‘All in the Family’ Came With a Trigger Warning

Those were the days…
‘All in the Family’ Came With a Trigger Warning

Jerry Seinfeld’s cunning plan to promote his Pop-Tart movie by continuously spouting soundbites that make him sound like a 1,000-year-old crank impotently raging at his waning cultural relevance is working like gangbusters! After suggesting that the “extreme left” is somehow killing the TV comedy industry, Seinfeld’s name was all over social media. It was because people were dunking on his laughably ass-backwards point-of-view, but hey, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?

Seinfeld lamented that before the days of “PC crap,” we could all still enjoy sitcoms like Cheers and All in the Family. The latter is a show that seems to keep coming up in culture war prognosticating these days, with commentators such as Bill Maher proposing that late producer Norman Lear wouldn’t be able to make a show like it today. “TV is not what it was in the ’70s,” Maher once claimed. 

Yeah, snowflakes today would probably want to slap some kind of trigger warning at the beginning of each episode, kind of like… the warnings they put on All in the Family in 1971? 

Contrary to Maher and Seinfeld’s apparent belief that the ‘70s were a golden age of unrestricted content, All in the Family was highly controversial at the time. CBS was extremely “nervous” about airing the show, due to Archie Bunker’s continuous use of racial epithets, and insisted on airing a disclaimer cautioning viewers about the show’s subject matter, and straight up explaining its comedic agenda: 

WARNING: The program you are about to see is All in the Family.
It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices and concerns.
By making them a source of laughter we hope to show — in a mature fashion — just how absurd they are.

All in the Family was massively popular, but there was also a ton of pushback. Whitney Young, the head of the National Urban League, stated that it was “irresponsible to air a show like this at a time when our nation is polarized and torn by racism. … While the show tries to satirize bigotry, it only succeeds in spreading the poison.”

In The New York Times, writer Laura Z. Hobson called All in the Family “bigotry‐for‐laughs,” and suggested that it was making racism “more acceptable” by portraying Archie Bunker as a “lovable bigot.” Her article even prompted Lear to pen a rebuttal, also published in The New York Times, in which he argued back that Archie was a “bigot motivated not by hate, but by fear — fear of change, fear of anything he doesn't understand.” 

All of which is to say that there was a multitude of opinions surrounding this show, and the 1970s equivalent of the “PC” viewpoint that Seinfeld bemoaned as some newfangled phenomenon was still very much a thing.

As we’ve argued before, comedians mostly have more freedom of speech now than ever before. Lear wasn’t even allowed to use the word “goddammit” in the pilot for crying out loud. And during the making of All in the Family, he was in an “unrelenting push and pull with the CBS censors over the show’s language and content.” At one point, CBS tried to force Lear to further censor All in the Family in order to stay in its eight o’clock time slot. When he refused, they moved the show to a later time and he sued the network

So it’s odd to say that you couldn’t make All in the Family today when you could barely make All in the Family back then. 

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this).


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