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Why are sitcom dads so inept?

  • Communications professor Erica Scharrer, who has been researching sitcom dads for two decades after being inspired by Home Improvement's Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor, decided to create a new study on how fathers are disparaged on sitcoms. "For our study, we identified 34 top-rated, family-centered sitcoms that aired from 1980 to 2017 and randomly selected two episodes from each," she explains. "Next, we isolated 578 scenes in which the fathers were involved in 'disparagement humor,' which meant the dads either made fun of another character or were made fun of themselves. Then we studied how often sitcom dads were shown together with their kids within these scenes in three key parenting interactions: giving advice, setting rules or positively or negatively reinforcing their kids’ behavior. We wanted to see whether the interaction made the father look “humorously foolish” – showing poor judgment, being incompetent or acting childishly. Interestingly, fathers were shown in fewer parenting situations in more recent sitcoms. And when fathers were parenting, it was depicted as humorously foolish in just over 50% of the relevant scenes in the 2000s and 2010s, compared with 18% in the 1980s and 31% in the 1990s sitcoms. At least within scenes featuring disparagement humor, sitcom audiences, more often than not, are still being encouraged to laugh at dads’ parenting missteps and mistakes."

    TOPICS: Father's Day, Home Improvement, Tim Allen, TV Studies