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Married with Children as a Parody of Men's Rights Activists

Bob Chipman | 16 Jun 2014 12:00
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"I would reveal my true identity, but for political reasons, I cannot. But do not take me lightly, I once scored four touchdowns in a single game for Polk High!" --Al Bundy, first public address as leader of NO MA'AM (excerpt)

If you spend too much time on The Internet, you're going to miss things happening in the real world. On the other hand, sometimes you get to be ahead of the curve. Just usually not about anything pleasant.

For example, it was apparent in the aftermath of a horrific May 2014 murder-spree in California that a great deal of the American mainstream was hearing about "Men's Rights Activism" for the first time, owing to the 22 year-old gunman having been found to have associated with various MRA-adjacent websites and spouted rhetoric and buzzwords familiar to observers of more extreme/fringe wings of the so-called "activist" movement. Hence the incredulity in a Time Magazine column on the subject: "That's a thing?"

But to anyone who's spent any amount of time following political or popular-culture discussions on the web, it was old news (that the "movement" existed, not that this particular monster may have identified with some of its more extreme tenets). While the term has been around since at least 1856 and has remained largely unchanged in basic message (women's liberation and/or feminism are bad, legal/social superiority of men over women is either the natural, God-intended or at least ideally-preferable state of humanity) it never "caught on" in any meaningful widespread way save for a brief run as a catch-all term for legal organizations seeking adjustments to family law - many of which now distance themselves from that specific label (as do other segments of the loosely-defined modern "Men's Movement."

That is, until the dawn of The Internet removed geographic boundaries to every niche belief-system, no matter how small, being able to congregate. Though still by no means a mainstream (or even "Internet Big") phenomenon, MRA rhetoric found a receptive audience in the darker recesses of the web, most uncomfortably in pop-culture and entertainment forums where embittered young men found in its rhetoric a set of derailing terminology and official-sounding words with which to "fight back" against the perceived boogeymen of "feminists" or "political correctness" that dared criticize the films, video games and other entertainments they'd internalized as above reproach. However seriously one takes the purported intellectual arguments of Men's Rights Activism (speaking only for myself: not seriously at all), it can't be denied that its cultural presence is mostly about sad-sacks trying to take a baseball bat to some new mile-marker of progress and somehow not noticing that the bat is made of Nerf.

That might make some people think about the futility of fighting the tide of history, or of the Social Media "war" that broke out via the #NotAllMen and #YesAllWomen hashtags in the wake of the aforementioned tragedy in California. For purposes of this column, it makes me think about old TV shows...

Married With Children was "the other Fox comedy" alongside The Simpsons that effectively put a dagger in the heart of the conventional family sitcom in the 90s. But whereas Homer Simpson and his brood aimed to blow the paradigm apart with a (sometimes literal) nuclear blast, The Bundys were all about the entropy of The American Dream: Al (Ed O'Neil) was a star High School athlete who married his teenaged sweetheart Peg (Katie Sagal) and moved to the suburbs to raise their kids on his salary as a salesman - a happy ending, according to television from its inception right up through the 80s... but not anymore.

Al and Peg could barely stand each other. Their kids were walking disasters. Their neighbors were equally-repellant yuppies. And while Al had the bitter, impotent rage against "political correctness" that might land one a multimillion dollar Fox News gig, back then all it got him was more pain and misery for the show to revel in (even as it confirmed that, yes, everyone else really was as annoying as Al observed them to be - Married was basically candied-nihilism).

Al Bundy was an angry man the world had passed by, clinging desperately to his one moment of anachronistic macho glory (he'd once scored four touchdowns in one game while playing football for Polk High) whose anger at his family, friends and himself was really anger at the world no longer bending to the will of everyone fortunate enough to possess a Y chromosome like it had for his father's generation - and like men of his generation were promised it still would for them. Today, apart from his age he'd be a perhaps too on the nose parody of the reigning image of Men's Rights Activism (the 21st Century internet's version, anyway)...

...which is appropriate, because he sort of invented it.

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