Look, folks. Not every single night of the week do tired parents and their talked-out kid feel inspired to exchange dinner-table anecdotes and witticisms, to the sweet notes of Charlie Parker in the background.
So Cristie, Scout and I occasionally have dinner in front of the TV. I don't like to watch America's Funniest Home Videos reruns. If I wanted a nightly reminder of how stupid Americans can be, I'd watch Fox News, or MSNBC. We're tired of Dirty Jobs, and nobody wants to watch public television.
So sometimes we watch old sitcom reruns. The Andy Griffith Show was great, but then they moved it out of the time slot. Sanford & Son, we couldn't abide. I was excited when All in the Family got slotted in. But it's kind of a pain to watch, because Scout has questions throughout.
Why is that guy so mean to his wife? Because he's unhappy. Why is he unhappy? You know how there are good things that happen to you, and bad things that happen to you every day? Yeah. Well, maybe he had more bad things than good things happen to him. Or maybe he just thinks more about the bad things. How the hell do I know why Archie Bunker is unhappy?
One night last week there were more questions than usual. It was the episode where Sammy Davis, Jr. visits the Bunker home.
For the first time, Scout heard several intersting new vocabulary words. "Porch monkey," "spear chucker," "coon," "nigger" and more.
Mom and I are looked each other out of the corner of our eye, wondering what Scout was understanding.
There was a mention of Davis's glass eye, and Scout fixated on that. Which eye is it? Why does he have a glass eye? What happened to his other eye? How does he get his glass eye out?
"And don't say nothing to Lionel about this," Archie meanwhile told Meathead, referring of course to Lionel Jefferson, the black neighbor. "If he finds out, he'll jump on his tom-toms and before you know it, we'll be up to our armpits in jungle bunnies."
Why didn't I get up out of my own Archie Bunker chair and snap the TV off? I don't know why, exactly. It's not as if we were watching some difficult but constructive racial conversation. What we were watching was a time-capsule specimen—something that could once have been argued to be constructive in some way. But really: What on earth could a seven-year old be getting out of this?
The only reason I can think of that I didn't turn it off—aside from my own admittedly powerful desire to see the famous episode—is that, while we're careful to show Scout things that we (roughly) deem age-appropriate, I never like to give her the impression that I'm actually scared of showing her something. I censor, but I don't like to let her see me censor—especially in an urgent, cover your eyes! kind of way.
I know: We should have turned it off.