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From Homer Simpson to Phil Dunphy, sitcom dads have long been known for being bumbling and inept.

But it wasn’t always this way. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, sitcom dads tended to be serious, calm and wise, if a bit detached. In a shift that media scholars have documented, only in later decades did fathers start to become foolish and incompetent.

And yet the real-world roles and expectations of fathers have changed in recent years. Today’s dads are putting more time into caring for their children and see that role as more central to their identity.

Have today’s sitcoms kept up?

I study gender and the media, and I specialize in depictions of masculinity. In a new study, my co-authors and I systematically look at the ways in which portrayals of sitcom fathers have and haven’t changed.

Why sitcom portrayals matter

Fictional entertainment can shape our views of ourselves and others. To appeal to broad audiences, sitcoms often rely on the shorthand assumptions that form the basis of stereotypes. Whether it’s the way they portray gay masculinity in “Will and Grace” or the working class in “Roseanne,” sitcoms often mine humor from certain norms and expectations associated with gender, sexual identity and class.

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