The representation of parents in comedy productions tend to focus on jokes that involved the father of the family, leaving him in a bad place. Something that has been growing compared to its past counterparts.

Parents of today, then, receive more ridicule for their clumsiness, ineffectiveness, lack of sensitivity, intelligence, etc. Mothers, on the other hand, became less frequently teased.

Outdated trope

New studies based on ‘quantitative content analysis’, a common research method in communication studies, were analyzed 34 family-centered sitcoms that aired from 1980 to 2017 and two episodes were randomly selected from each. Then, 578 scenes were isolated in which the parents were involved in the ‘scorn humor’, which meant that the parents made fun of another character or made fun of themselves.

Parents were the target of humor, criticism or parody in over 50% of relevant scenes in the years 2000 and 2010, compared to 18% in the 1980s and 31% in sitcoms in the 1990s.

The sitcoms, however, are not reflecting reality. At least if we consider the radical turn of the wheel that many parents have executed.

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National surveys from the Pew Research Center show that, from 1965 to 2016, the amount of time parents reported that spending on childcare nearly tripled. Nowadays, parents make up 17% of all parents staying home, compared to 10% in 1989. Fathers today are as likely as mothers to say that being fathers is “extremely important to their identity.” They are also just as likely to describe parenting as rewarding.

Of course, not all comedies portray parents as incompetent parents. Still, while TV shows probably never match the scope and complexity of parenthood, the writers of sitcom productions seem to have gotten caught up in an old-fashioned trope. Either that or they just seek the politically correct applause.

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