When ABC’s “Modern Family” came on the air in 2009, it was hailed by many, including myself, as both hilarious and a pioneer of sorts. Chronicling the “modern” American family, the program documents the lives of grumpy patriarch Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neil) and his younger Columbian wife, Gloria (Sofia Vergara), as well as those of his two children and their respective families.
With a mix of “relatability” across spectrums of age, race (sort of) and sexuality, “Modern Family” appeared to be as inclusive as it was funny. Still, after a few seasons of loyal viewing I have begun to notice that the more closely I watch the humorous shenanigans that unfold on my Hulu account, the more I question the supposed “inclusivity” of “Modern Family” and other shows that proclaim themselves to be groundbreaking.
I will be the first to give the thumbs up to creators Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd for their inclusion of a same-sex household, a demographic that still lacks representation in television that is on par with the real world. While the writers should not settle for mere visibility, the show is markedly more impressive than other shows, who struggle to field even a single LGBTQA character.
The two men, Mitch and Cam, are granted a medium through which they can demonstrate the normalcy of their disagreements over everything from throw pillow choices to preschool options for their daughter, but have still never been shown as anything but chaste. There has always been a stark disparity in public displays of affection between Mitch and Cam versus those of the other heterosexual couples.
Greater efforts could also be made to break the LGBTQA stereotypes that “Modern Family” often, perhaps unconsciously, perpetuates (such as the misconception that all gay men are sassy and effeminate). I sometimes get the impression that Levitan and Lloyd believe that some of their success in Mitch and Cam have earned them a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for other issues.
Perhaps in a culture that seems to have gravitated towards the gay rights movement as the social cause of choice, it is understandable that this has occurred. However, ultimately their commendable inclusion should not come at the expense of characters like Vergara’s Gloria.
Given little freedom to escape the “Latina Box,” Gloria is consistently written as loud, overly-sensitive and at times abrasive. Too often she is the target of jokes conveying ineptitude for bike riding, roller-skating and various technological capabilities. “Modern Family” lacks Hispanic writers and therefore fails to truly understand the impact of the perpetuation of such stereotypes regarding brown women.
As the daughter of a Brazilian immigrant, my family automatically connects Gloria to my mom. While giggling at her misuse of American idioms often feels spot-on, “Modern Family’s” tendency to go for easy jokes that rely on Gloria’s accent or unawareness of American norms is upsetting.
Having created a show that by its very title is supposed to be demonstrating the modern family, Levitan and Lloyd flounder when they succumb to a desire to settle. The true essence of the current American household is one in which diversity of one type or another is the norm, and by that logic, “Modern Family” needs to push itself to better represent that which it claims to champion.