Sitcoms – From the Wealthy to the Ditzy

I read through the article titled Why television keeps re-creating the white male working buffoon (a title which still makes me laugh) by Richard Butsch.  One of the first points he makes is how many television shows in the 1970’s and 1980’s (and I would add the 1990’s as well) showed very rich families, something that I’m sure not a lot of their middle-class viewers could relate to.  In fact, a lot of the television shows in those days often featured a maid or butler.  The Brady Bunch is a prime example; despite Carol and Mike both being widowed and having three of their own children to care for on their own, they somehow had enough money for them to get married, own a home, have a dog, and even hire a maid.  My parents couldn’t even afford half of that even when the only kids they had were me and one younger sister.

And Mike Brady isn’t the only widower rich enough to have a maid; Philip Drummond in Diff’rent Strokes, a rich widower, has enough money to live in a penthouse with his daughter and his maid, as well as adopt two young African-American boys.

All-white families are not the only people who portray this lavish lifestyle on TV.  The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air features Will Smith living with his wealthy uncle, Phil, in a mansion with his family and his humorous butler, Geoffrey.


However, I would argue that this show makes more of an effort to show that this money did not come overnight; Uncle Phil is a renowned judge who works hard to put bread on the table on top of being a good father and husband.  He is sometimes seen as worried or stressed out from work in some episodes, and his infamous temper shows what the stress of being a judge, husband, father, and uncle all at once can do to a person.


Butsch goes on to explain how many television shows feature the ‘buffoon husband,’ who is seen as, “dumb, immature, irresponsible, or lacking in common sense.”  He includes examples such as The Flintstones and The Simpsons, which is currently the longest-running sitcom on television.  Homer Simpson seems to get himself in a bad situation in almost every episode.  His crazy antics get him in trouble with work, with family, etc.  This must be why he has this famous catchphrase…


(Note: This artifact was added 4/22/2014)

Even more so, this ‘buffoon husband’ is accompanied by a more mature, sensible, loving wife who sticks by her husband through even his dumbest moments.  This isn’t shown just in cartoons; take this clip from The King of Queens, for example.


Why does this image of a ditzy husband and a sensible wife seem to appear in many sitcoms?  Simply put, this concept has worked many times in the past, so many program creators decide to do the same thing in order to find success.  Audiences typically find this family dynamic funny – why do you think so many American families love Homer Simpson?  Not because he is necessarily a role model, but because his antics are funny.  Hilarious antics like his are what makes sitcoms work on television.  Comedy means ratings, and ratings means money.


Control of the Media

Maybe this is just my cynical nature, but Dr. Jim Taylor’s blog post resonated very well with me.  I agree, most of what is considered popular culture is, in my eyes, not very popular at all.  While it is true that the media plays a big role in creating popular culture by telling their target audience (i.e. young people like myself) what to consume, it is clear from the following examples that companies and corporations play a much bigger role in mandating popular culture.

Just like when I said that what is considered popular culture may not actually be popular, there is a noticeable difference between the most popular television shows and the most searched television shows.  According to, some of the highest ranked television series in the 2012-2013 season included Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, Two and a Half Men, The Voice, and 2 Broke Girls.  Many of the shows on this list are considered comedies or dramas, while shows like The Voice gives us a chance to see who is the next star and also gives us something pleasant to listen to (depending if we like the singer or not).  This supports the idea that much of our popular culture serves to entertain us.

However, the Huffington Post tells us that the most searched television shows in the same time frame included Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, X Factor, Big Brother 14, and Dance Moms.  In fact, a majority of the top-searched television shows were reality shows.  Shows like Big Brother and X Factor involve fans searching for who gets eliminated each week.  In fact, Big Brother has become so popular that there are blogs and fan sites dedicated to giving daily updates to followers from the Big Brother house (Note: This artifact was added 4/22/2014).  As for the other shows on the list, though, there was much controversy around them.  Honey Boo Boo and her family are always in the news, especially because of their “redneck” lifestyle, as some would call it, as well as the controversy surrounding child beauty pageants.

Exclusive - Alana Thompson Competes in "The Sparkle & Shine Pageant"

Other shows on this most searched list, such as The New Normal and Switched at Birth may have garnered attention for dealing with sensitive family issues that not many television shows deal with.

Why do I bring this up?  It all goes back to corporations.  Advertisements, including commercials and billboards, tell us that shows like Big Bang Theory and 2 Broke Girls are the TV shows we are going to find funny and, in turn, the TV shows we should watch and care about.  News media like broadcast TV and magazines, however, attempt to sway us in a different way.  They see people like Honey Boo Boo and the stage parents on Dance Moms and think these are the kind of shenanigans people will want to see.  Then a cycle begins: If we air this story about Honey Boo Boo acting silly on her show, people will watch the show more, then come back to us to see what else we have to say about Honey Boo Boo.

Then again, like I said, this could just be my cynical nature.

Disney is a notable example of corporations controlling popular culture.  The Disney Corporation started out with their famous film cartoons, which soon made the leap to television and movies.  These movies, especially their animated ones, soon became valued among parents as wholesome entertainment for their children.

But it did not stop there, as we all know.  Add to it the theme parks, the television channel, the radio station, the toys, the books, the games, the store, the live shows on ice and on Broadway – Disney is all over the map!  All these aspects of the Disney empire are valued in today’s pop culture.  Football teams say they are going to Disneyland after winning the Super Bowl, young kids watch the Disney Channel and listen to Radio Disney, and there is a Disney store in just about every mall in my area.  Plus, Disney is always releasing re-mastered versions and “special anniversary” editions of their classic movies.

Alice in Wonderland

Robin Hood

Social media is no exception.  Let’s take Twitter, for example.  When Twitter first came on the scene, not much was known about it.  This even sparked a newscast devoted to figuring out what this site really is.

Today, I hear from many people – including Twitter users – that Twitter is (and I’m paraphrasing here) a stupid waste of time.  Still, the media is telling us to value Twitter.  Celebrities are always on it; there are hashtags in music videos, commercials, and TV shows; and there are even news stories completely devoted to what people are talking about on Twitter.

Popular culture is everywhere, but knowing who really controls it can make you question its purpose.  While most people say pop culture is there to entertain, there is always some other company or corporation involved in the media messages we see in pop culture.