'Where Are the Andy Griffiths?': On Pop Culture's Dearth of Admirable Men

Male readers express frustration at the state of men on TV and in music and movies.

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How do men feel about the work-life balance debate, Anne-Marie Slaughter asked last week. We've received over 100 responses to that question, in comments and by email, and one of the most common answers is, "We have no role models in pop culture." Several men wrote to complain about the sad state of men on TV and in movies and music, pointing out how few examples there are of men who balance work and life well. Here's a sampling of what they said (edited slightly for clarity).

This man decried the decline of admirable men in pop culture since the 1950s:

Where are men learning today their roles? If you look to popular culture the messages being sent are pathetic compared to what the baby boomers saw.

There were strong loving working men, like Ozzie Nelson from Ozzie and Harriet, or Ward Cleaver on Leave It To Beaver. There was an outstanding single dad, Bentley Gregg on Bachelor Father, the wealthy attorney trying to bring up his niece after her parents died and still find true love.

Television dads today are generally loving bumbling idiots, Homer Simpson style, men in music videos are sexist creeps, movie men are anything but fathers. The transformation from '50s dads to 2012 hit a high point mostly with Cliff Huxtable from The Cosby Show.

There are high and low points along the timeline but I contend that overall the role of father in popular culture has been relegated to the back burner. We need to redefine the role of men and give good examples to be emulated.

Another man agreed with the idea that portrayals of men have gone downhill in the past half-century, with one exception:

Let me call everyone's attention to the demise of the great dad or male role model on TV or the movies these days. Where are the Andy Griffiths, My Three Sons, Father Knows Best, etc.? Instead, most guys portrayed on TV, commercials, movies are idiots or morons. Even the beer commercials on the NFL have some guy looking stupid. Or, the endless smart kids who "just put up with Dad," raised eyebrows, smirking, in one ear out the other when Dad talks. I can only think of one dad in the recent movies who had his act together, the Dad in Juno: wonderful, but so unusual.

While this man looked ahead to the future:

Culture has only defined what men shouldn't be: patriarchal, aggressive, violent, objectifying, etc. But I challenge anyone to give me a positive definition of manhood in the popular media.

I would love to see more serious discussion of what it means to be a good man in the modern age.

We've written about pop culture's deadbeat dude trend before, including last fall, when Hanna Rosin predicted "Primetime's Looming Male Identity Crisis" after seeing so many shows featuring men struggling to find themselves. Are there any exceptions to this trend besides the ones readers mentioned above? Are portrayals of women in pop culture any better? Respond in the comments or via email to TheAtlanticSEXES@gmail.com.

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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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