Modern Family is my personal favorite comedy program on air, and apparently it's the world's favorite comedy series too. It wins pretty much all the awards it gets nominated for, performs ridiculously well in the Nielson ratings and apparently both of the men running for President this year cite it as one of their favorite programs on TV. I came to this TV series fairly late in its run, and only started watching obsessively last year. Before I got into the show I didn't understand what the appeal was at all, and it was only after accidentally watching a couple of episodes because I couldn't be bothered to find the remote and turn over the channel that I came to see the shows genius. Honestly, if you have yet to catch on to this wonderfully funny show, it really has some of the best one liners and comedy writing television has ever been witness to, and the show, in my opinion at least, has far more laughs a minute than 30 Rock or The Office. Modern Family also has some of the best comedy acting in history, and the actors fully deserve to walk away with Emmy awards every year. But recently I've started to question my enjoyment of the show, and why I find it so funny. More accurately, I've began to start to internally analyze who on the show I am laughing at and why I am laughing at them. Worryingly, I do not like the conclusions I have found... Other shows on TV, like the once mammoth Glee that used to be Modern Family's main award show competitor, beating it out of two Golden Globe awards in both shows initial two years, get a lot of criticism from journalists and audiences for too often relying on stereotyping; but more often than not, Modern Family is critically adored and forgiven. But it has only recently struck me that the reasons I am laughing at this show, and in particular the characters I am laughing at are stereotypes which the writers use and exploit for comedic effect. I wouldn't necessarily go as far as to say the stereotypes Modern Family uses are offensive (it depends on who you ask) but they are certainly close to that line. Lets look at the evidence In my opinion, and I am sure I wouldn't be alone in this, the three funniest adult characters on the show, certainly the characters we are laughing at instead of with are Gloria, Phil and Cam; whereas the characters that play it more straight and less stereotypically are Claire, Mitchell and Jay- characters we usually laugh with instead of at. If you really begin to pick apart why we are laughing at the first three and why we laugh with the later three it paints a pretty grim picture of the society we live it. The three characters we laugh with, Claire, Mitchell and Jay are of the same family- two siblings and a father. They are white, fairly well-to-do middle-class with fairly simple and arguably inoffensive personalities and jobs. One of Jay's children is a housewife looking after her very average three kid household, whereas his son is a lawyer. These three characters pretty much represent the staple characters of most American film and television for the last century. The only character of these three which is a little less conventional, and may make the conservative American family somewhat uncomfortable is Mitchell, a gay man, but he is hardly all that camp, and considering he is apparently comfortable with his sexuality, the show shows very little moments of intimacy between Mitchell and Cam like it does between Claire and Phil for example. We are unlikely to see many role playing sexual Valentine episodes between the gay couple on the show like we do between the straight couple for instance. The characters we laugh at however paint a completely different picture. Gloria, the foreign, highly attractive Colombian born woman who struggles to speak English is a very common stereotypical representation of a woman from somewhere outside of the United States in sitcoms. Even though she does have great lines to say- like I said this show is for the most part brilliantly written- most of her humor comes from either her accent or her apparently somewhat violent and stereotypical Colombian past. Should we feel comfortable laughing at a character that is struggling to fit into American society and often struggles to pronounce words? Is this acceptable in this day and social climate? Cam is a gay man who is pretty much as camp as they come. As a gay man myself I have no problem with his characterization on the show, and despite the fact that I am personally an entirely different person than Cam is, I understand that there are many gay people in the world who are similar and to relate to Cam so shouldn't be excluded despite the fact that Cam's portrayal of a homosexual man is the most common stereotypical portrayal in the media- especially in past sitcoms. The problem I do have with Cam however is that most of the time we are not laughing because he has made a joke and deserves the praise; most of the time we are laughing because of the way he acts and reacts to things. The main reason we laugh at Cam over Mitchell for example is because Cam is the more effeminate gay. We laugh at Cam because he screams like a girl when he is scared, he has hissy fits when he doesn't get his own way, and he cries when something mildly upsets him. It also helps the humor that the audience knows that the character who plays Cam is a heterosexual man, which will likely for a lot of the audience make this representation of gay more easy to swallow- knowing it is entirely performed and not like Mitchell who is in fact played by a gay man. I bet for this very simple fact and casting, Cam is the more popular character with the audience. Is it still OK for the media to use effeminate gay men as people to laugh at? Is this something that should be laughed at? Many people would argue that comedy lives and breathes on stereotypes, and that there is always a place for stereotypes in comedy as long as the intent behind them isn't cruel and is coming from a loving place. I understand that the ethics and values of the show are good- the actors and writers are all clearly supportive and loving of all types of people, whether they are not born in the USA or whether they are gay- and I am personally a big fan of the cast and the writers on this show. Even though the comedy may not be coming from a cruel place, the message this show gives out, whether or not people pick up on this fact or not, is that it is OK for us to laugh at Gloria, the Colombian; Cam, the effeminate homosexual and Phil, the dumb grown man with ADHD whereas we should for the most part be laughing with the white, USA born, more familiar and old fashioned American family in Claire, Mitchell and Jay. Even if we look at the younger cast members, the same kind of arguably offensive stereotyping is present. The only child we laugh really laugh with, the character who happens to be the least comical is Alex: a well behaved, very normal and very intelligent perfect child. Her brother and sister however who are both very dumb teenagers we are encouraged to laugh at. Manny, the Colombian born child is presented as hugely camp and abnormal and for these reasons we find him hilarious. Lily, the adopted Vietnamese child is perhaps too young for us to be laughing with her, but in the past the writers have really played up the fact that she is Asian to create a lot of laughs from its audience. This show very clearly sets up an old fashioned and ironically not at all modern reinforcement of this idea of us and them. Us- the majority of Americans which can more or less be represented by Claire, Mitchell and Jay should in a sense look down and laugh at them- more or less represented by Phil, Cam and Gloria. When you look at the show in this way, isn't it a little worrying that the two potential future presidents in the race love this show so much, when it doesn't exactly promote the best values for the future of the world?
Start your WhatCulture Crowd subscription
Exclusive New Videos, Documentaries, Browse WhatCulture.com Ad Free, View Articles On A Single Page & Member-only community forum.
Existing Subscriber? Log In