UWT professor Ed Chamberlain would like you to consider the ways that fathers are depicted in media. Specifically, he would like you to consider the way this representation is a reflection and a lesson in what our culture expects of fathers. His research aims to answer the question “What does it mean to be a father in today’s world?” The answer brings forth quite a few mixed messages.
Dr. Chamberlain presented his research on fatherhood at a “Scholarly Selections Talk” hosted at the Washington State History Museum. These talks are opportunities for lecturers on the UW Tacoma campus to share their current research.
He examined the way that western television and social media have depicted fatherhood over the past 30 years, tracking the flow from fathers like Charles Ingalls and Lester Jenkins, who were very supportive and traditional; to Gomez Addams and Homer Simpson, who pushed the envelope on what was acceptable fatherly behavior; to Ignacio Suarez and Neil Patrick Harris who are loving and kind, but not always on top of what to do.
In his research, Chamberlain tracked how fathers play into perceptions of male roles in society — noting that fathers went from wise and genial providers to bumbling fools, to impossible to maintain “Super Dads,” to actual human beings.
Videos float around YouTube and Vimeo of fathers doing loving and nurturing things. Twitter shame campaigns hunt deadbeat dads. News Anchors blast commercials that imply fathers don’t know how to care for children. Blogs dress down the cultural narrative that fathers are “babysitting” their children, rather than raising them. Gay fathers show their messy, loving lives. Fathers from the working class show their affection for their children. Black and Latino fathers reject racist notions about their involvement in their children’s lives. In short, society is sick of the notion that a father stops being involved in his child’s life after his significant other gets pregnant and it shows in their social media.
Chamberlain’s presentation is just the most recent in the Scholarly Selections series. Unfortunately, there are none scheduled in the coming months, but keep an eye on the campus events calendar as they are worth your time.
Mary Fitzgerald is the web manager for the Tacoma Ledger, and a junior studying computer science. Most days she can be found on campus in the development labs or in the TLC. Mary aspires to use her degree to make technology accessible and sustainable.