hired a black nanny, Ellen Canby, for Stephanie and became fond of her. In one episode, Archie punched a man for making a remark about her and was thrown out for good from the lodge he had attended since the early days of All in the Family.
When "All in the Family" first aired, I was 11 years old. When it ended I was married with two children. I grew and changed a lot in those years, and so did Archie.
The show ended 25 years ago. In those years my children grew up and I became a grandfather. I went from a conservative Republican to a liberal Democrat. The country changed a lot too.
Using "Archie Bunker" as an epithet assumes that there is still a significant portion of our country that is stuck in 1971. It also assumes that people are one-dimensional and incapable of change.
I don't believe that.