My musings on the mainstream media and culture.

Archive for the category “Sitcoms”

Stereotypes: Where’s the Line Between Offensive and Multicultural?

Cam Tucker and his daughter Lily from Modern Family

Cam Tucker and his daughter Lily from Modern Family

So when it comes to media representations, where’s the line between (a) humorous glimpses into a multicultural world and (b) offensive, hateful generalizations about marginalized groups? Can humor about a marginalized group actually be a healthy way of promoting diversity?

An offensive, stereotypical  "pickaninny" image of black children, popular in early 20th century ads.

An offensive, stereotypical “picaninny” image of a black child, popular in early 20th century ads.

Clearly, stereotypes can be dangerous because at their worst, they provide “evidence” that a marginalized group of people is inferior, therefore justifying the marginalization. In Nazi Germany, stereotypes about Jews were used as justification for discrimination and eventually for concentration camps. In the United States, D.W. Griffith’s 1915 epic silent film (and Ku Klux Klan propaganda piece) Birth of a Nation promoted stereotypes than African-American men were dangerous, corrupt rapists and thieves. These attitudes fueled the “need” for Jim Crow laws and other forms of racial discrimination.

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Thoughts on my Percocet-laden Modern Family Binge

So, for the last few weeks I’ve been dealing with some severely painful headaches.  Percocet helps, which means I spent quite a bit of time last week planted hazily on my couch, renting old episodes of Modern Family.

I’ve only started watching Modern Family recently.  I enjoy it, although I must say that after about ten straight episodes, these people seem excruciatingly whiny.  (Which is probably true about spending excessive amounts of time with non-sitcom people too, so I suppose you can’t hold it against them entirely.)

As my Percocet haze has lifted, I’ve found myself thinking about the merits of the show.  To what degree is Modern Family a progressive representation of American life, and to what degree is it the more of the same-old-same-old mainstream ideological sitcom formula?  I definitely dig the “modern families have changed” vibe that includes a gay family (hooray!) and a multicultural, multigenerational family.  This is certainly not the Brady Bunch, both because of the diversity and because this family deals with real issues beyond what Mom will say about her broken vase.  (Claire, presumably, would be none too happy.)

So here are my Percocet-laden thoughts on the ideology of Modern Family.  Like all ideological thoughts (with or without Percocet), these are up for interpretation, and I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Modern Family and First World Problems

Let’s start with a way that this show doesn’t transcend mainstream sitcom ideology at all, and that is the fact that the three intertwined family are upper middle class.  They all have massive homes in one of the most expensive real estate markets in America.  Since the onset of TV families, it’s always been very much the norm for families to have lots of stuff.  Advertisers have deliberately pushed for that.  The consequence is that our sense of what counts as “middle class” and what we need to be normal has become inflated, and consumerism in American life has exploded.

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