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The Reimaging Of Fatherhood In Cartoons

The Simpsons

The Simpsons | Photo Matt Groening

It is true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his mother. (Achebe, Things Fall Apart)

The above quote by the renowned African novelist encapsulates the common structure of a typical African family. In fact, when you think of fatherhood, you think of figureheads that lay foundations to life whilst appearing as role models and a yardstick to aspirations. Traditionally, the male presence is vital in the completion of having a stable child. This leads to statements like “father figure” or “having daddy issues.” It is this “daddy issues” that Okonkwo in “Things Fall Apart” was faced with this throughout his life.

As the basic structure of the family centres on the father, mother, and the children, it can be argued that patriarchy is the sole gender fashioning agent that dictates the gender roles of most societies of the world.

Moreover, parents always want the best for their children and to do this, certain rules come to play despite learning on the job. Beginning with screen time, what they watch on TV is greatly considered and without a doubt, cartoons are the best to generally keep kids calm and collected. As such, not much parental censoring or deep thought is given to these pretty harmless cartoon characters as our kids want to be Cat Boy, Owlet and Gecko.

What parents do not realise is the way the father figures are projected in some cartoons which might be damaging in the way our boys will grow up to be men as well as the portrayal of “mummy figures”. Take for instance, in “The Amazing World of Gumball” the father figure Richard Buckley Watterson is an unemployed father who is a terrible model to his children and lacking any semblance of common sense. Lawrence Fletcher the male father in “Phineas and Ferb” might not be as bad as the above-mentioned but is not out of the loop too as he is absent-minded and acts childlike encouraging them somewhat to carry on in the bizarre experiment and even participating in some of them.

The Amazing World Of Gumball

The Amazing World Of Gumball | Photo UzerFriendly

Then again, we tend to think the likes of “Family Guy,” “American Dad,” “Fairly Odd Parents” or even “The Simpsons” are the usual cartoons not realizing the profound content in the representation of the man/father in these cartoons. Take for instance the role of Peter Griffin, who is a terrible father and role model to his son and other kids watching the show. He on countless occasions gives misguided advice to his son who in turn looks up to him. He is also very negligent to his kids, being very physical and psychologically abusive most especially to his daughter. Stan in “American Dad” is not left out as he is not particularly intelligent and like the others, his decisions put the family at risks while being selfish and hypocritical. Stan Smith can be said to have daddy issues as he was abandoned by his father despite this he grew up idolizing his father needing him to fill the vacuum.

In all of the said cartoons, Mothers have one binding trait of being the glue that holds the family together creating a “mother figure.”

With this recognizable pattern, is this just a depiction of role rather than gender? Fathers being continuously portrayed as the goofy irresponsible figureheads and mothers are shown as the ones filled with sage and a lot on her plate but can still keep it together sometimes. Even cartoons of the ’60s with fictional characters like Fred Flinstones depicting an immature Fred with a gambling problem is not different from the present pattern in cartoons of today.

The unconscious brainwashing by these TV shows illustrates a certain projection of the way of life regarding gender roles and the consequences of divided nurturing based on gender. The mother figure is not a thing but father figure is and this is seen with the vacuum some kids desperately try to fill, thereby living a needy and chaotic life until the core foundational problem is solved.

With all these said, do these cartoons accurately depict the homes of many? All these fathers mentioned are all playing out a pattern that begets the question “Is this really a reflection of what is obtainable in our society?

Judging from the cartoons it, unequivocally, says that males are allowed to bask in their reckless abandonment, leading to the irresponsible way of life depicted by these characters while girls are shaped by umpteen dos and don’ts. Ultimately, there exists a disparity in the parenting of the boy as opposed to that of the girl child: less care or attention is given to the former since he is expected to gallantly walk into maturity. However, the girl-child gets the helicopter-parenting due to her gender.

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