Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Lying in Familial Relationships as Portrayed in Domestic Sitcoms Since the Recession: An Examination of Family Structure and Economic Class

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Lara Lengel (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Ellen Berry (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Ellen Gorsevski (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Lisa Hanasono (Committee Member)


Through the fusion of media/cultural studies scholarship, interpersonal communication research, and triangulated method, this dissertation draws connections between our social and cultural interpretation of the American family, the discursive possibilities of humorous mediated representations, and the influence and implications of lying on familial relationships. The concept of the American family is as much a social and cultural identity as gender, class, and ethnicity; yet its construction has been typically ignored by cultural studies research. This dissertation addresses that deficiency by examining representations of the American family on Disney-owned situation comedies. These representations are analyzed through past interpersonal research and typologies on lying to determine how the motivation for lying and the relationship between the liar and the recipient of the lie impacts the portrayal of family structure and class status. This dissertation considers to what extent the idyllic and deviant portrayals of the American family marginalize and symbolically annihilate any family conceptualization that is not a nuclear, middle-class family and consider how these media depictions (re)flect and (re)present the broader cultural shifts surrounding the meaning of the American family. Finally, this research concludes by considering how the lie factors into the narrative of the episode and the overall perception of the familial characters. Using a triangulated approach toward textual analysis, including content analysis and narrative analysis, this dissertation draws connections between quantitative and qualitative approaches to provide a more complex and holistic investigation of American situation comedies. Across the sample of 84 episodes, 589 lies were recorded, or an average of 7 lies per episode. The findings of this dissertation also uncover two additional categories that warrant further exploration: "self-serving lies" and "punishment by lying." Another key finding observed that family members who lie to outside characters for financial gain are rewarded, while those who lie to develop or sustain a relationship were punished. Overall, the results concluded that when considering the motivations for lying and relational impact from lies told, family structure provided less of a distinction than class status. The findings further contribute to uncovering which family structures or class statuses are potentially idealized and which are marginalized.