You may or may not recognize that phrase; it depends on how old you are. It comes from a TV show I used to watch – Zoom. Man oh man. When I was 7, it was the coolest show in town. All the kids were smart and friendly. They were creative and were up to trying anything. Boys and girls played together, kids from all different backgrounds and colors, and sometimes one of them just hung out alone, talking about things she liked to do, or practicing some talent he had. It was way cooler than Sesame Street, which was for babies, or Electric Company, which was…well, Electric Company was cool, too. I was totally over Mister Rodgers by then, though. That shit was wack.
Around the same time as Zoom, there was a TV special called “Free to Be You and Me”. It was pretty fantastic, too. It was about gender and stereotyping, and it had this amazing cast- Marlo Thomas, Alan Alda, Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Rosey Grier, Mel Brooks, Tom Smothers- and it was funny! I didn’t even realize that it was teaching me things. I had never seen anything like it before.
I loved Bat Man, where the forces of good always triumphed, and The Monkees and Josie and the Pussycats, where friends stuck together through zany shenanigans and hijinx, and every show ended in music. I watched the CBS News every evening with my parents at dinner, and even though I didn’t understand – or care- about most of it, my mom and dad talked to me about what we saw and answered all of my questions the best they could. When I was older, my family and I watched Roots and the mini-series Holocaust. We all cried together, and I had long talks with my mother about injustice. Most of the time, we laughed. Once a week we all got together, on the couch or on the floor, and watched All In the Family, where the joke was always that Archie was so backwards in his thinking, and the real hero was Edith, because she was always evolving.
I have a friend who made fun of me because of what one might term “my aggressive dedication to uninterrupted television viewership”. I think my last four of five posts have at least referenced my reactions to, or analysis of, whatever it is that I’m currently watching. It’s kind of pathetic; it takes up a lot of time, and they don’t call it the boob tube for nothing.
But here’s the thing. Those shows I watched as a kid shaped me. We were supposed to be the generation that was colorblind, tolerant, inclusive, curious and creative.We thought more ideas were better than just a few. We were taught to use our words and take turns in conversation. We assumed everyone wanted to live in peace, on a block where we celebrated our differences, and we could find it in our hearts to forgive the Archie’s, all the Archie’s, no matter how ridiculous and off base they were.
I believed all that stuff. I was a kid. Even though I watched the news, I didn’t really notice all the wars and the blood, the riots in the street, the anger and fear that was taking place then. The world was too big for me to take in, but the microcosm I chose to watch was just my size. Even though my shows guaranteed a conflict, and were sometimes downright depressing, they usually resolved neatly, and even if they didn’t, there was the hope of resolution.
We are living in troubled times, and it’s hard not to become despondent, or to just tune out. I have friends who are sad, angry, bewildered and frustrated. Some are dreading the holidays, because they don’t want to be forced to deal with people – even those that they love- whose viewpoints and attitudes they find repugnant or idiotic. It seems like many want to make America great again by returning us to a time when the Archie Bunkers of the world roamed unfettered and powerful, tiny-brained dinosaurs that made policies that ensure that change will be stifled by a “My house, my rules, like it or leave it” mentality. We are right to be sad, angry, bewildered , and frustrated. So, what can we do?
We should try to be Ediths. She sure as hell didn’t know all the answers, but she was always willing to listen to suggestions. She tried her best to understand all sides, and was willing to sacrifice her personal preferences if it kept peace in the house. Edith was uber-empathetic. She had a thick skin and appreciated every bit of love and generosity thrown her way, and Edith opened her door wide an welcomed everybody in – The Jeffersons, Maude, Archie’s work buddies, Irene, the Meathead- she was happy to see everyone around her table, and she would give up her own chair to make someone else comfortable. She wasn’t a pushover – when Edith stood her ground, there was no getting around her, but she looked for ways to make things better, not worse.
This morning I heard an interview with 94 year old Norman Lear, who created All In The Family. He ended the interview by saying, “Art brings us together. Music brings us together. Laughter brings us together.” We can’t stay apart forever. It’s too lonely and painful. We should do what Lear’s Edith did -find beauty and wonder. Sing. And if you can’t laugh yet, at least try to smile.