Is Ted Cruz benefiting from the Archie Bunker Effect?

By Ben Barrack

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in talk radio, it’s that satire often goes over people’s heads. Often, something said as a throw-away, back-handed, off-the-cuff line intended to invoke humor is taken seriously or seen as objectionable. This is not because those on the receiving end don’t understand the concept of satire; it’s because said satire takes place within such a small window of time. The unsuspecting victims give it not a second thought. They just accept their initial reaction and move on.

This leads us to the cover of Bloomberg / Businessweek. It is intended as satire to impugn Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) but it is likely to have the reverse effect. Note the likeable image of Cruz in a top hat, big bow tie, and extended pinky while sipping tea. A quick-glancing facebook world sees this image, along with the title: “The Tea Party Won”. What the twitterverse is unlikely to give a second thought to is the subtitle, which says, “Ted Cruz and his band of deadenders took the U.S. through the looking glass. Now crazy is the new normal”.

Before looking at the cover, give yourself a five second limit for doing so (h/t GWP):

Ted Cruz: Businessweek does him an unintentional favor.

Ted Cruz: Businessweek does him an unintentional favor.

What did you see in those five seconds? A face that gave you a chuckle and a message that the face won? If so, the messengers failed because they were trying to communicate something entirely different; they were trying to mock Ted Cruz.

This phenomenon on the left is not new. Consider the example of Norman Lear’s All in the Family. Lear, a far-left liberal, had an agenda in the late 1960’s. He wanted to create a sit-com in which America would view a family through a liberal lens and change their fundamental beliefs. Archie Bunker was supposed to be the bigoted head of a household in which his daughter’s liberal husband was to garner viewer sympathy. Archie’s high-minded liberal son-in-law Michael Stivic, played by Rob Reiner, was supposed to highlight his father-in-law’s shortcomings; he was supposed to expose the narrow-mindedness of conservatives.

Ideally, Stivic was supposed to change minds. At minimum, he was supposed to instill doubt in convicted minds.

The opposite happened. Viewers rejected Stivic as the parasitic, elitist college student who allowed academic theory to dictate his beliefs. Lost on this punk was that he lived under the roof of a man who was earning a hard, honest living. Archie didn’t have time to explore theory; he didn’t even have time to go to college – because he had to support a family. Now, he was supporting his daughter and her deadbeat, anti-American, “Meathead” son-in-law, who felt he was entitled to Archie’s refrigerator and remote control:

How about when Archie stuck up for the second amendment? At the time, this argument seemed ridiculous. Today, not so funny.

Let’s take a look at another, more recent, manifestation of a magazine cover with unintended consequences. In the summer of 2008 – at the height of Barack Obama-mania – the New Yorker published a controversial magazine cover that was detrimental to those who published it. It featured Barack Obama as a Muslim and Michelle as a Black Panther. The reaction of those who saw truth in this image overpowered those who saw satire. The New Yorker went on a campaign to diffuse instead of one to promote. The intent of the article teased by the cover was to demonstrate how absurd the stereotypes were. Instead, most people saw the cover and either had preexisting beliefs reinforced or were turned off by the possibility that truth might be stranger than art.

My guess is that while the New Yorker sold a lot of magazines as a result of this cover, editors regretted the backfire. Consider this excerpt from The Black Girl Site at the time:

I can’t say I am surprised that The New Yorker chose to depict Barack Obama as a flag-burning Muslim. Even if the editor David Remnick thinks its satire the message goes over folk’s head.

The message was clear; the New Yorker out-smarted itself:

New Yorker: Too close to the truth for comfort?

New Yorker: Too close to the truth for comfort?

George W. Bush benefited from the “Archie Bunker” effect as well. Consider the 2008 Oliver Stone film entitled, W. A life misunderestimated. It was a film about Bush 43. While I never saw the film, a close friend of mine who has long despised Bush 43 (he’s not a liberal), did see it. I remember asking him shortly thereafter what he thought. He told me he walked out of the movie feeling more empathy for Bush.

Even Tom Hoopes of CBS News wrote at the time that Oliver STone’s “W.” Backfires.

What do you call it when an anti-American, pro-Castro, pro-Hugo Chavez Hollywood producer sets out to make a film that causes people to despise George W. Bush but has the opposite effect?


I’d like to dedicate this very prescient clip from Norman Lear’s All In the Family to Ted Cruz (oh, is that satire?):


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