The purpose of my exploration is to scrutinise whether family stereotypes within the media are merely exaggerations, or whether they are accurate observations. I have focused mainly on sitcoms as they are known for their absurd situations and characters, but they have a hint of truth to them at the same time. I narrowed this exploration down to three famous British sitcoms: Outnumbered, Only Fools and Horses and The Royle Family.
I mainly wanted to challenge the viewpoint that all sitcom characters are created for humour, rather than for being similar to our own family members.
Roy Stafford defined sitcoms as ‘a setting and a group of characters providing the opportunity for a comic narrative’ (Stafford, 2004). Most British sitcoms are based on the concept of families, and build on these characters throughout series and episodes. Typical family members might include a grumpy Grandad or boisterous brother for example.
In Only Fools and Horses, they base the early episodes on two brothers and a Grandad, later becoming two brothers, their wives and their war veteran Uncle.
The main stereotype from the show was that the brothers were very argumentative towards each other but remained close throughout, and the Grandad – or Uncle – was a forgetful and dopey, but loveable man. They were frequently put into tricky – arguably unrealistic – situations but the main outcome was an equilibrium whereby they were all a wholesome family, no matter how bad the foregoing conflict was.
This is something very common amongst television shows and comes under Todorov’s narrative theory of a status quo at the start followed by a disruption but finally ending with the same equilibrium as seen in the beginning, which is somewhat unrealistic in real family lives. The show may originate from the early 80s, but shares many common elements to those 30 years on and remains as relevant as ever. After observing an episode of Outnumbered, I noticed how different the narratives were but how similar the overall message and moral was to Only Fools and Horses.
The sitcom is based on a set of parents with a young son and daughter, and a teenage son living in a semi-detached house in the south of London; a fairly normal setting and one that the audience can relate to. The character Ben is a prolific liar, whilst his sister Karen is a smart and argumentative girl and Jake is an average, mood-swinging teen. The mother and her sister argue frequently; the Grandad is battling early signs of dementia – which is used comically but sympathetically at the same time – and the lugubrious father’s parents are separated and have a huge hatred for one another.
These differences in character and their situations create a “dysfunctional family redeemed by love” in the words of Ben Dowell (Dowell, 2008). Erving Goffman stated that ‘life itself is a dramatically enacted thing’ henceforth the dramatisations featured in the show are very similar to our own families and their attitudes and roles (Goffman, 2009). These characters are all very significant for audiences that are in, or have been in, similar situations within their families, with their parents being ‘outnumbered’ by their children and the hectic household getting the better of them.
Ben Dowell said in an article in the Guardian: ‘These are the kind of parental vignettes that are convincing many that British comedy has finally succeeded in telling the embarrassing, ridiculous and frustrating truth about modern, competitive child rearing’ (Dowell, 2008). This quotation reiterates the point that British sitcoms are becoming increasingly accurate as time goes on, and the mundane, understated humour is effective in proving how spot-on comedies can be.
The Royle Family is a comedy sitcom from the early 1990s based on a family from Manchester and is mainly set in the family’s house – and mainly their living room. The house is frequently in the mid-stage of decoration due to the laziness of Jim, and the majority of the family’s time is spent in the living room sat around their television, which is symbolic of the idea that modern family life is dominated by technology and that we steer clear of activities and exercise.
The short-tempered, sarcastic father Jim rarely moves from his armchair and takes the ‘man of the house’ role into great effect, with his hard-working wife Barbara taking a more family-orientated role and looking after her kids and husband consistently. Denise is their daughter and takes on the average blonde style character, and remains incapable of looking after her kids whilst her husband Dave is a kind-hearted but has an apathetic attitude – of which Denise exploits.
Antony is mistreated by his parents due to his typical teenage antics and attitudes, and Norma is a sweet old lady that Jim despises. There is certainly diversity between the characters, and arguments occur frequently, but there is a hidden bond between those who may seem to dislike each other. This is once again a fine example of the dysfunctional family that surprisingly works well, and it is clear that they have shared memories that make this bond stronger and this uses the cliche of ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’.
This style of show may be most realistic to close families who watch television religiously and were brought up in a lower class background. In conclusion, I believe that the aforementioned sitcoms are very accurate in describing family life albeit in a comedic way. The dismissal of a laughter track in all three of the shows add to this realism, and the use of one setting in the majority of the episodes create the idea that modern families in fact spend most of their time together rather than out socialising.
The simplicity of the three shows also adds to this, and connotes the idea that our idea of fun in modern times is being with one another watching television. The roles of the characters are also very accurate as I believe at least one of the roles is easily recognisable for the audience; i. e. the sarcastic manner of Jim from Royle Family or the argumentative but clever nature of Karen from Outnumbered. In one way or another, these sitcoms can be related to by their audience and is a very good, although occasionally exaggerated, way of showing just how unpretentious our lives are.
- Dowell, B. (2008, December 6). In their own words: sitcom lets kids improvise. Retrieved 2 10, 2012, from Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/dec/06/television-bbc
- Goffman, E. (2009, June 9). The Presentation of Self in Everday Life. Retrieved February 10, 2012, from Slide Share: http://www.slideshare.net/Wellingtonisgreat/goffman
- Stafford, R. (2004, February 1). TV Sitcoms and Gender. Retrieved February 10, 2012, from Media Culture: http://www.mediaculture-online.de/fileadmin/bibliothek/stafford_sitcoms/stafford_sitcoms.pdf
Cite this essay
An Exploration into the Representation of Families in British Sitcoms. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/an-exploration-into-the-representation-of-families-in-british-sitcoms-essay