Reality Check: Archie, Meathead, and External Control

If you recognize the title of this column from “All in the Family,” then either you remember the 70s or you have been watching TV reruns! Regardless of whether you loved it or hated it, that TV sitcom has become a part of our culture.

I happened to catch an All in the Family rerun shortly after I had come across the following statement in Dr. Wm. Glasser’s book, “Eight Lessons for a Happier Marriage.” Glasser says, “Archie Bunker was the epitome of external control as he repeatedly derided his son-in-law, who was trying to live without it.”

As I watched the interaction between Archie and Mike (aka Meathead) in the episode, I was struck by the observation that there was plenty of external control in action from all parties.

Think of external control as statements and actions that correspond to the mindset of, “I know what’s best for you.” From that perspective, many of Archie’s statements are attempts to externally control the people in his life. For example, Mike should get a job, Gloria shouldn’t wear hot pants, Edith shouldn’t speak.

However, in this TV household, Archie isn’t the only person attempting external control! How so? Mike regularly attempts to change Archie’s views to be more in line with his own. As he challenges Archie, he also criticizes, blames, and complains that Archie and people of his ilk are responsible for all that’s wrong in the world.

Gloria shows no reluctance in telling her daddy that he shouldn’t speak to her husband in the way that he does. She chimes in with the perspective that everything Archie believes is old-fashioned, wrong, and that he should change.

Even delightful, downtrodden Edith has her own collection of externally controlling ways. Her want is a noble one: she wants everyone to get along. However, being unaware that there could be more effective ways to that end, she tries to prevent conflict and force relationships to go smoothly by manipulation and small deceptions.

Could practicing choice theory help the All-in-the-Family family live more satisfying lives? Choice theory involves building relationships through practicing caring habits, including supporting, encouraging and respecting.

There is already a strong foundation of love in the family: between Archie and Edith, and between Mike and Gloria. (I’m not sure there’s love to spare between Mike and Archie.) If the characters were to replace those over-the-top controlling habits with caring habits, they would get along better. However, it wouldn’t be nearly as funny for the rest of us to watch!   

External control provides great fodder for screenwriters and entertainers who thrive on it to show humour and drama. After all, can you have drama if there is no conflict? How funny can a situation be where everyone gets along?

In real life, whether external control is practiced in your own family, work, or relationships, it’s far from entertaining. It’s destructive, hurtful, and highly unsatisfying.

External control: funny on TV; devastating for real families.

Do you think that by pointing out external control in the whole family, I am being too forgiving of Archie’s behaviour?

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