Sociological study of sitcom fathers from the 1950s to today: men portrayed similarly

It is a common complaint that television sitcoms make fathers out to be buffoons or at least incompetent parents. One PhD student in sociology looked at sitcoms from the 1950s to today to see how the fathers compare:

Miller found that while family structures in sitcoms has kept up with real social change — there are more single and divorced men in the recent sitcoms, for example — the men in both eras are more likely to be similar than different.

There is almost no difference in how often men express anger or emotional attachment. And men in the 1950s were almost as likely to say they were being victimized by someone else, such as their boss, as they do in the recent sitcoms.

Men in both sets of sitcoms also show almost equal amounts of self-deprecating behaviour…

Probably the greatest difference Miller noted is that men in the recent sitcoms make fewer imperative statements, are less likely to be respectful to others, and less likely to be respected by others. It might signal a decline in male authority, but it’s also a sign of all-around lower standards of decorum and politeness, she says.

Men in the recent sitcoms are also more likely to be immature. In Miller’s recent sample, there were about five times as many incidents of immaturity as in the 1950s series. But sitcom women have also become increasingly immature.

Perhaps the real story here is the consistency of television formats: the sitcoms of the past may not really be that different from the sitcoms of today even as the characters and situations have changed slightly.

Another possible takeaway is that television probably isn’t the best place to look for examples of good behavior. I assume most Americans would readily agree with this but considering the number of hours people watch plus the cultural power shows can have, television characters end up establishing certain behaviors.

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