Brennan Excoriates Fathers’ Depictions in Pop Culture

April 18, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Terry Brennan’s fifth article in his series on fatherlessness takes on communications media depictions of Dad, both now and around mid-century (Daily Caller, 4/17/18). That of course seems always to be an issue. Have movies, television programs, advertising and the like improved over the last, say, 20 years? They have. Nowadays, fathers are often shown to be loving, caring and competent. If we weren’t paying attention, we might think that the issue of denigrating fathers in popular culture was dead. As Brennan shows, it’s alive and kicking.

For example, there’s a recent McDonald’s TV spot.

How does McDonald’s feel about fatherhood?

The company’s recent commercial depicts an African American father who orders, saying;

“I’d like the ‘My Wife’s Out of Town and I’m in Over My Head Meal.’”

He’s later bewildered at seeing his daughters and their friends in their room, leaving without speaking. Finally, he’s mocked by his daughter while on the phone, as the other children laugh.

That the man is black is a particularly low blow. African-American fathers are far more likely than all others to be sidelined in their children’s lives. Over 70% of black children are born to single mothers, a clear harbinger of growing up without Dad. Apparently McDonald’s likes it that way. Otherwise, why would it portray a black father as a bumbling fool? Recent research shows black fathers who are involved in their children’s lives to be more hands-on than their white counterparts, but the McDonald’s ad doesn’t let on. Why not show a black dad taking his daughter and her enthusiastic friends to a pleasant dinner out at the golden arches?

Brennan is merciless.

The McDonald’s website states:

“Our belief is rooted in “Diversity IS Inclusion,” a bold and seismic value proposition where EVERY individual feels their culture, identity, and experiences are valued and respected.”

Should African-American fathers feel their “identity, and experiences are valued and respected” by McDonalds? How will the ad impact African-American boys’ perception of fatherhood? Or is it simply that fatherhood is of less value than a Happy Meal?


Meanwhile, the New York Times considers this all good fun. A 2012 analysis of television advertising concluded,

“Ad after ad makes doltish Dad the butt of all jokes. He’s outwitted by his children. He’s the target of condescending eye rolls from his wife. He’s a dumb, incompetent, sometimes even selfish oaf—but his family loves him anyway.”

The Times justified those portrayals as “turnabout is fair play.”

“The portrayals began as a clever reversal of traditional gender roles in campaigns, prompted by the ire of women and feminist organizations over decades of ads using stereotyped imagery of an incompetent, bumbling housewife who needed to be told which coffee or cleanser to buy.

Nope. I was around during those days and I remember no such ads. A housewife shown as “bumbling,” “incompetent” in her domain, i.e. house and home with children? Never. Yes, she could sometimes be seen erroneously using Brand X instead of the brand being advertised, but it was always an honest error. Housewives and mothers were never, never shown in the way fathers have been. The Times’ claim is a fraud designed to let readers laugh off fathers’ anger at the way they’re depicted.

That of course is a point of view that goes well beyond the limited realm of advertising to include sex roles generally. Brennan quotes one woman interviewed by Media Post thus:

“I hate commercials that make fathers look like the lesser parent. It’s not funny. It puts out the message that men are incompetent and irresponsible at home. It’s a subtle message that men belong at work and women belong at home.”

Right. We’re supposedly in an era in which members of each sex are encouraged, and in some ways expected, to take on at least part of the other sex’s traditional role. That may or may not be a brilliant idea, but it’s what’s being advocated far and wide. So anti-father messages actually do the opposite.

And Marketing Week pointed out that anti-father ads turn everyone off.

The suggestion that dads are clowns, or worse sideshows, in the parenting department is the final faux pas that marketers make. Sixty per cent of women say their partner is just as involved in parenting as they are — and there is no difference between the opinions of mothers who work and those who do not, so it is important not to isolate fathers but to communicate to the ‘parenting unit.’

In short, it’s not just hateful, bigoted advertising, it’s bad advertising. What exactly is the value of alienating one’s entire audience? Don Draper would cringe.

And of course, as Brennan concludes, the more messages we receive showing fathers to be incompetent at the job, the more we encourage them and others to believe that that’s just what they are. And that tends to keep fathers from being the parents they want to and can be. It keeps mothers as primary caregivers and disserves children. Everyone loses. Nice.




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Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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