To research this topic we each completed individual analysis essays, using sources of our choosing, and then came together to collectively decide on some key findings throughout all of our work. Our findings relied heavily on literary analysis, so many of our key points cite other authors. Citations for their work can be found in our Resources page. In summary, our main findings were as follows.
1. Television sitcoms are incredibly influential in our lives in America, and they have the ability to shape our understanding of the world and the people around us. This cements the need to take the portrayals of television characters, and the stereotypes they perpetuate, seriously.
2. Television sitcoms in the United States perpetuate the popular notion of American individualism; they reinforce the myth that each person is alone responsible for their socioeconomic status.
3. Historically, the working class has been underrepresented in American television sitcoms, compared to their prevalence in reality. This trend of under-representation has persisted throughout the decades.
4. The working class man in American television sitcoms is most often shown as “incompetent and ineffectual, often a buffoon, well-intentioned but dumb” (Butsch).
To supplement these initial key findings, four of us each chose a particular sitcom to examine. The airing dates of these sitcoms ranged from 1971 through 2010, and all of the sitcoms we looked at portrayed the working class. Natalie analyzed the sitcom All in the Family (1971), Mike analyzed the sitcom Married... With Children (1987), Tracy analyzed the sitcom Roseanne (1988), and Kimberly analyzed the sitcom Raising Hope (2010). Below are the key findings from our analyses of each show.
All in the Family
1. All in the Family is a pivotal American sitcom, not only in its representation of the working class, but also for the way in which behaviors and attitudes possessed by this particular class were framed.
2. Archie Bunker’s character “had the potential to be a catalyst for social discussion on things like race, but instead became a stereotypical and negative representation of the white working class male” (Raine 65).
Married... With Children
1. Both Al Bundy’s love of alcohol and women, and his poor work ethic, contribute to framing the working class in a stereotypically negative way.
2. Al Bundy’s use of anger and violence as main forms of interaction with society, and his wife, exemplify the ways in which television sitcoms further the negative stereotypes of the working class male.
1. Roseanne demonstrates in its narrative and plot the constant tension of working class existence, and, through comedy, the irrationality and pain that comes from living and taking part in the American dream (Dimes and Humez 470–71).
2. Roseanne validates the stereotype that all working class women are to take care of all the domestic duties and tasks in a household.
3. Roseanne demonstrates the working class family as having limited access to nutritious food. In the US weight is inversely associated with socioeconomic status, and the consumption of non-nutritious food leads to the labeling of who is or is not working class (Bettie137).
4. Roseanne introduces the idea of power and unity into the concept of the working class providing a little hopefulness for the working class that they can be content and happy in their disadvantaged life circumstances they possess (Bettie).
1. The trend of the working class being underrepresented in sitcoms has persisted throughout the decades. This is evident with a current sitcom Raising Hope still being "a rare American sitcom whose characters are profoundly blue collar, or lower [class]" (Harris).
2. Burt, the father figure in Raising Hope, exemplifies the negative "buffoon-like" portrayal that is popular in working class male characters on television sitcoms.
For explanations of how we came to these findings, we have included our full individual analysis essays below as a reference. Enjoy!