How to be a Man

Being a successful breadwinner may be the main script of masculinity, but there are others. Men are also bound by another, secondary script to protect the honour and well-being of their families. In the episode of Bewitched titled “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dog” (first aired October 8, 1964) Darrin’s fidelity to his work is challenged by Samantha.

 

During a dinner party, Samantha is cornered by a party guest that Darrin is schoomzing in an attempt to sign him as a client. He makes sexual advances at her, and becomes quite aggressive. Samantha reacts by turning him into a small, curly haired dog. When Samantha’s use of magic is revealed, Darrin becomes quite angry and accuses her of losing the account he had worked so hard to get, and doesn’t even want to listen to Samantha’s account of the events. When he does hear what happened, he shifts the blame away from Mr. Barker to alcohol, and Samantha for not knowing how to deal with the problem in a “normal” way. Samantha accuses him of caring more about Mr. Barker than her, and he agrees saying Sam is “just a wife” while Mr. Barker is “a lively hood.” Samantha promptly kicks him out of the bedroom. Darrin appears to be being criticized for having too much allegiance to his career, however when he walks in on Mr. Barker (who has been transformed back from his doggie state) trying again to seduce Samantha, Darrin punches him out cold. Samantha is impressed, and forgives him instantly for his betrayal the night before. In this social-historical context, it is more important to Darrin’s masculinity that he protect his wife than keep his job. Letting her protect herself, as she clearly was capable of doing, signaled a failure in his masculinity that was rectified by punching Mr. Barker in the face. In the end everything works out, as Mr. Barker signs with the agency after all, and Darrin is able to keep his job. 

 

Married With Children also tackled the topic of the importance of protecting family in the episode “But I Didn’t Shoot the Deputy” (first aired April 19, 1987). The Bundy’s neighbourhood is the site of a crime spree, and to protect themselves, Al buys a gun, and Steve and Marcy buy a dog. There is a noise in the Bundy’s backyard, and when Al goes out to confront the prowler, a shot is fired. When he returns to the house to his waiting family he reveals he was successful… in killing Steve and Marcy’s dog. At first his family is shocked, but then Bud points out that his father was doing the right thing because he was protecting his family. Al becomes excited by his own prowess, and he and Peggy head off to bed in a rare shot of the two with their arms around each other. 

 

 

Even Roseanne cannot get away from this normalizing script. When Dan’s birthday is interrupted by a drunk young man looking to pick a fight it is all Dan can do to stop himself from getting involved, but Roseanne puts her foot down and tells Dan to back off. Things between Dan and Roseanne are tense, but when Dan’s friend lies to Darlene, telling her her father punched the guy out without thinking twice, he becomes even more frustrated and takes out his frustration on a piece of drywall. He escapes back to the bar where the incident first happened, and Roseanne follows. They discuss why he is so upset by the incident, and he reveals that he feels he is getting old. Roseanne jokingly tells him that she and the children tamed him when he was not paying attention, and they laugh. When the same man from the night before wanders in wearing Dan’s beer hat and insults Roseanne, she gives him permission “just this once” to fight. Dan punches the man out, and they run away. Dan and Roseanne later show their affection for each other in the kitchen, and although they do not tell their daughter how Dan really hurt his hand, the fight clearly solved Dan’s crisis of masculinity. 

 

This section would not be complete without one clip of Al impart his wisdom about marriage on newlywed Steve. In an episode title “The Poker Game” (first aired May 24, 1987) Steve joins Al at his weekly poker game and manages to lose his share of the mortgage payment.  Al advises him to distract Marcy by telling her how beautiful she is, and then “slip her a quick one.” Steve shoots him down, claiming that his relationship with Marcy is built on honesty, but when it comes to telling Marcy he chickens out and he heeds Al’s advice to distract her. When Steve returns to Al to ask for his money back, Al backtracks on his initial advice and advises Steve to tell Marcy the truth saying “that’s what being a man is all about Steve, making mistakes and not caring.” Al’s misguided advice about how to be a man parallels Peggy’s misguided advice about how to be a woman, and both appear to be parodies of traditional masculinity and femininity. As usual, however, Married with Children rejects an opportunity for resistance and Steve ultimately resorts to Al’s methods of distracting Marcy with sex and flattery when he is still unable to recoup his lost money. 

 

The legacy of masculinity that fathers pass on to sons is evident in this scene from All in the Family when Mike and Archie become accidentally locked in a storeroom together. After Mike brings up Archie’s father, Archie begins to rant: “Don’t tell me my father was wrong. Let me tell you somethin’. Your father, the breadwinner, the man who goes out and busts his butt to keep a roof over your head and clothes on your back, you call your father wrong? Your father, the man who comes home bringin’ candy. Your father’s the first guy to throw a ball to you and take you for walks in the park, holdin’ you by the hand. My father held me by the hand. Oh – hey… my father had a hand on him. (Holds up his hand) I’ll tell you. He busted that hand and he busted it on me to teach me to do good. My father, he shoved me in a closet for seven hours to teach me to do good ‘cause he loved me, he loved me. Don’t be lookin’ at me! Let me tell you somethin’, you’re supposed to love your father! ‘cause your father loves you. (A beat). Now, how can any man who loves you tell you anything that’s wrong! What’s the use in talking to you.” (Script for “Two’s a Crowd” broadcast Feb 5, 1978). [1] This clip goes a long way to explaining Archie’s frequently stern behaviour towards Mike, who is as close to a real son as Archie will ever get. This scene is as close to pure resistance as my research discovered in All in the Family. Archie is recognizing, and the audience is recognizing with him, that not all things passed between fathers and sons are good things, and that perhaps beginning to question our fathers, and in turn masculinity, might be a step in the right direction. 

 

[1] Adler, Richard P, ed. 1979. All in the Family: A Critical Appraisal. New York, NY: Praeger.

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