Modern Family is a show about three intertwined families consisting of at least one Pritchett. Jay Pritchett, the father of Claire and Mitchell, who each have their own ‘modern’ families, are the tying bonds of the show. The close knit extended families and their lives separate and together are what comprise the series. Throughout the episodes, there is a recurring pattern of the chain of events that tie everything together. By the end, a valuable lesson is always learned.
It is inevitable that there be stereotypes involved in making this show work as a comedy. It makes the parody of reality much funnier and more pleasing to watch.
This blog will explore the different types of stereotypes showcased in the show within Richard Dyer’s three stereotyping elements:
Reduces, essentializes, naturalizes and fixes ‘difference’
Symbolically fixes boundaries and excludes everything which does not belong
Deploys a strategy of ‘splitting’
Tends to occur where there are gross inequalities of power
Power is usually directed against the subordinate or excluded group. One aspect of this power, according to Richard Dyer (1977) is ethnocentrism (Belief in the superiority of one’s own ethnic group)
Stereotyping classifies people according to a norm and constructs the excluded as ‘other’
With these in mind, a challenge in exploring the different stereotypes offered in ABC’s Modern Family has now been accepted.
There is already a stereotype that American families are more liberal and less strict on their kids compared to most Asian families. In the show, it shows this by presenting the mother daughter dynamic between the two female children and the woman of the house. The daughters can answer back without much reprimanding from the parents, they cannot get hit, and they can bring boys in the house because it is culture.
Claire (looking longingly while her daughter brings up a new boy friend): “Hayley’s got her first boy over…”
Just the fact that American families are already being classified as such because of generalized observed actions conforms to Dyer’s first two stereotype elements. By saying “American Families,” we have already classified them in their symbolic fixed boundary wherein every time an American family is mentioned, we think liberal and too wild. Whilst before, that was not the case. After much media evolution, the Stepford wives type of household is not the household we imagine after opening modern suburban front doors.
Gloria, a thirty plus Colombian Bombshell mom of one with her bodacious curves and long black always-perfectly-made hair and makeup is Jay Pritchett’s second wife. In the early episodes when they were first introduced as a married couple, it was hard for the two children to accept that they have a new mother just as old as or even younger than them. She was from a poor section of South America and has one son. It was hard not to think of her as just another gold-digger wife waiting for Jay to pass so she can take over the booming business and all of his cash. However, the show breaks this stereotype and designs her character to be truly in love with her much older beau.
Although they broke the stereotype, they still acknowledged the fact that there was one. They could not have broken it without being fully aware of it. And characters like Claire voiced out their opinion and their belief that the stereotype was true until one episode where confrontations happened.
It fixed the boundaries between what Jay did, compared to what the children expected of him. It was a stereotype, a symbolically understood notion, that beautifully engineered people like Gloria are just after the money of their much older husbands. And because she came from a much poorer and politically unfortunate nation, power was most likely going to be directed against her even more so.
Gays and/in Gay Relationships:
Mitchell Pritchett is Jay’s only son and Claire’s younger brother. He is in a living-in relationship with Cameron. They have an adopted Asian baby named Lily and they all add just another dimension to the whole flavour of the show. Other than being homosexual, the couple has nothing much in common. Opposites attract as they say. One is an uptight lawyer busy with thinking about how to live life practically while the other is an ex-music teacher slash housewife endowed with the gift of sensitivity and femininity. They showcase two very different stereotypes of homosexuals in the United States. Unlike here in the Philippines; we stereotype our homosexuals as cross-dressers. In the show, Mitchell is the type of gay that does not proclaim it to the world via outfits or interests while Cameron suffers from no emotional drought.
We see the apparent stereotyping method here. Cameron stays at home because he is a good ‘housewife’ while Mitchell works. It shows how the more feminine partner is expected to stay home. Whatever the cause of these stereotypes they are prevalent in what they say and what they do. They are marginalized because they are ‘the Other’ that Dyer is talking about. They are both aware of this and once tried using it to their advantage because there are some places in search for things that would make them diverse. Having marginalized groups will definitely do this for them.
Richard Dyer had a concise and precise way of explaining the elements of stereotyping. By grouping it into three short sentences, he made it clear that: Stereotypes naturalize ‘difference,’ symbolically fix boundaries, and concentrate on accounts of gross inequalities of power. It makes the readers aware of what is happening around them and the issues it pertains to (no matter how every day). It makes us think about everything we do and everything that is happening. It makes you want to examine your own life and think about what the influence of media is affecting and what stereotypes you may fall into or are in the danger of falling into. It sounds arduous, and we will need the full extent of our lives to figure out our role in life. Right now, just three major stereotypes from Modern Family is all I had time for.