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Blazing Saddles And All In The Family

  Every once in a while on social media you'll get a crop of posts saying things like "You couldn't make Blazing Saddles today. The woke crowd would melt down." You'll also get the same thing about the sitcom All In The Family. I have puzzled over this, as I consider myself to be at least a little "woke". Why would right wingers thing that I would not like the movie about how racism is bad and showing the institutional racism in our country's history? Why would I not like the sitcom about how ridiculous the racist old conservative is? So I pondered, and I think I figured out the answer.

They think that people like me won't appreciate these things because they themselves don't get them. They see Blazing Saddles and miss the fact that every person who uses the N word is an imbecile and evil to boot. They think the person saying the word IS the joke. They see Archie Bunker saying something ridiculous and instead of laughing at the outrageousness of his stance (which is obviously the joke the show is going for) they laugh at the reactions of the other characters who can't handle Archie "speaking the truth". If you look at the comments of these people, you can tell that this is often the case. They will hail Archie as being a font of folksie wisdom. They will proclaim Blazing Saddles, not as the social justice commentary that it really is, but as a victory for free speech.

 To these people the awful behavior that is being lampooned in these entertainments is the actual point. They somehow miss the criticism, or just mute it in their own mind. With Blazing Saddles it is maybe easier to understand. Mel Brooks doesn't normally engage in a lot of on the surface moralizing or political science. But All In The Family was overtly political, and overtly leftist in its point of view. It had the more intelligent characters like Lionel Jefferson openly mocking Archie's crude views. Archie was constantly being proven wrong. But none of that registers with them. All they see is someone saying the things they want to say, and so he goes from comic foil to hero in their eyes. (To show how "woke" the show was, there were episodes that featured a drag queen.)

Now, it may be true that these things wouldn't get made today. But that is partly because many people did take the point of this movie and this show to heart. Despite the people who think that saying the N word is a perfectly acceptable substitute for an actual joke in comedy, we have made some small progress in how we deal with race in this country. And in getting better maybe we've recognized that there are ways to address the issue that don't also help inadvertently perpetuate the behaviors we are trying to overcome. I think for as much good as All In The Family did, it also helped foster the idea of the loveable old racist curmudgeon. This led to years of racism being seen as, of course bad and wrong, but also quaint and almost cute and harmless. Which may explain why so many of us were caught off guard over the last 10 years when it roared back to the forefront of the national conversation. 


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