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The Red Theory That Changes Everything On That '70s Show

August 23, 1998 marked the introduction of "That '70s Show" into the entertainment landscape, and by the time the sitcom wrapped up on May 18, 2006, it had more than left its mark. The exploits of a group of rebellious Wisconsin teens during the latter half of the 1970s kept audiences across the globe highly entertained — supplying them with no shortage of laughs and even a few tears along the way. Perhaps most successfully, it proudly showed off the thrill of youth and the camaraderie between a bunch of friends who live every day as if it were their last on Earth.

Be that as it may, "That '70s Show" isn't completely devoid of parental figures to keep the kids out of trouble or clean up their messes. The father of Eric (Topher Grace) and husband of Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp), Red Forman (Kurtwood Smith) serves as the stern and ever-grumpy voice of reason in his son's life. His lack of a verbal filter and his willingness to tell his son how he really feels — oftentimes expressing his desire to stick his foot where the Sun doesn't shine — are what made Red such a hilarious character and a fan-favorite relative to many on the series' extensive cast list.

Though Red Forman appears to be the typical grouchy dad archetype, there may be more to him and his attitude than meet the eye. More specifically, his relationship with Eric isn't all that it seems to be on the surface.

Did Eric turn out just as Red hoped he would?

Throughout "That '70s Show," Red and Eric's dynamic is pretty easy to understand. Eric is an unmotivated, unathletic, and generally dull kid. By contrast, Red is a blue-collar, no-nonsense Korean War veteran. Eric's dull nature often and intensely incurs the wrath of his father, who's all about hard work and self-reliance. In fact, Eric and Red find themselves at odds over even the most trivial things so frequently that one has to wonder if Red actually cares about his son at all, or if he truly believes he's a monumental failure. The show makes it seem as though the latter is the case, but the actual truth may be less cut and dry — if this fan theory is to be believed.

As posited by Redditor u/gallagher222, Red's disappointment in Eric and his harsh attitude toward him could be entirely manufactured, done in the hope that it'll push Eric to reject societal standards of manhood more and more. Nothing quite like having a loud, angry father to make you never want to be loud and angry in your life, right?

"If Red raises Eric to be like himself, then there's a good chance that Eric will suffer the same pain that Red constantly has to battle with," u/gallagher222 wrote, breaking down how Red has been poisoned by traditional concepts of masculinity over the course of his life, and he's "exhausted with having to constantly be the tough man." 

They continued, "Its a prison that Red wants to keep Eric from entering. ... Red knew that he could easily raise his son with his own firm and rigid manhood values. But deep down, Red is unhappy with these values. He knows he could never deviate from them, but his son could." This, according to the Reddit user, could explain why "Red essentially sabotaged every chance Eric ever had to turn into a tough guy." 

In simplest terms, Red comes from an era where hiding your emotions and putting on a brave face were necessary, but he has come to realize how much that lifestyle hurt in the long run. Unable to escape it, Red doesn't want Eric to go down the same road, and the only way he knows to keep him away from it is through tough love.

Mixed reactions to this theory

As is common practice when a fan of a TV series presents a new idea about it, other "That '70s Show" fans have offered their thoughts on Reddit user u/gallagher222's theory. Those who responded to the post, shared in the r/FanTheories subreddit several years ago, were split.

"I like to believe that Red isn't too different from Eric. Red just covers up his emotional side around them but is seen to be relaxed and happy while alone with Kitty," one fan wrote. Another pointed to Red's kinder deeds and softer moments as additional pieces of evidence to back up the theory: "There are a few instances of Red being a 'softee' as Kitty puts it. Most notably when he agrees to take Hyde in after seeing his living conditions, although he curses up a s***storm. But I like to believe that he wants to see Eric grow up happy because it's something he really didn't have a chance to do."

One fan wrote that they could understand how the theory would work, but ultimately couldn't get behind it. "I would agree, but that sounds exactly opposite to the way Red functioned," they commented. "He was hard on Eric because he was of [a] military mindset. He acted more like a soldier or drill sergeant to him than a father was supposed to because he wanted his only son to grow up to be a strong dependable man. Which is why in contrast he spoiled his only daughter. ... Red was in the military a long time, and never stopped being a soldier."

Another commenter felt similarly: "I like this theory. I am glad to see more song/television theories that aren't speculation about media that has not been released. However, I do have one gripe with this one. While I will say that this may be a part of Eric's outcome, it seems too good to be true. It makes sense, but has never been hinted in any way that I can recall."

All in all, this is just a theory, but a thought-provoking one nonetheless. Red Forman's parenting methods were unorthodox, to say the least, but if their purpose was to break a generational cycle and keep Eric from the horrors of toxic masculinity, then Red achieved the desired result.