Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Antiquated Family - A Review of a Modern Family Episode

Modern Family inaccurately represents various audiences by focusing on three different family units. These families are introduced with pleasant establishing shots of suburbia, alternating between exterior and interior. Each family is introduced in succession with the same problem giving an easy form of identification for the viewer: the problem with the episode Snip is children and how they effect our lives. Each family is identified, usually, with explicit stereotypes. These stereotypes are best shown through the characters Mitchell and Cam and the Spanish mother, wife to Jay. It is easy to notice this when contrasted against other characters in the show and also against common sense and the cultural norm (perhaps to a more progressive/leftist audience, as this program does seem rightist, however I think many people would feel otherwise at first glance).

Mitchell and Cam are established with a shot in the kitchen that shows it sparsely decorated and lifeless, unlike Phil's home which is filled with drawings from his children, documents from work and other artifacts that suggest a more full and normal family life. Mitchell and Cam are not flamboyant when feeding their child or parenting but later in the episode when they argue over Cam's contribution to the family he shows his sentiment by squeal’s rather than crying, jumps and then crawls on the bed, cries over his “master plan” (a cat outfit) and then suddenly changes and gets a job with little resistance. Another shot that shows antiquated stereotypes is what I call the “water goblet” scene.

In the water goblet scene (starting at 7:25) Mitchell is seen in a department store, looking at clothes. Everything looks normal in the establishing shot but then Mitchell turns around revealing a large wine goblet filled with water. Why is the water in a goblet? Does the clothing store also carry goblets? Does Mitchell walk around with goblets to clothing stores? The explicitly over the top representation of gay characters goes further as characters are introduced with more over the top persona's, loud clothing is stolen and general cartoon antics happen. This is quite different than what Phil experiences when he goes with Jay to get a vasectomy. In general the establishment is respected (as seen with the doctors office) and white people, suburban people are viewed as successful and happy. White characters even occupy space in the background, with pictures of Phil's face visible on benches.

By the end of this episode the traditional white family represented by Phil decides they want to have children because they have enough time for them. The traditional gay couple is looked at as childish and dysfunctional but still happy. The Spanish/Jay family is generally used as the tension breaker and Spanish/Mexican people are shown as being cartoon characters. Jay, the husband to the Spanish character, is shown as an authority white figure. This is found when one notes that Jay is the narrator of the episode, offering “common sense” to the viewer at the end (which brings some resolution to the episode).

In general white people are portrayed positively, as being full of common sense. That common sense is that we need more first world children in white suburban households, gay adults are basically grown children without jobs and Spanish women need to be taught basic things by their children (who speak no Spanish). Even Mitchell, the other gay character, is shown as child like despite being more responsible. When he is at work he is shown goofing off and not at all engaged in anything productive. The message here is apparently that gay couples need children because they can't do anything besides wear loud clothing and slack off at work.

While this program would normally be viewed as a refracted representation of the world I would find this to be a escapist form of programming, merely putting a facade on antiquated cultural issues. The only way it could be more backwards in it's ideology and identification of national character is if there were a black family called the “Johnsons” and a handicapped family called the “Hawkings” added to the cast.

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