Stay informed with daily news and our newsletters!Learn more
Popular culture often reflects cultural changes in the real world. But how accurate are the images in our popular culture? Are the portrayals we see in our television programs, magazines and movies representations of reality?
Watching TV is a daily pastime for 75 per cent of children.1 Studies have shown that children’s TV use increases with age and that many children have almost constant access. Research by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “19 per cent of children aged one year or younger have a TV in their bedroom, compared to 29 per cent of children two or three years old, and 43 per cent of children from four to six years old.”2 This easy access has some people concerned about how parents may use television as a companion to childhood development and how TV can be a major influence on the way young people form opinions. Previous research suggested that TV viewing can have an impact on developing or reinforcing children’s stereotypical attitudes and beliefs about gender.3
Gender roles for women and men have undergone significant changes since the introduction of TV. In the early days, the TV dad seemed flawless. He was intelligent, dependable and generally well respected in both the family and community. Times have changed on TV, and the "all-star fathers"--as represented by the dads on Father Knows Best, Make Room for Daddy and My Three Sons--have been replaced by the goofy, irresponsible and immature fathers of The Simpsons, Everybody Loves Raymond and According to Jim.
The paternalistic ideals of early TV dads passed with time as TV began to focus more on moms and kids to please the real-life wives and kids who watched the programs and the advertisements. The dads’ personification of the old ideals of prudence, self-discipline and self-denial became an unfashionable ideology and an obvious drag on consumption.4
Just as the characteristics and roles of dads have changed, the role of moms has changed significantly. While men were the breadwinners who did not participate equally in childcare tasks, early programs showed women primarily as wives and mothers who did not work outside the home. Today’s television programs present women in a greater spectrum of TV roles, often balancing the conflicting demands of career and family ambitions. As the presence of moms has increased in the workforce, dads have become more domestic.
While most people would agree that the presence of father figures in domestic situations on TV is a good thing, many people are concerned about how fathers are portrayed. Interest groups for fatherhood rights often complain that many TV ads portray fathers as buffoons who get no respect in the home and cannot perform even the most minor of childcare tasks. Due to the time constraints of the format--advertisers have only 30 seconds of airtime to tell their story--TV ads typically rely on common stereotypes as a kind of "visual shorthand" to give audiences a quick understanding. Thus many ads rely on the easy laughs that a bumbling dad generates. Advertisers have created father figures that often range from slightly inept to completely useless clowns (albeit lighthearted and well-intentioned clowns) when it comes to doing household chores and parenting their children.
Often, sit-com dads such as Homer Simpson and Raymond Barone are portrayed as selfish and mindless. Although we believe that they love their children, storylines often portray their offspring as intrusions to other, more important pursuits such as drinking beer, watching TV or playing golf. These dads invest considerable time in thinking up schemes to avoid their family, and they appear overwhelmingly uninterested in everyone else’s lives. Certainly these TV programs are not part of a grand conspiracy to attack dads, but there are enough existing examples to make many people concerned. In particular, fatherhood interest groups worry because these images have a negative influence on how very young children interpret father-child relationships, particularly in cases in which children may not have a father figure in their life.
While sitcoms have changed with the times, it is important to understand and think critically about how these programs are constructed to create humorous scenarios for entertainment value. The situations and characters in sitcoms are not true representations of reality.
1 Canadian Teachers’ Federation, Kids’ Take on Media, 2003. www.ctf-fce.ca/documents/Resources/en/MERP/kidsenglish.pdf
2 CTV.ca News, “Many Parents Encourage Tots to Watch TV: Study,” May 24, 2006 www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20060524/kids_tv_060524/20060524?hub=World
3 See Jane Program, Dads and Daughters, G Movies Give Boys a D: Portraying Males as Dominant, Disconnected and Dangerous, May 2006.
4 Mark Crispin Miller, Center for Media Literacy, “Dads Through the Decades: Thirty Years of TV Fathers,” 1986 www.medialit.org/reading_room/article38.html
Interested in supporting MediaSmarts?Charitable Registration No. 89018 1092 RR0001
Find out how you can get involved.Learn more