This essay was first published in Newsday. We open to a couple seated at a piano, their shoulders amiably pressed together as they move to the music. The man plucks a cigar from his lips and begins in a baritone, "Boy the way Glenn Miller played ... "
Then the wife: "Songs that made the hit parade!" - delivered in a nasal screech that is as unselfconscious as it is grating. Lovable Edith Bunker, as played by Jean Stapleton, who died Friday at age 90, was the good-hearted "Dingbat" who made Archie Bunker bearable - even comical - despite his stony bigotry.
Stapleton's death reminds us of the glory of "All in the Family," the daring sitcom set in a modest Queens living room that spoke truth about racial prejudice, gender inequality, ethnic bias and religious animosity like nothing else on television before its January 1971 premiere. Archie Bunker was the aggrieved working-class white man who saw his world as changing too fast - "Guys like us, we had it made. Those were the days!"
What would a guy like Archie be doing if he were alive today? (Actor Carroll O'Connor, who played him, died in 2001.) Which issues would he groan about from his favorite armchair, beer in hand?
The most obvious is a black president of the United States. Bunker had little regard for "spades," and was hostile toward interracial couples. I picture him today as a "birther" - calling for copies of the birth certificate, passports and school transcripts from President Barack Obama -- or, Barry Soetoro, as some modern Archie Bunkers call the president, using the surname of Obama's Indonesian stepfather, presumably to make the president seem deceitful and foreign.
Archie would object to women holding roughly as many jobs as men today. "Ms., Ms., Ms. I hate that 'Ms.' It sounds like a bug," Archie tells Edith when she comes home to serve him his dinner - late - after her women's club meeting. "What is the matter with the way you're running your life here, anyway? Huh? It's the world's oldest profession, running a house."
Modern Archie would blame the problems of the economy and schools on single mothers. They're responsible for the huge increase in food stamps, they don't teach their children discipline or manners, and they're too busy to help with homework, he'd probably say. The burden falls to the classroom teacher - and, ultimately, for school costs, to taxpayers. "The Democrats' way of running this country is to go tell us all how we ought to make sacrifices," Archie says in one episode. "I'm sick and tired of people ... giving away my hard-earned money to a bunch of families who ain't even related to me."
Similarly, he'd have a few words for immigrants who fail to assimilate into American culture. One episode has Archie facing a judge with his arm in a sling. The judge explains that Archie's assailant has been released because the arresting officer read him his rights in English, which he doesn't speak or understand. "No bum who can't speak perfect English ought to stay in this country," Archie says. He "ought to be de-exported the hell outta here."
And Archie would have sided with National Rifle Association leaders who proposed armed guards in schools after the Newtown, Conn., shootings in December. Archie suggests in one episode that the way to end plane hijackings is to "arm all the passengers."
The more I think about it, the more it seems that Archie Bunker thrives among us today. Maybe it's time for another TV parody to shed light on some of the ignorance, resentment and hatred.
Stapleton had this to say about the nine-season "All in the Family," in an interview in 2000: "It was very honest, very funny, at uncovering a lot of bigotry and prejudice and nonsense."
Those were the days.