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One of the Most Controversial
Episodes of All In The Family
"What I say ain't got nothing to do with what I think." — Archie Bunker
The CBS sitcom All in the Family (1971–1979), starring Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker and Jean Stapleton as Edith, finished at number one in the Nielsen ratings for five consecutive years (1971–1976).
All In The Family may be the most controversial sitcom in TV history stemming from Archie Bunker's habit of freely using racial slurs, his extremely misogynistic views, insulting religions that were not his own, and his fealty to President Richard Nixon ("When it comes to defense, democracy's gonna have to wait.").
When ABC broadcast a live episode of All In The Family in 2019, using an exact script from the show's original run with Woody Harrelson portraying Archie, one of the racial slurs aimed at a black character had to be bleeped.
Here's a sample of some of Archie Bunker's offensive humor: Archie (addressing Mike): Poland. The land that gave us rare and delicate dishes such as? Gloria: Polish sausage is very good. Archie: You ought to know, you married one.
In an exchange with his neighbor Henry Jefferson, who was black: Archie: Every picture I've seen of God, he's white. Henry: Well, maybe you were looking at the negative!
And another example: Archie: You're colored. Mike: Gee Arch, we didn't think you'd notice. Archie: You didn't sound colored on the phone. Mr. Byrd: I used the white telephone.
In 1971, the public was awaiting the Supreme Court to rule on whether the death penalty was constitutional or not, everyone seemed to have an opinion.
The controversy in this particular early episode in March of 1971 (Edith Has Jury Duty) arose when Archie posits a question about the death penalty to his son-in-law Mike (who refers to as "Meathead, Dead from the Neck Up"), a notorious liberal. The scene takes place over the family having dinner:
Archie: It's a proven fact that capital punishment is a well-known detergent to crime. Mike: That's bull. Capital punishment has never been proven to be a deterrent to crime. Archie: We believe it is in this house, buddy. Mike: Do you believe in capital punishment, Ma? Edith: Well, yeah I guess so. Gloria: Mother...? Edith: Well, so long as it ain't too severe. Archie: Let me just ask you something professor, you don't believe in capital punishment, suppose you should come home some fine day and find your wife's throat cut? Now, are you going to tell me you won't be itching to fry the guy that cut that throat? Mike: No. What good would that do? Archie: You see this guy, you see what you married?!? Some fiend could come in here and murder you and he ain't gonna lift a finger to help! Mike: Archie... if I kill the murderer would that bring Gloria back? No. An eye for an eye is not the answer, the problem rests with society. Archie: He's always blaming everything on society! Listen, if you're gonna blame society for murder what we outta do is turn the killer loose, give hime a pension for life, and shoot the rest of the city.
This exchange actually ignited a national dialogue about capital punishment with most Americans in that year finding Mike's position patently ridiculous. 'An eye for an eye' was still very much what most Americans thought of as properly administered justice. Perhaps it's still true, who knows? But, in the 1972 case of Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court declared capital punishment unconstitutional as it was then applied.