How Disney Teaches Contempt For Dads
“Every 3.24 minutes, a dad acts like a buffoon.”
That’s the conclusion of a small study done by a student at Brigham Young University after watching eight hours of the two most popular Disney “tween” shows featuring families. The results of the research — “Daddies or Dummies?” — are not particularly surprising.
Are “Good Luck Charlie” and “Girl Meets World” any different from previous sitcoms like “Roseanne” or “Home Improvement”? A 2001 study by Erica Scharrer in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media found that the number of times a mother told a joke at the father’s expense increased from 1.80 times per episode in the 1950s to 4.29 times per episode in 1990.
But what’s interesting about the new research is that the author, Savannah Keenan, also looked at the reaction of the children on screen to their fathers’ displays of cluelessness. At least half the time, children reacted “negatively” to these displays — by rolling their eyes, making fun of Dad, criticizing him, walking away while he’s talking or otherwise expressing their annoyance.
This behavior, especially on Disney shows, has become the norm to such a degree that parents regularly tell me they don’t allow their children to watch the channel. There’s no sex or violence — but there’s only so many times they want their children to watch their counterparts on screen ignore, insult or pretend to humor their parents for laughs.
We should probably be most concerned when dads are the butt of the joke. Decades ago, when the place of men in the family and in the work world was clear, the use of comedy to make the powerful powerless was understandable and helped lighten the mood by humanizing the authority figure.