Citation for Mr. Norman Lear, The RISD Medal of Outstanding Distinction Honoring Social Impact Through the Arts.
Most luminaries are renowned for either the quality or quantity of their work. With Mr. Norman Lear, I don’t have to choose. He has written, created, developed, directed, or produced over 100 series (“All In the Family”, “Maude”, “Sanford and Son”, “The Jeffersons”, “Good Times”, and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” to name just a few.) He is one of the seven original inductees into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1984; recipient of the National Medal of The Arts in 1999; and, for a period in the mid-1970s, had nine primetime shows on-air at once. In total, Lear has received 23 major awards over a career that has spanned 76 years and counting. But those are just numbers. Mr. Lear’s impact, not just on TV but on American politics and society as we know it, is larger than life and immeasurable by simple numbers.
It is the black child watching the premier of Good Times, which was the first sitcom to ever star an African American family. It is the beleaguered housewife who found her voice watching the irreverent Maude put Walter in his place week after week. It is the family of a soldier who saw Gloria and Mike Stivic on All In The Family discuss the reality of the ongoing Vietnam war for the first time on a TV program that wasn’t a carefully choreographed news broadcast. It is every delicate political issue and social taboo that Mr. Lear courageously thrust into the spotlight through the lens of humor, with his never-ending work behind the scenes.
But Mr. Lear is an active citizen far beyond the green room. He served our country in the air force during World War II. He spent over 8 Million dollars procuring an original copy of The Declaration of Independence so he could share it with the nation. And his organization “Declare Yourself” has helped over 4 million young people register to vote.
As most artists know, and as RISD strives to impart to the next generation of creators, the greatest thing your work can do is inspire others. Mr. Lear’s work has not had a ripple effect, but a monsoon. His comedy has been the foundation for countless comedians who have gone forth and defined the next generation of entertainment: Judd Apatow, Amy Poehler, Shonda Rimes, and countless others. But most relevant from where I sit is Seth MacFarlane, Rhode Island School of Design class of 1995, of whom Mr. Lear is a long term mentor and friend.
To fittingly chronicle all of Mr. Lear’s achievements in entertainment and contributions to society, I’d need 76 more years.
For the hundreds of comedians he’s influenced, to the hundreds of millions of viewers he has made laugh and cry, both young and old, and most importantly, the infinity of things that cannot be counted, only observed and felt - I am honored to bestow upon Mr. Norman Lear, The RISD Medal of Outstanding Distinction Honoring Social Impact Through the Arts.