The 1971 pilot of All in the Family included Michael, son-in-law of Archie Bunker and a college student, as a main character. After the first commercial break, Michael and Archie go at it about Michael’s study of sociology (with some input from Gloria, Michael’s wife and Archie’s daughter):
Michael: What do you want from me anyway? I don’t have time to do anything. I’m studying six hours, I’m in class six hours. You know it’s not easy going to college, it’s hard work.
Archie: For you it’s like building the pyramids. I’ll tell you it’s all that sociology and studying that welfare stuff. I don’t call that no hard work.
Gloria: Oh Daddy, leave him alone. I think it’s beautiful that Michael wants to help the underprivileged.
Archie: Listen, if he wants to help the underprivileged let him start with himself. He’s got no brains, he’s got no ambitions, if that ain’t underprivileged, I don’t know what is.
Sociology does not feature on television shows very often. While it had a spot on the popular All in the Family, the way it is set up here provides two opposite views of the discipline.
On one side, sociology is the discipline of a younger generation interested in social change and improving society. Sociology can help the disadvantaged and provide for the better distribution of resources.
On the other side, sociology is a waste of time. It is a liberal enterprise composed of people who should themselves focus on working hard and not stirring up trouble.
Fifty years later, are these two reactions to sociology common? Given that sociology does not always get much attention on television or among the general public, have we advanced much in our public understanding of sociology?
This is the focus of the opening stages of my Introduction to Sociology courses: how does sociology view the world? What are its methods and theories? What do we hope to see? This takes more time than television sitcoms can provide.