Marriage and the family as portrayed in contemporary comic strips

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The mass media have been widely studied because of their pervasiveness and effect on society. The comic strips, as part of the newspaper, are widely read. By their very existence and pervasiveness they mold our culture. The purpose of this study was to examine marriage and the family and how it is portrayed in the comic strips.

A historical overview of significant family comic strips was done using comic strip texts. A content analysis of contemporary family strips was also done. The strips were analyzed to determine how often demonstrated affection and/or abuse occurred. In addition, the strips were analyzed to determine the quality and quantity of parent-child, sibling, and husband-wife relationships. Two month samples of 15 different comic strips were analyzed.

The comic strip family emerged as a stereotyped group that was white, lower-middle class, with a father who worked at a white collar job and a mother who was a housewife. The family included several school-aged or teen-aged children. Neither demonstrated affection nor abuse was found to occur often in comic strip families. Parent-child interactions and interactions among siblings were judged to be more positive than negative. Husband-wife interactions were more often negative than positive, although there was a wide variance among individual strips. Interactions about leisure time and its use occurred more often than any other category. Household tasks, food, finances, in-laws or parents, dress and health comprised the other major categories of interactions.