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Article, Geek U, Psychology, Sociology

Geek U: Who’s Your Daddy? Models of Fatherhood in Geek and Gamer Culture Part 3 Television

Part 1/ Part 2/Part 3

Lionel Luthor, Jonathan Kent, Bill Adama, Dean Winchester, John Winchester

by Jason McLarty


            Television stands as one of the most dominating forces in communication media. It spans across cultural lines, borders, and ideology. To this date, no one medium has surpassed the utter saturation of information that television accomplishes. To this end, we reserved our final evaluation for this medium.  Conservative estimates put average television viewing at least eight hours minimum per week per person. Children in our day and age look to television for guidance on how to handle situations in their daily lives. Often they turn to favorite television shows for guidance on issues such as bullying, drug use, sexuality, and moral decisions. With this much saturation, is Geek and Gamer culture portraying the right message in the shows that fall into our genre?

Geek and Gamer shows do present positive examples of fatherhood. They present both sides adequately so viewers can see the consequences of positive and negative decisions. Shows such as Smallville show us different family structures and cultures giving us an accurate portrayal of family existence. Battlestar Galactica shows us how fathers contribute to estranged relationships and that we can repair or at least improve them. Supernatural shows how even through a dysfunctional childhood and negative father/child relationships someone can still grow into a well-adjusted man and father.

            Smallville presents the character of Jonathan Kent as the realistic ideal of a positive father/child relationship. Throughout the character’s time on the series, Jonathan Kent leads his son by example in the growth of values and moral structure44. As Clark Kent discovers his growing powers and walks toward his destiny Jonathan Kent stands beside him as both nurturer and disciplinarian. Clark respects his father, even throughout all the rebellion and acting out, that respect is still there. Jonathan Kent stands as a realistic ideal because we can see that he is not perfect. He lashes out in anger, he yells, he overreacts, he sometimes invokes the “do as I say, not as I do” mentality45.

Even through all this, he still possesses humility to admit when he was wrong and ask forgiveness. In the Season 2 finale “Exodus” Jonathan blames Clark for Martha’s miscarriage, which prompts Clark to run away46. In the beginning of Season 3, “Exile,” Jonathan sees the error in his ways and makes a pact with Jor-El, Clark’s biological Kryptonian father, to bring him home47. We see situations like this throughout the series, which some criticize by saying they show that Jonathan is not a caring father. However, each time Jonathan admits he was wrong or the two find a common agreement. This is what makes him an ideal example because this relationship is most true to what most viewers would experience in their own lives. Ideal does not necessarily have to mean perfect. Jonathan Kent also serves as a good counterpoint to the other prominent father of the series, Lionel Luthor.

Many feel that Smallville was a prime case of the nature versus nurture argument as presented in the opposing parenting styles of Jonathan Kent and Lionel Luthor. In Lionel Luthor, the show exposes the viewer to a form of extreme parenting. Luthor very much believes in social Darwinism and constantly testing his son Lex in an attempt to strengthen him48. Lionel does not have a positive relationship with Lex, often because Lex feels that his father torments him with games and tests instead of showing any affection49. Lionel in his own way truly does love his son and in his own warped way feels that he is helping to prepare him for life50. While Lionel does truly care for his son, the emotional unavailability, antagonistic actions, and constant challenges work towards warping Lex’s sense of morality51.

            Some would argue that the show really is more nature than nurture because Jonathan and Lionel’s attitudes are similar in how they control or seek to control their sons. However, in the final season of the series we see an alternate world where Lionel Luthor finds and raises Clark. This Clark goes by Ultra-Man and is a vicious tyrant that torments the populace of Metropolis52.

Some could argue that Lionel Luthor stands as a cautionary against single parenting, specifically single fathers. This would be inaccurate because there are multiple other characters with absent parents that are positive characters such as Chloe Sullivan and Lana Lang. Chloe is raised by her father and Lana by an Aunt after her parent’s death in the meteor shower that brought Clark to earth. Lionel’s actions and methods lead to the estrangement between himself and his son Lex. Throughout the series, there was no reconciling between the two. Even when Lionel did turn his ways and try to make amends, his son saw it as another trick and ultimately killed him53. This begs the question on whether or not it is possible to repair such a strained relationship.

Many identify Battlestar Galactica to be one of the best science fiction shows of the new millennium. That’s saying something considering that it was a re-imagining of the original series from the 1970s. The show promoted a sci-fi theme but the character stories drove it to excellence. Each character on the series had different levels and they were fully developed. From Starbuck to Lee Adama and his father Commander William “Bill” Adama.

The relationship between Bill and Lee Adama exists as an example of repairing estranged relationships. From the beginning of the series father and son butted heads. Lee blamed his father for his brother’s death because he felt Bill pushed both boys into service54.

Bill Adama regretted the distance between his son and himself because he put career over family while the boys were growing up. As the series progressed, we found that Lee’s mother was a drunk that would often take out her aggression on her sons55. This only served to accentuate the resentment Lee felt for his father. At first, we still saw Bill placing duty over family such as placing Lee under arrest when he went against questionable orders to arrest the President56. We do gradually see him placing his family above duty, such as when Starbuck, whom he treated like a daughter, crashed landed on a desolate planet. After the President orders them to leave Lee asks Adama if he would have looked as long if it were him. Adama responds that if it were Lee they would have never left57.

            Adama and Helo exist as prime examples of both ends of the spectrum of fatherhood in Battlestar Galactica. Adama serves as a cautionary tale against placing duty over family and with the character of Helo acting as a counterbalance. After Helo brought the Cylon Number 8, Sharon, her back to Galactica, Adama allows them to marry and carry her pregnancy to full term58. The baby Hera became an integral part of the plot for the rest of the series, however what is more important is the role Helo takes in her upbringing. The show depicts Helo as a caring and nurturing father who would go to any end to protect her, often going as far as insubordination when Cylons kidnap Hera at the end of the series59. Both Helo and Adama show how far a father would go to protect their children. The effects a father who dedicated his entire life to a mission on adult children is a common theme explored in Geek culture.

The Winchesters in the CW’s Supernatural explores the effects of an absent father due to fulfilling a duty on the children. The series begins with Dean calling his brother Sam Winchester into duty when their father does missing60. The boys and their father are hunters; people who track and kill the things that go bump in the night. Throughout the series they dispatched vampires, demons, werewolves, ghosts, and many other monsters. However, the driving force of the show is not the creature of the week but the character drama between the brothers and their feelings about their father and their upbringing. Sam has an estranged relationship with his father, their never truly saw eye to eye which ultimately lead to Sam walking out on the family to go to college61. John Winchester instilled in Dean the importance of family and the binding ties. Dean had more interaction with their father before a demon killed their mother. This could reason why Dean holds a deeper faith and unquestioning obedience to John.

The Winchester Family before tragedy struck...

The absent relationship with Sam bred much of the distance and rebellion against John. Sam grew up with their father hunting monsters, often leaving the boys alone for days at a time62. This meant that the raising of Sam often fell to Dean as we see throughout the series, notably in “A Very Supernatural Christmas,” during season three63. Sam did not share the fond memories of their childhood as Dean did as we see in “Dark Side of the Moon” in season five64. Here we see that Sam’s heaven consists of memories that do not involve their father and rarely Dean.

As strong as their bond is as brothers, the Winchester boys are what psychologists could consider as delinquent. They do not have an actual home, they are transient, and they have no ties to anyone beyond themselves and one or two other hunters. Season four saw Sam emerge as a tragic hero who went against everything that John taught to be right in order to stop Lilith from releasing Lucifer. Sam embraced his addiction to demon blood to grow stronger in order to kill Lilith, arguing to Dean that the ends justify the means65. Which ultimately lead to killing Lilith, which releases Lucifer and the apocalypse on the world. Again we see where an absent father scenario, with no fatherly surrogate in the formative years leads to a warped development of moral standards. So how would someone raised in that environment transition into “normal” life and raise a family of their own? Is that even possible?

Dean Winchester shows that children raised in dysfunctional environments without a solid paternal role model can transition into a well-adjusted life. At the beginning of the sixth season, we find Dean living happily in suburbia with Lisa and Ben, whom we met in season two66. Lisa had always been a wishful life for Dean and Sam made Dean promise at the end of Season five to go and settle down with her.

            Dean’s life is good, we do see that some habits die hard in terms of his demon proofing the house, but for the most part, he settles into family life really well. After what Lisa admits was a rocky first year, she doesn’t want Dean to go back into the life when Sam comes back67. Ultimately Dean leaves them and the relationship disintegrates. However, until Sam came back, mirroring the start of the series with Dean coming to bring Sam back into the life, Dean adjusted very well into regular day-to-day existence. This shows that even those with incredibly dysfunctional lives have the chance to rise above and beat back their proverbial demons to lead regular lives and raise families.

We are seeing a growing trend where children interact with popular culture more than they do their own parents. By no means are we saying that it falls solely to the media to present good examples for children to learn from. It will and always should fall to parents to set the bar and lead by example. With the increasing number of single parent households, single father homes growing twenty-five percent in three years, more children may fall through the cracks. However, we do have to accept that even in the best case children will still turn to the media or fictional characters for examples of social roles. When it comes to Geek and Gamer culture portrays fatherhood, the media should set a positive example in the characters it creates.

As we have seen, those who create fantastic stories in our culture do strive to create positive examples. Whether they do so intentionally cannot be determined, however it is happening. Even in situations where father characters fall short, the story shows consequences of those actions even if it is controversial or messy. Our culture has stable, positive examples that young readers can model themselves after. Yes, it is important that we set the right example for the next generation. It is also important as parents to make sure that what your children watch, read, or play portrays the values that agree with what you want them to learn before leaving your care.

Geek U takes popular topics in Geek Culture and places them into an academic atmosphere. Feel free to cite these articles in your own papers by using the citation information on the Credit Page.


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