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For viewers that share the same social beliefs as Archie, authors Baran and Davis define this as part of the Reception Studies: “audience-centered theory that focuses on how various types of audience members make sense of specific forms of content” (218). Out of this theory comes two opposing views, preferred reading and oppositional reading.
Baran and Davis describe Preferred Reading as “the producer- intended meaning of a piece of content; assumed to reinforce the status quo” (218). Lear thought by using satire to tackle difficult subject matters the audience would have an opportunity to see that Archie’s thought process had no basis for truth. Bunker’s ideas were shaped more by what he did not know to be true rather than what he could prove. It can be assumed, the message behind Lear’s All in the Family was simply that bigotry is not only unjust but makes no sense. This message reached and resonated with millions; it causes one to pause and question whether today’s newscast about an angry demonstration has the same impact?
Then you have Oppositional Reading, Baran and Davis state this to be “when an audience member develops interpretations of content that are in direct opposition to a dominant reading” (219). In the show you can see oppositional reading in the viewer praising Bunker for standing up for his beliefs and “telling it like it is.” One might think poking fun at bigotry on a big stage such as television would open the door for more bigotry, but that was not the case. Each time Bunker’s ignorance was exposed, we learned that not knowing has always bred more bias than has knowledge. Baran and Davis break this theory down further with the Selective Perception and Exposure Theory. This theory suggests “that people will alter the meaning of messages, so they become consistent with preexisting attitudes and beliefs” (107).
This theory suggests if people do not relate to and identify with a character, they would be less likely to watch the show because they would ‘selectively’ avoid it. For example, it’s more likely that a prejudiced person would be more likely to admire Archie’s character, see his viewpoints to be more valid than Mike’s, therefore seeing him as a well-rounded individual. (Vidmar and Rokeach). Lear hoped All in the Family would help change taboo conversations from being angry and defensive into making bigots the laughingstocks of their communities. This was an image a few sitcom critics believed many white males took offense to after being seen as clowns in the nation’s eyes. Lear thought laughter was one universal concept that would help unite society with a storyline that pointed out a few of humanity’s flaws. While some viewers applaud Archie for his racist viewpoints, others praise the show for making fun of bigotry. Researchers found that All in the Family had three groups to thank for its success.
1) the bigoted fan club laughing with Archie and his misguided views of the world,
2) the revolutionaries laughing at him and,
3) the viewers ready to change the world and learn from racial satire.
While Archie was All in the Family’s most popular character, survey results show that not only was he popular in a negative way, but most viewers got a thrill out of Archie being wrong. For the true bigots, the show may have reinforced racists attitudes, but researchers found no evidence that the sitcom enlarged bigotry. Prior to All in the Family there was a disconnect between how people talked in private with family and friends about social issues and what played out on TV, in the movies, and on the radio.
This sitcom put a mark on representing ordinary, working people who had, up until this point, been invisible on screen. The boundaries that once separated socially aware popular art from mainstream entertainment became accessible to the world. The floodgates opened, and Hollywood started to let the world see controversial topics up close and personal. Television viewers could relate to the shows realistic take on the average American family with no shortage of dysfunction. Lear recognized the importance of showcasing the backward nature of simple minded individuals and seized the chance to do so. It can be debated that Lear’s strategic game plan to use a satirical and exaggerated character like Archie to make racism and sexism look foolish worked to some degree.
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