• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #206: Reginald "Red" Forman

Updated: Jan 29


"Dumbass."

Ah, Red. Perhaps the most realistic father figure ever depicted on television. Less henpecked and overtly vulgar than Al Bundy, less neutered and neutral than Cliff Huxtable, the patriarch of That 70's Show was emblematic of the oft-befuddled, oft-irate dad of that era, confronted even in remote Milwaukee with a youth counterculture utterly alien to him. The feeble work ethic, casual drug use, and lack of fear and awe of parental authority made no sense to this blue-collar veteran of World War II and Korea. His face, lined with worry over an eroding economy and a shifting political landscape, hardened into a perpetual scowl at the painful realization that he took shrapnel so his children and their friends could smoke dope in the basement and go see Star Wars a hundred times.


Like the Simpsons, the creators of That 70s Show (including executive producer and UNH alum Marcy Carsey) realized that the central repository of humor in their series wasn't the wise-cracking son but the weary, grumpy, beer-drinking father. Red bears resemblance to Homer, though Red is sharper of both wit and tongue, frequently lacerating son Eric and the boy's friends with caustic sarcasm. Usually this included some variation on the theme of putting his foot in their ass or other mild threats of violence that he never acted on. Though always exasperated by his life and family, there was a bedrock of love to Red Forman. He was a stern father, but woe to any who sought to do harm to his children. He rolled his eyes at his wife Kitty's perky enthusiasm, but she was the love of his life. Red could even be counted on to help portly neighbor Bob, despite his bottomless disdain for the man.

Red was the ultimate American male of a certain vintage, echoes of which many of us could see in our own fathers. There were echoes, too, of the Reagan Democrat-cum-Tea Partier-cum modern Trump voter, a white middle-class man raised on American uber-nationalism and ready to blame his economic woes and social estrangement on those not like himself. Absent a compelling argument to the contrary, he falls back on the flag and comfortable nostalgia for an American myth that never really was.


But don't try to tell him that. Dumbass.

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