A Critical Analysis on the (not so) Modern Family

The award winning sitcom, Modern Family, debuted on ABC on September 2009. The program follows the lives of three interconnected families in suburban Los Angeles. The show combines traditional and new elements to produce a blended discourse to its viewers.

The feminist critique provides binary stereotypes that have been placed on males and females. First, men are associated with the public sphere while women are associated with the private sphere. The Pritchett family exhibits these gender stereotypes in the structure of their family. Jay is the main provider at home. Their large house and way of living shows that he is successful in his career for being able to provide more than his family’s basic needs. Although he is not very muscular, his large body built and tall height still displays strength and masculinity. His role shows that men hold the power because they are the main income earners while his wife, Gloria takes care of all household matters. Gloria doesn’t fully embody the stereotype of women. Instead of being passive and weak, she is very outspoken and has a strong personality. However, Gloria still embodies the typical housewife stereotype. Her main domain is at home and her main concern is taking care of her husband and son. Phil’s wife, Claire, is also a housewife who left her career in order to focus on family matters. Her characterization revolves around her immediate and extended family. These two characters are the only women who make up the female demographic of the adult cast. Both are portrayed as stay-at-home mothers and wives. Despite the show’s attempt to give them an empowered characterization, they still exhibit the social gender roles of a housewife. The show perpetuates that women can’t have a career and a family, they must always choose. Women’s dependency on men is also highly suggested by this type of setting.

Another gender binary that feminists are greatly against is the portrayal of women as sexual objects while men are seen as the sexual subjects. In the feminist analysis, men objectify women. Gloria is played by Sofia Vergara, a Latina who possesses the perfect curve which is accentuated with her clothing (low V-neck that shows her cleavage and tight shirt that hugs her body). Her character exudes sex appeal and is the eye candy of male viewers of the show. In the show’s fifth episode, Gloria tried to help her husband sell closets by flaunting her physically attractive body. One buyer ended up buying more closets after seeing Gloria in a revealing dress. Her success essentially lies on her ability to satisfy the male buyer’s desire by giving him visual pleasure. The image of a woman is represented as a sexual object used for enjoyment of men. Her character is also fairly conscious about her beauty, constantly trying to keep up with the current style. Claire, who is her complete opposite, is a representation of how women also view themselves merely as objects in terms of getting better treatment from men. Claire always seemed jealous of Gloria’s charm and tried to compete with her in order to get the same attention. Her behavior shows the consequence of portraying women as sexual objects and giving high importance to looks and sex appeal when in truth, the desired treatment is merely a reward from men to women for offering better visual pleasure.

Although Modern Family promotes innovative families and rejects the classic gender construction, it failed to resist towards patriarchal family dominance. Both Claire and Gloria’s family are stable because of its patriarchal construction with the men being the main earners and more dominant and successful figures of the house. There is a clear division of work sphere and domestic sphere that exists between the husband and wife. Even the gay couple who were highly commended for giving a progressive representation of the LGBT community in today’s society also seems to make classical gender roles, with Mitchell taking the role of a mother and Cameron as the father of their adopted child.

Modern Family also drew both positive and negative criticism from the LGBT community. One of the three families is a gay couple with an adopted baby girl named Lily. The gays were portrayed as loving and responsible parents with the struggles that come along with being in a gay marriage – who plays the mother and who plays the father. Gay marriage has been normalized in the show and not treated as something unusual or derogatory by the other characters. Modern Family was also commended for showing the progress gays have made toward social acceptance. Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales said that the show “depicts a gay-male marriage in which both partners are refreshingly dimensional, believable human beings…they’re not flawed in the silly, stereotypical ways that once dominated such portrayals.”

One problematic area of the show’s portrayal of homosexual relationships was the lack of affection between the two gay couple. While the parents of the other two families regularly touch, kiss or display their sexual lives, Mitch and Cam’s storyline involved not displaying public affection or sexual attractions. Critics made a comment on how it is normal and accepted to see heterosexual couples display affection to one another but it’s a totally different thing when it comes to gay couples. Creators of the show, however, were able to defend their plot line, saying that the writers had always planned the scene as part of the natural development of the characters in the show.

Citations:

Rosenberg, A. (2010, October 13). Modern Family and Gay Marriage: It’s Complicated. Retrieved October 22, 2014, from http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/10/modern-family-and-gay-marriage-its-complicated/64397/

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