The comic book It’s All in the Family featured Ham Fisher’s well-known character Joe Palooka. Joe Palooka was a heavyweight champion boxer, who embodied an exaggerated image of white physical masculinity; he had an impossibly large chest, strong protruding jawline, and blonde hair. This comic focuses on the role of the family and its place as a cornerstone of democracy, and the antithesis of Fascism and Communism.
The story aims to demonstrate Joe’s family as an example of the American spirit of charity, friendliness, and democracy. The title of the comic comes from Joe’s statement near the end of the story: “Dictators have to smash family life…‘cause that’s where democracy is born…where kids learn to love it and understand it and practice it…It’s all in the family!”[^] Therefore, the comic puts forth an idealized form and function of a family, and then places the family at the center of the American Way and democratic ideology. Thus, the structure and form of the family carried heavier weight and deserves a closer inspection.
The family structure in It’s All in the Family is largely constructed around the male breadwinner position. Gendered roles are encouraged through the division of work around the home, and a clear division is made between monetized services and domestic work. The men fix things, take over the farm, and get jobs to support the family. The women cook, bring food to the table, and babysit. Though this division alone is not indicative of the breadwinner ethos, one passage does give credence to the idea that the male (monetized) role is legitimated and appreciated far more than the feminine (unpaid domestic) role. The woman who lives next door is going into labor and her husband is having trouble starting the car.[^] The kids all do their part to help them out, and the parents discuss how fantastic their kids are, based on their willingness to pitch in and help others.[^] As Mr. and Mrs. Palooka reflect on the selflessness of their children, they recall a Christmas when Rosie got two dolls and offered to give one to the neighbor.[^] Then they remember when Joe volunteered to get a paper route to help, and his younger brother expressed interest to do the same when he got “bigger.”[^] Here their daughter exhibited selflessness by offering to sacrifice a consumer good, while the sons got a job, or expressed interest in a job as soon as they became old enough.
The non-earning role of the female is further encouraged as the wife tells him he worked pretty hard himself in those days, to which he replies, “And you kept me from gettin’ discouraged! You kept me pluggin’ along…”[^] These two frames, side by side, describe a familial structure where it is the duty of males to earn money for the family, and the female’s duty to encourage them – not to work an equal or greater amount at a job or at home, but to keep the breadwinning husband from getting discouraged. These distinctly divided roles for genders, centered upon the leadership of the adult male and placed into a storyline that is set to depict an ideal family, and names the family as the key building block in which American democracy is built, places a great deal of social value and worth upon the adult male who can fulfill this role.