Depending on your point of view, John Derbyshire, in his rather weird argument for the social values of Married...With Children, is either cynical or just brutally realistic. Quoting Orwell, he finds the show reflective of “the working-class outlook which takes it as a matter of course that youth and adventure — almost, indeed, individual life — end with marriage.”
Marriage is hell and always has been, he lets us know, but ours would be a poorer world without it:
For the principle underlying Married With Children — it would be too much to say that the show actually celebrated it, but it was there anyway — was the principle of duty. This is not a very fashionable principle in an age like ours, an essentially hedonistic age; but without some widespread sense of duty, of selfless adherence to custom and principle and social obligation, no civilization could persist for long.
He explains that in his native England people like this kind of thing -- harsh and unsentimental, which is why he claims never to have liked "The Simpsons."
To my way of thinking, though, the jokes in "Married ... With Children" were merely crass and cloddish; it was one of those sitcoms where you spent most of the half-hour yearning for comic relief. It was the kind of show the Simpson family might have watched while the rest of us watched "The Simpsons."
My letter to Derbyshire:
You've simply got to watch The Simpsons again. Everything you said about Married ... With Children is true of The Simpsons with the added distinction that it mocks virtually everyone and is funny on a regular basis.
At the risk of sounding un-American, I think Homer Simpson is the true American icon. You look at this filthy slob and lazy employee, this commonest of common denominators, this loving dad and faithful husband and you recognize it -- mostly in others, but also probably in one's self. Homer is the man who has devoted his life to always taking the easy way out. You look at him and think "You know, this isn't the best America has to offer, but it is something we offer. It's something we are."
Give it another look -- it's possibly the most vital artistic artifact of the latter third of the 20th Century. To the child in 3345 A.D. who wants to understand American life in the last ten years, I'd say look at The Simpsons.
It is us.