Those Were The Days

Archie Bunker Lives On In Gen Y

Posted Jun 02, 2013

Perhaps all love is nostalgic. For the way things were. Or at least the way we imagine they were. When we are apart from our loved ones, we long for them. When we talk about how much we love someone it is often because we remember a happy time in the past.

When Jean Stapleton passed away this Friday, of natural causes at age 90, many Americans felt nostalgia for the 1970s, a time Stapleton came to represent as Edith Bunker on the hit comedy “All in the Family.” As the naïve wife of Archie, Edith let his hatred and bigotry roll off her rounded shoulders like water off a duck’s back. Stapleton described her own character as

…the housewife who is still in bondage to the male figure, very submissive and restricted to the home. She is very naive, and she kind of thinks through a mist, and she lacks the education to expand her world. I would hope that most housewives are not like that.

"All in the Family" was a show of its time, critical of the past, anxious for a better future. The show was built on the rather progressive premise that nostalgia is not in fact a good thing because it would prevent us from a much less racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. future. The show’s opening theme song, “Those Were the Days,” was a send up of the nostalgia for white, male supremacy that Archie represented.

…Guys like us we had it made...

Didn't need no Welfare states

Everybody pulled his weight…

And you knew who you were then

Girls were girls and men were men

...Hair was short and skirts were long

But what no one watching the show in the 1970s could have foreseen was that Archie's side would not go the way of the dinosaurs. Instead, they would breathe new life into new generations. This “new nostalgia” is evident in many contemporary political movements, but it also a very clear part of contemporary love in the US.

Take the recent essay by Paul Hudson in Elite Daily, a magazine that bills itself as “the voice of Generation Y.” According to Hudson, men are no longer men like they were in the “good ol’ days.”

There was once a time when men used to be real men. When they dressed with style, when they had a certain honor code they followed that involved treating not only their elders and each other with respect, but women alike. Unfortunately, those days are far- gone — a thing of the past.

...Instead of going out into the real world and meeting women, they stalk women on Instagram. People now date online as well. It’s much easier to talk to a woman online than it is in person—or rather, it’s not that it’s easier. Both are just as easy, but for some reason, men now prefer to hide their faces behind their monitors. (Every time I use the term ‘men’ in such context I quiver) It’s out of fear and laziness. Men have become lazy pussies. I don’t even want to use the word pussy because it brings to mind women, who nowadays have much more character than men…

It’s awful because women are becoming accustomed to such boys and believing that these pansies are all that is left of our sex. Some great women are settling for these fools and then finding that they themselves have no choice but to wear the pants in the family because their “man” is PMSing. All I can hope for is that the law of evolution will see the world rid of these weaklings, these characterless, hopeless pseudo-men.

Like Archie Bunker, Hudson reads like social satire. Men used to be better in the past (when was that? When they denied women the right to vote? Did not consider it rape if they were married to women? Did not let women become educated, earn equal pay, or even sit on a jury?), but now men are “pussies” and “pansies.” In other words, straight men are like women and like gay men and therefore no longer “real.” This send up of nostalgic masculinity would be amusing, especially given the photos of James Bond and fast cars that accompany it, but apparently it isn’t.

Indeed, several friends of the Generation Y persuasion sent it to me insisting it was most certainly not satire. Which makes me nostalgic for the likes of Archie Bunker, because at least his nostalgia was for a dying patriarchy, not a resurrected one.

About the Author

Laurie Essig, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology and women and gender studies at Middlebury College.

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