Recovery and Al Bundy’s Glasses
James McAdams | July 17, 2020
In part II of my exploration of using 90’s comedies as orientation materials for my fake-world rehab, I’m going to look at what Al Bundy’s glasses teach us about recovery. In particular, the notion of clarity. Clarity is sort of a Janus-faced notion in recovery. On the one hand, most addicts yearn for a golden age of clarity obscured and concealed by damaged brain cells and blackouts; on the other hand, addiction obviously ruins lives, with the sad concomitant fact that the life you see clearly after, or during, recovery is apt to be a complete disaster. And this of course operates as an obstacle to continued recovery: the challenges of dealing with bad credit, health problems, fucked-up relationships, family discord, and so forth, often leads to recidivism. Thus enter Married with Children’s anti-hero dad (one of the first popular “bad guys” predating the golden age of television), my hero, Al Bundy: seller of female shoes, scorer of four touchdowns in one game, gusto fan of Big ‘Uns’ and Psycho Dad, leader of NO “MA’AM.”
As usual, Al Bundy teaches via negativa, as the Scholastics would write: his conduct teaches us what not to do. In the 1991 episode “If I Could See Me Now,” Kelly and Bud convince Al to get glasses because his vision impairs his one escape (cf. drugs!), televisual addiction. However, after obtaining his glasses, Al’s bummed upon his return to his house. What he sees now with 20/20 clarity disturbs and frightens him. As Kierkegaard or Hunter S. Thompson would say, he perceives his life with “fear and loathing.” In shocked despair, he slowly registers the abyss that his life has become. For the first time in years, he truly understands how loathsome and provincial his Chicago home is, the chintziness of the sagging orange couch, how bratty and obnoxious his children look. “My life is…over,” he laments. In the final coup de grace, Al picks up a glamour photo of his red-headed, bouffant-coiffed wife. Finally recognizing what his wife (and his life), truly look like, Al, in a destructive rage reminiscent of Samson, stamps on his glasses and retreats to the couch. Grinning, his hand down his pants, he surveys the beauty of his grey, fuzzy, and blurry world, and all is right in the world. “Al Bundy is back,” he declares.
Here, Al’s decision to destroy his glasses and embrace the fog of his life symbolizes the addict’s desire to equally make life foggy and live in a blur. The problems people in recovery encounter will probably not appear in the guise of obnoxious children or emasculating redheads, but the challenge is the same: to love clarity despite its rough edges, to look life in the face and not blink.
So, ask yourself: what would Al Bundy not do?