The Munsters, inhabitants of 1313 Mockingbird lane and subjects of the 1964-1965 sitcom of the same name, are a typical American family. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be funny.
For those still in the dark, the Munsters, are, well, monsters.
The family patriarch, Herman, plays catch with his son and pays the bills. He is also a Frankenstein-esque creature, who is nine feet tall, with bolts in his neck. His wife, Lily, is the stereotypical housewife, who cooks and cleans and sews her family’s shrouds. She’s also a vampire. Grandpa does his hobbies in the basement—his hobbies just happen to be potion making and electrical experiments. Their son is happy and healthy, and a good student. He also has pointed ears, a widow’s peak and a little lord Fauntleroy wardrobe. The family dog, Spot? A fire breathing monster who lives under the stairs.
Aside from their funny looks, the Munsters really are normal. Unlike the similar Addams Family, they never hurt others or pose any threat, yet their neighbors are terrified of them. Essentially, the Munsters are fantasy characters being treated how a real minority is treated in America.
Whether viewers realized or not, The Munsters was an allegory for race in America, and specifically suburban America. Despite being good people, the Munsters are frightening to the “normal” inhabitants of their neighborhood. In one episode, a neighbor says in reference to the Munsters, “this was such a nice neighborhood until they moved in.” Take this quote out of context, and you’ve got a very different show.
As people who look different, the Munsters face many of the same struggles that Black people in America do. Suburbanites don’t want them to move to “nice” neighborhoods, and when they do the suburbanites move out. They aren’t welcome at parties, or country clubs, or the public schools. They are an object of fear and revulsion. In one particularly close to home episode, Herman is attacked and arrested for “terrorizing” park while he was just taking a walk.
Besides gentrification and police brutality, The Munsters also touched upon colorism. Marilyn is the Munster’s niece, a blonde, blue eyed girl without a hint of monster anywhere on her. A running gag is that Marilyn’s boyfriends come home to meet her aunt and uncle, and run away with their hair literally standing on end. Marilyn convinces herself that they hate her. She wishes that she looked more like her family because she feels like a fraud, while the normals who meet her wish she had nothing to do with her family because without them, she essentially “passes”.
For all this self-aware social satire though, the creators of The Munsters didn’t walk the walk. All the actors are white. In fact, like most sitcoms of the time, Black people never show up even in a supporting role in this show. As for the creators, writers, director, producer, and theme music composer? Take a wild guess at their race and gender.
In the great ranking of TV, then, The Munsters is more anti-racist than Leave it to Beaver, probably, but less anti-racist than Dear White People. The show was exceptional in the 60s. However, a lot of things were.
It’s an interesting show, and a fun show, and one of the all-time great theme songs (The Addams Family can go to hell). It’s a prescient show for our times, and one I recommend highly, but those looking to expand their cultural knowledge should probably, you know, watch things with actual Black people in them first.