Homer Simpson. Phil Dunphy. Ray Romano. They’re all examples of “bumbling and inept” fictional fathers. Indeed, the dumb dad is one of sitcom TV’s most notorious tropes. And it’s getting worse, suggests recent research from Erica Scharrer, a professor of communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Scharrer’s study examined TV dads’ interactions with their kids in 34 sitcoms that aired between 1980 and 2017 and found that the more recent the show, the less likely it was to feature the fathers doing much actual parenting. And when they did, these scenes were more likely to depict sitcom dads’ parenting as foolish – “showing poor judgment, being incompetent, or acting childishly,” Scharrer explains at The Conversation.
“Sitcom audiences, more often than not, are still being encouraged to laugh at dads’ parenting missteps and mistakes,” Scharrer writes. This isn’t harmless, since “fictional entertainment can shape our views of ourselves and others,” she says. “Sitcom writers can do better by dads by moving on from the increasingly outdated foolish father trope.”