Single dads in the entertainment arena: hegemonic hierarchies and happy endings

Feasey, R (2021) 'Single dads in the entertainment arena: hegemonic hierarchies and happy endings.' In: Åström, B and Bergnehr, D, eds. Single parents: representations and resistance in an international context. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, pp. 113-131. ISBN 9783030713102

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This chapter analyses the changing family from the nuclear unit to the single father as caregiver and provider, paying particular attention to the ways in which such paternal shifts can be understood within broader debates around men, masculinity and society. The chapter considers how single fathers are routinely positioned in romantic situations to alleviate the potential challenge of single fatherhood to more traditional depictions of family life. Returning to a traditional family unit via dating, engagement and re-marriage enables single fathers to embrace or regain their hegemonic credentials rather than disrupt or destabilise the hierarchy of masculinity. What remains clear throughout the chapter however is that media representations of single fatherhood are key, not just to creative entertainment, but to broader cultural visibility, and by extension, family support.

Item Type: Book Chapter or Section

Single fathers make up a small, yet growing number of families in the UK, US and beyond. Irrespective of whether these men are divorced, widowed or single fathers by choice via adoption or surrogacy, there exist few media depictions of this paternal role beyond children’s animation and the situation comedy genre. While Disney and DreamWorks have presented a myriad of animated single fathers over the past twenty years, it is the television situation comedy that has the longest running history of depicting the single father as caregiver. For nearly six decades, in shows ranging from My Three Sons (1960-65), The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68), Who’s the Boss (1984-92) and My Two Dads (1987-90) to Full House (1987-95), Blossom (1990-95), Two and a Half Men (2003-15) and Suburgatory (2011-14), the single dad has been a staple of the situation comedy schedules. More recently, there has been a trend for single dads within police and crime procedurals, with Bones (2005-17) and Castle (2009-16), like their sitcom counterparts, leaning heavily on the comedy within their crime drama credentials. Alternatively, with less scope for comedic containment, single fathers such as Jack Bauer/Kiefer Sutherland (24, 2001-10) and Rick Grimes/Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead, 2010 - ) are held to different paternal standards as they are saving the world from terrorist and zombie threats respectively (Feasey 2008, 80-93).

Although there exists a number of popular and long running depictions of single fathers on the small screen, it is worth noting that such figures exist within and alongside a broader entertainment landscape. With this in mind, this chapter will look at the ways in which single fathers are depicted in popular media culture, from single fathers speaking about the triumphs, trials and tribulations of lone parenting in the Good Men Project to their fictional screen counterparts in the UK and US. The analysis will consider the relationship between the key themes and recurring tropes that exist in such media texts in relation to broader debates around single fatherhood. It is important to acknowledge the ways in which lone fathers are both represented and responded to in contemporary scholarship and broader channels of discourse. Indeed, a consideration of extra textual materials that surround a media text, or what Martin Barker refers to as ‘ancillary materials’ (Barker 2004) is an important part of the analysis due to the fact that media texts are not experienced in isolation from cultural commentaries or popular debates. Rather, they are consumed amongst a myriad of wider entertainment titles, information channels and networks.

Divisions: Bath School of Art, Film and Media
Research Centres and Groups: Centre for Media Research
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Date Deposited: 18 Jun 2021 17:49
Last Modified: 30 May 2023 01:40
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