Movin’ On Up


by Matthew Sitman

Pivoting off the recent death of Sherman Hemsley, star of The Jeffersons, Shervin Malekzadeh – the son of Iranian immigrants – explains what the show taught him about being American:

Of course The Jeffersons, like its parent show All in the Family, was hardly the usual depiction of the American experience on network television. It waded into treacherous and uncertain waters, pulling its viewers into currents of class and race avoided by most network shows. The confluence of these forces left in its wake vocabulary and expressions unlikely to be taught to us in any ESL or citizenship classes, and impossible to imagine being used on a broadcast network today: Honkey, zebra, nigg—, goin' to the john, she's a fox.

Still, for all that The Jeffersons taught us about what American was and could be, there was also something very Persian and accessible about the show, not least of which was the acid back-and-forth between George and Florence (George: "Florence, your cooking tastes like dogfood." Florence: "That's because I'm cooking for a chihuahua."), an American version of the Iranian custom of matalak goftan, or trash-talking.