Red Forman Betrayed

In an overheard conversation, a North American twentysomething was attempting to make an argument that older people are resistant to change. There’s certainly a way to do that. I’m sure there are studies that show how and why people become “set in their ways” as they get older. We know that it’s harder to pick up certain things, like language skills, as we age. This young’un, though, was citing Red Forman, the fictional dad played by actor Kurtwood Smith on the television series That 70’s Show, as his go-to example.

Insert eye roll here.

Having lived through the 1970s myself, as well as having seen the show in question and, arguably, turning into a Red Forman-type character myself, I call bull on this argument. Red was not resistant to change. He was pissed off and resentful because he had been lied to, and he was deeply disappointed.

For those not familiar with the show, here’s a quick recap of Red’s character arc. After graduating from high school, he joined the Navy and served in the Korean war. He saw this as his patriotic duty, and gladly served his country. After he returned he took a job in an auto parts manufacturing plant, rising through the ranks to become a supervisor. He got married, bought a home, and had two children. Then things started to fall apart.

In the 1970s, manufacturing in the United Stated began to move overseas. Red got laid off. He had done his part, he thought. He’d shown loyalty — to his country, to his employer, to his community. The plant’s owners even asked him to come back, temporarily, to oversee the closure of the plant as they essentially cut it up for parts and sold it off. In Red’s mind, there was a contract, and he’d fulfilled his half. Everyone else, though, was acting with total disregard for anyone but themselves. The owners didn’t care about the well being on employees who had given years, even decades, or their lives to the company. They just wanted a quick buck.

As a blue collar conservative and staunch anti-communist, this toxic capitalism really hurt.

It wasn’t that Red was blindsided by change that he couldn’t adapt to. He did adapt. He found other work, he maintained his ethics and worked hard, and he rose to the top wherever he landed. Sticking to one’s values isn’t resistance to change. No, Red was, in his mind at least, betrayed.

Stress is the disconnect between the way things are and they way we want them to be. This is something we should keep in mind when dealing with others. While there is a lot of rudeness, cruelty, and willful ignorance going around in the world, we can’t always be dismissive of people’s motives. There are a lot of people in the world who aren’t so much resisting change, but feeling that promises that have been made to them their entire life aren’t being kept. It doesn’t excuse the way that they’re acting out, but until we recognize that their pain is real, we can’t move forward.

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