John Tierney had an op-ed in the Times on Saturday comparing today's sitcom dads (deranged or incompetent) to the benevolent know-it-alls of Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best. He nailed some of the reasons for the difference—most especially the fact that 4 out of 5 network sitcom viewers are women. If he had factored kids into the equation his point would have been even sharper.
But then he brought up The Simpsons, with Homer as one more example of his argument, and here he brushed by a larger reason why father doesn't know best anymore.
Nobody knows best anymore.
The template joke in the 50's family sitcom was: "See how amusingly children confront a world they don't understand, only to be guided by knowing adults (especially fathers) who do understand." But we can no longer be charmed watching children learn to make sense of a world that does, in fact, make sense. That's because it doesn't make sense—except to fanatics, whose bizarre certitudes only serve to underline that very fact. The world of The Simpsons is chaos. Absurd in small ways, teetering on the brink of catastrophe in larger ways—in that world there is nothing to understand. Adults (not just dads) are weak, conniving, greedy, hypocritical, vain, confused, deluded—at best, they are well meaning but inept. Political and cultural figures and ideas are constantly invoked, only to be mocked. There is no guidance to be had.
Our cultural unconscious has reached a consensus—too much is happening, faster and faster, and it's all spinning out of control. Our leaders are guessing—just like you are. You know they're knocking wood when they tell you what's what, because that's what you do.
Dad used to represent understanding of the big world outside the local nest. But he's a doofus now.