The other day I was talking to a young guy at work. Now, by young I’m talking relatively. Looking at him and basing my opinion on appearance, work experience, the fact that he has a wife and a child, I’d say he’s somewhere between 27 and 32 years old. Well, we were discussing stuff and Fred Flintstone came up. We were talking about car tires and how Fred could chisel out a spare when he got a flat. There were some general comments on the unenlightened character of Fred and I said that Fred was a cartoon copy of the Jackie Gleason character Ralph Kramden and how Ralph was a comical but fair representation of the working class guy of the nineteen fifties. This elicited blank unrecognition of Jackie Gleason, Ralph Kramden and the Honeymooners in general. I guess this surprised me. After all older shows that I watched on TV as a kid were still well known to younger people. For instance, The Three Stooges were from the 1930s and 1940s and yet they are a fixture on television and are still relatively well-known. I guessed that the Honeymooners must have disappeared from television far enough back to completely disappear from the present adult population’s collective TV consciousness. That bothered me.
Why do I think that the Honeymooners shouldn’t disappear? First of all I don’t pretend that the Kramden household represents some golden age portrayal of American marital bliss. Ralph is portrayed as pretty dimwitted and Alice is given a certain amount of the female empowerment motive that has reached its disgusting fruition in our present feminized society. She often wins the argument by proving to Ralph just how superior she is and how unfair her role as homemaker is. Deference to her moral superiority is on display most of the time. But the basis of the show is the underlying rock-bottom premise that a man should be the king of his castle. Even in the derisive arguments that Alice gives Ralph at every turn is the bottom line of “so if you’re the boss, what do we do now?” No matter what dumb thing Kramden does, he is the master of his soul. He will have to find a way to prevail. And like it or not, Alice will have to back his play. And good, bad or indifferent she would rather go along with him than go it alone. He may be the lowest rung on the totem pole but he is still the alpha male. And in a few episodes he does get to prove himself the king. The one that stands out is of course one of the least plausible. Ralph has obtained a bag full of counterfeit money. When the gangsters catch up with him they threaten Alice and the neighbors and when Ralph defies them they take him in the back room at gunpoint to work him over and make him comply on giving them the money. And in this crisis Ralph prevails. He beats up the thug and rescues his wife and neighbors. Of course, in the next minute he tries to cash in on his achievement and makes himself ridiculous, but his victory stands as proof that he is the man of the house. And for once even Alice can’t diminish his victory.
And the other aspect that endears the show to me is the working class ethos. For the most part, American TV exists to reflect the world-view and the sensibilities of the upper middle class. Even when they are portrayed as struggling twenty-somethings you can see that missing a meal or not having the status symbol item is not part of their existence. They are the cloud people. By contrast, the Kramdens and the Nortons (their upstairs friends and neighbors) don’t have two nickels to rub together. Even buying a new bowling ball can be outside the realm of possibility. These are people who aspire to be lower middle class. Ralph dreams up countless get rich quick schemes to allow him to make Alice proud of him. And he always fails but he never gives up. That is the kind of message that the young people need to get. Not that everything will be handed to them on a silver platter. And not that they can’t decide what is good enough for them. For that is the message that is out there now. The government will provide what you need and also decide what you don’t need (or deserve).
So I’m going to do my best to spread the word to the kids about Ralph Kramden and the Honeymooners. I think the show is an antidote for the namby pamby male sterotypes currently infesting television and the movies. He may be a colossal failure but he certainly is king of his castle. And that’s a good thing to be.