Tag Archives: sitcoms

My Frustrations And Fondness With Bumbling Dad Tropes

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We know them, love them, laugh at them, and cringe at them every now and then. They entertain us. They educate us. They amuse us in any number of ways, both with real-life antics and those only possible through animation. They are the clumsy, bumbling, oafish father figures of popular culture. Compared to many other tropes, they make up a sizable chunk of the overall comedy footprint in our media landscape.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t write that with disdain or dismay. In fact, I’m quite fond of the bumbling father figures that make up a sizable chunk of sitcoms, animated shows, and movies. I grew up on a steady diet of “The Simpson,” “Family Guy,” and “Married With Children.” Characters like Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, and Al Bundy have had a profound impact on my world and not just in terms of laughter.

As I get older, though, I find myself scrutinizing the dynamics of these faltering father figures more and more. I also find myself paying more attention to the context and circumstances surrounding them, especially as our media and culture evolves in accord with changing trends, some less positive than others.

Maybe it’s because I’m an adult now. Maybe it’s because, as both an adult and a man, I have too much experience with the larger complexities of the world. I can still laugh every time Homer does something foolish or Peter does something stupid. However, a part of me can’t help but contemplate the larger implications of bumbling dads.

Some of it has to do with double standards, which I’ve talked about many times before. Some of it deals with the struggles/inexperience in developing complex fatherly characters who aren’t blatant rip-offs of Superman, John McClane, Jack Baur, or Ward Cleaver. Most of it simply reflects a sentiment that I find frustrating at times.

Think, for a moment, about the dumbest, most hilariously idiotic antics in a show featuring bumbling dads. “The Simpson,” alone, should give plenty of content to draw from. With those antics in mind, contemplate what those antics say about the bumbling dad as a character and what it says about male characters, as a whole.

Whether he’s Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, or a guy you know in real life who once threw up in a kiddie pool after doing shots of habenero sauce on a dare, the themes are fairly consistent. At the heart of every conflict in the story is a selfish, moronic, thick-headed guy who, if he didn’t have his wife and kids, would’ve been dead by now.

The bumbling dad isn’t just the catalyst for most of the conflicts in the show. He basically embodies the inherent ineptitude of men, as a whole. Whereas strong, independent women are celebrated as a trope of their own, the bumbling dad acts as a case study as to why men can’t function on their own. Unless they have a woman and a family to restrain them, they’ll collapse under the weight of their own stupidity.

It doesn’t just reflect poorly on male characters. It sends a pretty frustrating message to female characters as well, saying that women basically have to act as referees on top of being spouses and mothers. Their role, in the context of the bumbling dad trope, is to either clean up the mess or reign the man in before he does some serious damage.

In a sense, the bumbling dad is the catalyst for the nagging woman, a character not nearly as hilarious that can be every bit as frustrating. One causes all the chaos and problems in a story. The other whines about it and tries to limit the damage, often while failing to teach the bumbling dad any meaningful lessons that’ll help him be less bumbling.

Granted, there are some exceptions to that dynamic. Compared to Marge Simpson and Lois Griffin, Peggy Bundy from “Married With Childrencompletely subverts this trope. Then again, that whole show went out of its way to undermine every standard sitcom trope that ever existed. As I noted before, it’s the kind of show that could never be made today.

Those exceptions aside, the bumbling dad represents another point of frustration that has more to do with the implications of character development, as a whole. It’s a frustration that even plays out in other forms of media that don’t involve idiot married men who only still have their limbs because their wives won’t let them near fireworks.

When you take a step back and look at the kinds of roles bumbling dads have in so many narratives, you notice a number of recurring themes that don’t just reflect poorly on them as men and fathers. They also help enable a lot of the themes that reflect poorly on certain female characters as well.

Essentially, the bumbling dad is allowed to be an idiot with flaws, ineptitude, and shortcomings of all kinds. It’s okay that he make a fool of himself, getting hurt and causing all sorts of damage with his antics. When Al Bundy and his idiot male friends keep falling off a roof, it’s funny and entertaining. If a female character did that, though, that just wouldn’t have the same impact.

Even in shows like “Married With Children,” the female characters were never allowed to fall off a roof, get hurt, or get into fights of any kind. Even when they’re not nagging or trying to be the voice of reason, the female characters are treated as more fragile, needing to fill a more specific role rather than explore the vast array of buffoonery that their male counterparts get to experience.

A female character can’t be bumbling, idiotic, or self-destructive. That would imply she has too many flaws. Even in the days before the recent push for more female representation, that was considered taboo.

A female character can’t be the catalyst for a problem either, unless it involves the moral crusades of Lisa Simpson. The idea of a female character causing anywhere near the problems as a man would just trigger too much outrage for daring to hint that women can be as flawed as men. That last sentence was sarcasm, by the way.

This, essentially, is the driving force behind the frustration. The bumbling dad trope basically gives the impression that men are the only ones who can be foolish, self-destructive, unreasonable, and unlikable. Women can occasionally do those things, but never to the point of the bumbling dad.

In terms of character development, that’s limiting to characters of any gender. It means all the conflict, plot twists, and memorable story elements have to come from the male characters. All the female characters ever do is react, recover, or rebuild from the male character’s antics.

The bumbling dad basically sets up the expectations alongside the comedy. We expect them to do something stupid. We expect them to make a fool of themselves, get hurt, and not think things through. We also expect the women to basically bring them back in line again because without them, they just couldn’t function.

Beyond the expectations, the bumbling dad is basically the crash test dummy for all the chaos within a plot. They’re the ones that get hurt. They bear the brunt end of the physical comedy, be it a slap in the face or constantly falling down a cliff. The idea of women getting hurt just as much, even in an era where the push for tough female characters has never been greater, still doesn’t sit right with audiences.

That says as much about lingering gender norms as it does about bumbling dads, as a whole. Beyond just relegating the comedy and the personal journey to a particular male character, it gives the impression that women aren’t capable of doing foolish things. Anyone with a stable internet connection knows that’s just not true.

Again, this is not to say the bumbling dad trope is inherently “toxic.” I’ve already made clear how much I despise that terminology. There will always be a place for bumbling dads and the comedy they inspire. There’s also plenty of room for non-male, non-dad characters to be foolish as well. When it comes to gender, age, race, and sexual orientation, stupidity is the ultimate egalitarian.

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Jack Fisher’s Top 5 Female Characters That Make Men Hate Women

Let’s face it. There are some fictional characters that are so detestable, so irredeemable, and so shamelessly mean that even a devout nun would want to punch them in the jaw. From King Joffrey to half the cast of “Friends,” there are plenty of characters we just love to hate and hate to hate.

Within that long list of depraved individuals, there are plenty of female characters. Women are just as capable of being that infuriatingly detestable. That’s one of the few things that both radical feminists and men’s rights activities can agree on. Some of these women don’t just give their gender a bad name. They act as a legitimate reason to roll back gender equality.

There are a lot of utterly detestable women in the real world and not just Lena Dunham and Ann Coulter types either. There are plenty more in the world of fiction and they do plenty to channel the inner Archie Bunker in all of us. It doesn’t matter how politically correct or how many gender studies courses you’ve taken. These characters inspire a special kind of hate.

When I compiled my list of great underrated female characters, I knew I would be contrasting them with women like this. The spectrum for female characters is pretty broad, despite what those behind the Bechtel Test may claim. On one end you have Furiosa from “Mad Max: Fury Road.” On the other, you have Regina George from “Mean Girls.

In the spirit of balance on this blog, I’m going to explore the other end of that spectrum. That means I’ll be tapping into some of the sinister sentiments I’ve explored before, namely those of misogynistic men. As always, I feel compelled to disclose that I do not support such sentiments. I am not here to start a gender war. I want this blog to remain funny and entertaining.

That said, I’m going to turn off my politically correct filter and dig into this den of detestable female characters. Just as before, I’ll stick to fictional characters with this list. Feminists, radical or otherwise, may want to brace themselves here. These are Jack Fisher’s top 5 female characters that make men hate women.


5. Lucy  Van Pelt (Peanuts Comics)

There are so many lovable characters in Charles Shultz’s iconic Peanuts comic strip. Seriously, how can you not love someone like Charlie Brown, Linus Van Pelt, or Pig Pen? Unless you’re a sociopath, it’s a challenge at best.

Then, there’s Lucy Van Pelt. If lovability has to be balanced with frothing hate, then it’s safe to say that Lucy does plenty to tip the scales. It’s not just that she never lets Charlie Brown kick that damn football. She’s coarse. She’s greedy. She’s manipulative. She’s constantly belittling others and telling them what to do, often with her firsts.

She may be a kid, but she embodies traits that kids and adults adults despise. She embodies the kind of callous cruelty that men often find in women who betray them. Lucy Van Pelt is very much a proto-Regina George, but she’s willing to punch people. That’s a dangerous and abhorrent combination.


4. Black Cat (Spider-Man)

When it comes to female comic book characters, I have a soft spot for self-proclaimed vixens. Throughout the history of comics, there have been many. From Emma Frost to Starfire, they embody the raw sex appeal that puts a smile on my face and a boner in my pants.

Now I understand there are certain uptight, overly PC folks who see vixens as an overt objectification of women. Most of the time, I just roll my eyes at these remarks. These are the same humorless asshats who claimed Wonder Woman was too sexy to be a UN ambassador for women. These people deserve no credibility.

That said, some characters do way too good a job of making those humorless asshats seem logical. Most female superhero vixens at least try to develop some sense of personality and depth. Even Jessica Rabbit had some moments of growth. For Felicia Hardy, also known as the Black Cat from the Spider-Man comics, there are no such moments.

She’s sexy. She’s cunning. She’s coy. Those are all basic traits of a vixen. However, Black Cat rarely uses her sex appeal for good. She’s a thief, a con-artist, and a liar. Unlike Catwoman, who will at least try to balance out her deviant habits, the Black Cat makes no effort.

She eagerly takes advantage of Spider-Man’s gullibility. She often uses her sexiness to manipulate others. She never makes any effort to grow or improve herself. She is a walking worst-case-scenario for a female vixen. She uses all her sex appeal for selfish indulgence and never for the greater good. She’s the epitome of irresponsibility and yet Spider-Man still wants to bone her. That says just as much about her as it does about Spider-Man.


3. Lois (Malcolm In The Middle)

There are any number of overplayed archetypes for male heroes. There’s the ladies man, the nerd, the jock, the rebel, and the token black guy. In every movie or TV show, you can usually find a couple of these characters.

For women, there are plenty of archetypes as well, but they’re not always as easy to identify. Most female characters tend to avoid the extremes of a given archetype. It’s not always balanced, but it’s rarely overt.

That’s what makes Lois, the temperamental mother from “Malcolm In The Middle,” such a frustrating character. She doesn’t try to avoid the extremes. She embraces them. She is, by every measure, the ultimate ball buster. She’s bossy, if not downright tyrannical. She’s callous, going out of her way to crush spirits and make everyone as miserable as her.

She embodies the kind of woman who takes over a home and runs it with an iron fist. Lois’ husband, Hal, is exceedingly submissive to her and not in a fun way. On top of that, nothing she does makes her deranged kids any less deviant. So not only is she a ball-busting tyrant, but she fails to realize that her methods don’t work, have never worked, and never will work. She’s the kind of woman that give men nightmares.


2. Peg Bundy (Married With Children)

Lois from “Malcolm In The Middle” isn’t the only sitcom that takes female archetypes to an infuriating extreme. Before there was Lois, there was another female character who inspired a special kind of dread in all heterosexual men. Her name still evokes fear in those who are thinking about getting married and for once, it’s not the name of a divorce lawyer.

Her name is Peggy Bundy from the classic Fox show, “Married With Children.” She embodies a different archetype than Lois, but one that’s every bit as detestable. She’s not the angry, ball-busting tyrant as much as she is the parasitic, soul-crushing, self-absorbed bitch who opts to bust balls indirectly. Given the many pathetic moments Al Bundy endures throughout the show, her methods work ominously well.

At least with Lois, she tries to better her family’s situation. Peggy makes no effort whatsoever. She doesn’t cook. She doesn’t clean. She doesn’t support her husband or family in any way. However, she still expects her husband to earn enough money to support her heavy shopping habits and her love of snack food.

She’s less a spouse and more a leech. The only reason Al married her is because she got him drunk. She represents the ultimate fear of men everywhere, a woman who exists solely to leech off their hard work and contribute nothing to the relationship or the family. As a female character, she is the ultimate cautionary tale for men seeking marriage.


1. Quinn Morgendorrfer (Daria)

This is just too fitting. When I made my list of the top five underrated characters, I made it a point to highlight Daria Morgendorrfer from the classic MTV show, “Daria,” as a likable, compelling, well-developed female character from an era that was just starting to develop those kinds of characters. On top of that, Daria didn’t even have to look good in a bikini to pull this off.

In that same show, however, there was another character who highlighted all the reasons Daria was so likable by being the complete opposite. Her name was Quinn Morgendorrfer. She’s Daria’s sister, although she spent nearly four-and-a-half seasons denying it.

Quinn, despite her bubbly persona, is the worst of the worst with respect to female characters men love to hate. At least with every other woman on this list, they’ll acknowledge their ego and narcissism to some extent. They’ll even joke about it. With Quinn, however, there’s no humility whatsoever.

For men, Quinn is one of those characters that just makes you want to grit your teeth and punch brick wall. She’s shallow, boring, self-centered, manipulative, uptight, whiny, and crass. It’s not just that she’s everything Daria isn’t. More than any other character on the show, she goes out of her way to avoid being likable or respectable in any capacity.

Quinn rarely, if ever, sees anyone as anything other than obstacles or opportunities. She doesn’t date men for any kind of emotional appeal. She just uses them for social status. The same goes for her female friends. She’ll ingratiate herself to them, but only because it helps her popularity. That’s what it’s all about for her, being popular and looking cute.

Quinn is the ultimate manifestation of what men don’t like about certain women. She uses and manipulates their emotions for her own personal gain. Even when she tries to do good, it’s often only because she wants to better herself and no one else. She doesn’t care if she breaks hearts or annoys others. She just wants to be cute and popular.


I hope this list and the one I posted before offers some insight into what makes quality female characters. I also hope it serves as a guide for men and women alike. Guys, if you’re looking for an ideal woman, stay away form the Quinns and Peggy Bundys of the world. Ladies, if you want men to be more understanding of women’s issues, then don’t be like Quinn or Peggy Bundy. We’ll all get along better as a result.

 

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Love Or Obsession: Big Bang Theory Edition

It’s okay to love things that are flawed. Hell, if we weren’t able to love things that are flawed, romance as we know it would be impossible. It’s our ability to overlook, understand, and even appreciate flaws that allows us to love each other and the things that bring us joy in life.

That brings me to one of my favorite TV shows, The Big Bang Theory. I’ve talked about it before, specifically when discussing toxic relationships. I don’t doubt that plenty of fans of the show disagree with my assessment. I still stand by my criticism. Remember, I crafted that post with the full disclaimer that I love this show, despite its flaws.

With that love and admiration in mind, I’d like this show to be the subject of my next entry of “Love Or Obsession.” I’m actually enjoying this little exercise, breaking down iconic romances and assessing whether they constitute love or obsession. It helps add a new perspective to my understanding of romance and erotica. For someone in my field, that understanding is vital.

In the spirit of such understanding, I’d like to do this exercise for the three major romances on the show. To fans of the show, I understand I’m leaving Raj out for the moment. I was going to assess him and Emily, but that plot seems to have fallen to the wayside. If that changes, I’ll do a follow-up post. For now, I’ll be focusing on the big three, which is Penny/Leonard, Sheldon/Amy, and Howard/Bernadette.

Again, I’m open to discussing these assessments. If you disagree with me, let me know. I’m certainly willing to discuss this topic. I think, if we’re going to appreciate romance in media, it’s a discussion worth having.


Penny/Leonard

Love Or Obsession?
Obsession

This one is, by far, the most important and iconic romance to the show. It also happens to be the one that bothers me most, as I’ve said before. This romance began at the very beginning of the show and has been a major driving force for every episode since. It’s presented as cute and it does lead to many entertaining subplots, but there’s no getting around how flawed it is.

Leonard is obsessed with Penny. He was obsessed from the moment he saw her. He was obsessed with being with her, being the man for her, and being the guy who ends up with her. There are times when I don’t think he separates the concept of loving Penny as a person and loving Penny as an idea. The concept means more than the person. Being a socially awkward nerd, this does make sense, albeit in a pathetic sort of way.

With Penny, I don’t think there’s quite as much obsession involved. I think on some levels, her love for Leonard is genuine. However, there are also times with her when I think she loves the concept more than the person. What I mean by that is she loves Leonard because he’s not the same as the guys who have hurt her in the past. That’s not a good basis for any romance.

On top of that, Penny knows she can control Leonard. She knows he can never get someone like her. She controls the relationship. She controls Leonard in pretty much every way. It’s not a healthy relationship. There is love, but it is grossly overshadowed by the flaws and the obsession behind them.


Amy/Sheldon

Love Or Obsession?
Love

This is probably the second most important relationship in the show, if only for the entertainment value it constantly brings. Amy and Sheldon are not a normal romance because they’re very abnormal individuals. They have extreme quirks that constitute major personality disorders.

Despite this, or because of this, they find a way to work. They find a way to complement each other. They annoy and challenge each other, but they’re better because of it. Amy is stronger because of Sheldon. Sheldon is less of a self-centered asshat because of Amy. This is one of those relationships that makes both sides better. I’d argue it’s probably one of the strangest, but most productive relationships on TV right now.

That’s an odd thing to say because these two characters are so odd. Sheldon, especially, takes oddities and proclivities to such an extreme that anyone who puts up with him deserves incredible sympathy. While Amy does get annoyed at times, she still puts in the effort and, despite needing a nudge every now and then, Sheldon does the same.

Every episode, it seems as though these two find a new way to annoy each other. In the end though, they find a way to be closer. It’s an incredibly odd, but fittingly beautiful thing.


Howard/Bernadette

Love Or Obsession?
Love (Mostly)

This one is hard to assess, especially since Howard was such a creepy jerk early in the show. He grew up over successive seasons, becoming more likable along the way. He’s still self-centered, lazy, and arrogant at times, but there’s no doubt that he loves Bernadette. He will go out of his way for her. He will do what he has to do to prove that he loves her, even if she needs to twist his arm.

I rule this as love not just because they were the first couple to get married. I render this ruling because I never got the impression that these two were obsessed with one another or that their relationship was built on pure infatuation. They learned to love each other as individuals and not be totally defined by their relationship.

I still added the “mostly” there because, like Penny and Leonard, it’s an unbalanced relationship. It’s not nearly as unbalanced, but it’s still a relationship where one side, namely Bernadette, exercises a larger role. She makes more money than Howard. She’s more assertive than Howard. She can get him to do things like a trained pet.

Despite this imbalance, their love does come off as genuine. They do complement each other in some respects. It’s not a wholly healthy relationship, but it works and there is a fair amount of love guiding it.

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