Policy is downstream of politics.
Politics is downstream from culture.
Culture is shaped, to a disturbing extent, by people who want to try to influence it.
And it’s been a cultural cliché for generation that television in its many forms has an overwhelming influence on society.
And as someone who spent way more time in Ramsey County family court, and dealing with culture’s assumptions about fathers and children, the subject of how media treats fatherhood has been of far more than casual interest to me for a long time.
I’ve observed since the early days of this blog that much of modern culture’s perception of fathers seems to be derived from Fred Flintstone (if you’re lucky – the cartoon rendering of Jackie Gleason was much preferable to the neutered George Jetson, albeit similar in every other way).
The good news – sociological reasarch  shows I’m right.
The bad news – Flintstone is a throwback to the “good old days”. Modern media, more and more, is treating fathers like incompetent, mock-worthy, if in the end lovable buffoons:
…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.
Thing is, as more children are raised in single-parent housholds (a majority, in many communities), and given that the vast majority of those households are female-led, popular entertainment is going to have a disproportional role in shaping how children feel about what fathers are supposed to be.
I don’t watch a lot of current network TV, so it’s fairly academic to me at the moment.
But I’ve also noticed, again for over the past twenty-plus years, that the way fathers are portrayed in commercial is equally condescending  – but that there’s a pattern to this.
Remember – nothing in major media advertising, least of all on network or cable TV, is accidental. Every ad, down to the lowliest 10-second sweeper spot, is focus-grouped to a fine sheen before it goes near a broadcaster. The subtext of every ad is as carefully tuned as the messages themselves.
And I’ve noticed  that there’s a pattern:
- Spots aimed at products most commonly aimed at guys (the social group, as opposed to “men”, the sex), products like beer and athletic gear, tools, blue-collar workers’ tools, vehicles bought for work (as opposed to lifestyle accessories), tend to portray women (if at all) as improbably attractive, but not as the focus of the spot/s.
- Products aimed at women (by inference, women who lead or co-lead households, especially with children) are the ones that tend to show husbands as bumbling, dubiously competent, and very frequently not in their wives leagues, if you catch my drift.
Remembering that nothing in big-dollar advertising is accidental, what other conclusion is there than “Evidence tells advertisers that men see their women as ideal and attractive [which is sort of an evolutionary tautology], and women who spend money want to think that men – in general, and maybe their own – are hapless buffoons who’d be lying in their parents basements in a puddle of their own waste without them.”
Not sure that’s a great message for the young women or the young men of tomorrow.
 And yes, I now – sociology, like all soft sciences, is not a science. Soft science produces soft data, at best. And soft data is good enough for the point I’m making.
 Although somewhat less so if the fathers in the ads are black or Latino. And it seems that the fathers in mixed-race couples, who seem to make up a disproportionate number of couples in TV advertising these days, get portrayed pretty neutrally-to-favorably, although both of those observation are just that – impressions from a guy who doesn’t watch a whole lot of TV. Now, that would be an interesting study. And one ad that stuck out at me – the morning-TV spot for Hi-Vee supermarkets featuring the 1983 song “Our House” – indicates, albeit with a sample size of one, that even being a stay-at-home caretaker while the improbably gorgeous mom runs off to her office job doesn’t protect dad from that same level of condescension.
 Yep, anecdotally, not a controlled experiment bla bla bla.