2021/02/19

A 1980s Loser

... lived like a king by today's standards.

1980s Loser

Readers over a certain age will remember the house above as the one used for exterior shots of the house from the Fox sitcom Married... with Children. The series chronicled the life and times of Al Bundy, a shoe salesman going through the motions of life with his best days left far behind him on the high school football field.

A prototype of the dopey dad trend that came to dominate television in the early 90s, Al Bundy was the butt of his comedy show's every joke. Those jokes all revolved around Al being a loser. The writers never missed a chance to showcase just how pathetic Al's life was. Our sense of catharsis came from knowing that, as troubled as our late 80s lives might have been, at least we were better off than Al Bundy.

Mind you, this was a man who owned a three-bedroom house in a Chicago suburb. His car was notoriously uncool, but he owned it outright. And as the show's title suggests, he had a wife and two kids.

It's instructive, looking back these years later, to examine what it was about Al's situation that made him a loser by the standards of his time. Al's first demerit was his profession. He sold women's shoes at the local mall for what we're given to understand was a pittance.

True, by the 80s, retail work had fallen out of respectability. Being a middle-aged shoe salesman was definitely a strike against you in polite society. But what the writers couldn't have foreseen was that showing a man raising a family and owning a home on a single retail wage is an even bigger joke today.

If you frequent this blog, you're probably aware that younger generations find themselves in dire financial straits. Gen Y and the Millennials have seen their net worth plummet by 35% since 1995, exacerbated by crippling debt. The prospect of owning a home, much less one as grand as Al Bundy's, seems like a pipe dream to them.

This is why they can never pull off a successful Married... with Children remake. It is impossible to make a homeowner with a family look like a loser to Millennials and Zoomers. A Millennial as low on the totem pole as Al Bundy was in 1987 would be squatting alone in a derelict Chevy Astro. Calling that show Married... with Children would be brazen false advertising.

Chevy Astro

That brings us to the other source of Al Bundy's woes: his family. Al's wife was a venal, bonbon-chomping shrew that had more respect for their dog and emasculated him at every turn. Their daughter was a vacuous slut, and their son was a shiftless lowlife well on his way to career in petty crime.

In case you're not connecting the dots, the whole series did its best each week to put young people off marriage. The Death Cult propaganda campaign of which it was part has succeeded spectacularly.

US Birth Rates

What obviates any attempt to remake a show called Married... with Children is that no one is having children, and if they are, they're not married.

Large numbers of Millennials can't even aspire to be a 1980s loser.

There is a way out of the poverty trap, and best of all, it doesn't involve selling shoes. Unless that's your thing. Let my friend and client Adam show you how to turn your skills into a profitable home business. Take his course today!

21 comments:

  1. Five or six years ago, I was waiting tables. Many of my coworkers were young women. Only one of them was married. She was also one of the few who did not have kids. It's depressing to contemplate.

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  2. Trust me. No one selling shoes for a living could afford Al Bundy's house - not even in 1987. It's all Hollywood (...and as far as I'm concerned, TV was also part of Hollywood.)

    Depending on where you lived, in 87 a house like that would go for at least $80,000 to $100,000. A lot more if you lived in a suburb of Chicago, like Al Bundy, or one of the other "in" places like NYC or LA.

    As a real life example, I bought my first house in 1986 at age 31 in an outer suburb of a mid sized mid western city. It was a 960 square foot house - much smaller than Al Bundy's house - with no garage on a 1/4 acre lot. I paid $36,000 dollars for it on a VA loan. It was also a "fixer upper". I was NOT selling shoes. Indeed, I was an engineer just starting out. I probably could have afforded better, but the price was right and with the down payment that I had saved for six years, my mortgage payment was less than apartment rent.

    Yeah, I get it. Life is harder today for younger folks. It most assuredly is. But Hollywood doesn't do poor or middle class people at all. The last time they were even half way accurate was "Sanford and Son".

    If you pay attention to these things in movies and TV, you will notice such goofy things as single, working moms living in big Victorian houses in places like Boulder CO, or - wait for it - San Fransisco! Yeah, right. Or notice that when *anyone* flies somewhere, they are more often than not, flying either business or first class. (...notice how *big* their seat is!) Remember that movie "Father of the Bride" with Steve Martin? That was made in 1991 and the Father character paid over $100,000 - FOR A WEDDING!

    Yep, that's normal working folks right there. Sure is.

    You make a good point, Brian, and I don't disagree with you at all. But using Hollywood for examples of such things as "cost of living in 1987" is a fools game.

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  3. As an addendum to my last, I will add that "Hollywood" has been doing this sort of thing for many years. All they had to do to make it a bit more realistic was make Al Bundy a simple factory worker. They made decent money even if the job is not the most desirable. Even a plumber or electrician would have been somewhat more realistic. But then, that would have gone against the narrative of "...everyone, including the children, are smarter than the white male head of household". This is one of the reasons I stopped watching television, especially sitcoms, over 40 years ago.

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  4. Married With Children was an attempt to subvert the traditional sitcom by making everyone a loser going nowhere in life where nobody ever learns anything. It's not really something that can work outside of its time or place, and hasn't. A remake will never work, especially considering the talent level in Hollywood today.

    They've tried several times since to create "relevant" shows starring Millennial characters with their own Millennial woes, but they always end up canceled because not only are they not funny to those who suffer from them, the characters also are STILL better off than real people in similar situations are. Thinking particularly of the series Two Broke Girls and S#1% My Dad Says which disguise urbanite emptiness for actual issues normal people suffer from.

    You won't ever get another series like this, or any other popular sitcom, ever again due to how far away from Hollywood is. They've swallowed their own koolaid and there's no coming back from that.

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    1. Yeah, the early 90s was when primetime sitcoms really started going after tradition and the family with a vengeance.

      Devon Stack's research turned up that the decline in church attendance maps exactly to the increased frequency of Christian-bashing on The Simpsons.

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    2. It became more and more accepted throughout the 1990s to mock Christians in Hollywood, correlating with the decrease in quality output by the decade's end.

      It's almost as if you have to have a solid base to build from in order to create. Without it, you get . . . whatever the '00s were supposed to be.

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  5. Addendum II: ...and don't even get me started on such dreck as "The Big Bang Theory". That was a number-one show for years, and I hated it. I was a nerd when nerds weren't cool, and I can't stand to be in the same room where that is on TV. (I can actually feel the intelligence being sucked out of the room.)

    I know; Free American citizens are allowed to have different tastes than me. But, G_d, how I hate what passes for prime time entertainment nowadays. The people that produce this dreck must really have a low opinion of the intelligence of today's younger generations. I know too many gen X and millennials to believe that to be true. (The boomers, on the other hand - my generation - well, I won't go there again. )

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    1. The beta male quartet lived for the pop cult, I think, guided by death cult values. The only religious people on the show either didn't live their faith, or were mocked for it. In retrospect, they were all pathetic and frequently unpleasant.

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    2. I watched the show for a while and then dropped it like a hot potato when I realized that a) I didn't particularly like any of these characters, and b) they were all driven by lust, greed, pride, or other vices.

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  6. Those saying Al Bundy is unattainable are right. But even though "Hollywood" is disconnected this show is not entirely wrong. AL bought that house in the 1970's not 1987. The car is older. While stretching it, I know plenty of people in retail when I was kid who owned there own homes and cars. Granted, they weren't shoes sales men, but they worked at Dillards, JC Penneys and Sears. They made good money and they drove cars better than Al Bundy. Today, those same workers would not be able to afford that lifestyle. Married...With Children is very much a 1980's sitcom restricted to the Reagan and Bush 1 years.

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    1. I forgot to add, many of them were minorities who did retail and achieve a small slice of the American Dream. The Al Bundy house is a template because many seemed to have the same outside design.

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    2. Al's house is a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath 2200 square foot home built in 1970. The average home price back then was $23,000. This house is in Lake County on a nice lot, so let's bump it up to $50,000. That's right in line with historical home price trends.

      Let's do a 30-year mortgage with an OK credit score at 1970 rates. That gives us a $180 house payment.

      The average hourly income for a retail worker in 1970 was $4.30. Let's give Al that wage, which works out to slightly less than $9,000 a year or $745 a month. Using the 28% rule gives Al a monthly mortgage cap of $208.

      He could do it.

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  7. At least Mike Brady (in "The Brady Bunch", of course) was an architect, and most likely could have easily afforded the home pictured in the exterior shots, without a corporate executive wife. Hey, he could even afford to pay for a cook!
    Now? That same house is 6 figures...
    How the vast 90% of people can actually live in the LA area is beyond my understanding.

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    1. Great example. How many people do you know that can afford a houskeeper/cook?

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    2. I grew up in the 70s, in a neighborhood that had many corporate executives. The newer houses in that neighborhood, last I was back, cot more than half a mill. The corporate executives whose Kids I played with didn’t live much differently than the rest of us. I knew one person with a housekeeper- her mother had died and the housekeeper ran everything, probably hired with life insurance money now that I think of it. No one else had a nanny or housekeeper or personal chef or trainer. Eating out was for celevpbrations, unless it was at the few cheap “family” places Yes, prices have changed. But the things people expect to have are different now too. Think of the phone, internet, and cable bills many pay every month!

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  8. The funny thing is I kind of saw Bundy as the hero being put upon by a shrew wife, ungrateful kids, and too woke neighbors. Just like Archy Bunker became the hero for a lot of people. It's interesting how things like that can be flipped when the audience doesn't react the way the Hollyweird types want.

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    1. Al Bundy had a big following from the beginning. You can even see it on the show where the cheering for his first appearance in the episode always exceeds anything that has happened before or since in a sitcom.

      I'm not sure if he was meant to be the hero or not. On the one hand the show is in a similar setup to the Honeymooners, where you were definitely supposed to like Ralph Kramden. On the other hand, everyone else on the show is generally unlikeable and its possible that we weren't supposed to be find all of them repugnant (as in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia).

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    2. MWC is a hard beast to pin down. I'm inclined to think it was originally one of those Subversive Because We Can projects that were becoming more and more common in the 1980s, much like Roseanne was.

      The difference is that in this series Al is the straight man more than anyone else, and is frequently right about less than savory characters. And any time someone threatens his family, he does act. Despite the infamous "no affection, no learning" slogan, characters actually do display open affection quite a bit. They do like each other, even though they aren't supposed to for the original conceit to work.

      The series is also full of dummy shots and the most obvious cartoony pratfalls imaginable, emphasizing the parodic elements of the concept more than it being any real attempt at satire.

      Then there was the entire "No Ma'am" movement which was . . . not a very gentle ribbing of feminism, especially when the men are validated at every turn for forming the movement.

      It's very much a product of its time from people who thought a very specific way. It didn't feel like it at the time, but the perfect storm of events that caused this to exist how it did would not exist at any other time.

      That's probably why it is still so well-liked. The clown world portrayed in the show is now reality, except the Al Bundys in real life are considerably smarter and more skilled than he was.

      There is only one MWC, and that's a good thing. It's a good marker of its time period, where it should remain.

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    3. It was a satire, back before the satires all became similar.it was making fun of family but weirdly celebrating it at the same time. Al sounded exactly like the father in the old radio show “Life of Riley,” who also had a wife named Peg. Check them out some time, it was very funny (funnier than MWC!). In the general lineup it was funny and edgy. Then “edgy” became the norm, along with “nasty,” “promiscuous,” “condescending” and “stupid.”

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    4. MWC did an episode that unambiguously mocked same-sex marriage, treating it as patently ridiculous. 20 years later, the joke became reality.

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    5. No Ma'am. Oh, man. When I was dating my wife, her sister considered herself something of a feminist. I memorized a set of quotes from No Ma'am episodes and threw them out as the conversation needed. That probably explains why she didn't like me until after the wedding.

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