The television sitcom has provided thousands of hours of entertainment for Americans since the concept was first adapted in the 1950s. Although hundreds of shows have come and gone, the theme is always the same: show the humor in “real life” people, doing “real life” things. While some sitcoms capture real life better than others, the goal is always to get a laugh. And this fall’s lineup of sitcoms is no different. The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted a common theme among several of these new shows that I think is interesting: men in modern day society.

“Up All Night” (NBC) centers on Chris and wife Reagan, new parents to baby Amy. While Reagan goes back to work after Amy is born, Chris stays home as Mr. Mom. In “Last Man Standing” (ABC) Mike struggles with being the last “real man” left in a woman’s world. “How to Be a Gentleman” (CBS) follows a clean cut, well mannered magazine columnist as he enlists an old high-school bully to show him how to become a “real man.”
So what do these shows and others say about men in today’s society? It used to be that the TV man was the head of household, had words of wisdom for his children, and was the primary breadwinner. But today’s TV dad stays home, plays videogames, struggles to clean and cook, and is clueless when it comes to his kids. Is this an accurate picture of today’s man?
It’s no secret that women have made great strides toward equality in the past few decades. And interesting to note is that 56% of American’s currently unemployed are men. In the last 15 years, the number of stay-at-home dads taking care of children under 15 has tripled to 154,000. Have women gained ground at the expense of men? Are men becoming less manly like the WSJ and new TV shows seem to suggest? Or does “manly” have a new definition today?
A few years ago, I wrote a White Paper about the “Missing Males,” looking at the portrayal of men in TV advertising as absent minded, clueless and careless. Cited in the paper was a study that found that “74 percent of men feel that images of their gender in advertising are out of touch with reality.” So will men identify with these new TV dads this fall?
It depends. These TV shows could go one of two ways.
In scenario one, men are portrayed as clueless and careless. Even though they are more involved in their children’s lives, they know no more about how to care for their children. The “alpha woman” constantly steps in to correct mistakes. If this plot plays out, audiences will find it funny, but men won’t identify and if advertisers follow suit, they’ll lose big.
In scenario two, men are portrayed as caring and competent. They love their families and are committed to them. They are fully capable of cooking, cleaning, and caring for themselves and others. Men may better identify with this plot. Advertisers who cater to the caring nature of today’s man will also succeed.
Dove has captured this sentiment in their Men+Care product advertising. The ads show men participating in both “tough” activities like football and driving motorcycles and caring moments with their children and pets. Dove poses the question “Who says power can’t be caring?”
Men today are different, just as women are. But it’s important that advertisers realize exactly how they are different and identify accurately with their audience.
Read more about the Missing Male phenomenon here.