Stereotypes have had a prominent role in American comedies, particularly sitcoms, practically since their introduction. ABC’s newest hit comedy Modern Family is no different. The cast is diverse in every way, and the writers use that to diversify the characters and get away with using obvious stereotypes placed upon gender and sexuality. The show is presented in a mockumentary style and focuses on three families who are related through marriage. Phil and his wife Claire represent the nuclear family; Jay and his new wife Gloria represent the inter-generation family; and finally Mitchell and Cam represent the homosexual family structure.
Modern Family cleverly uses gender, racial, and sexual stereotypes to make the audience bond with and identify with the characters on-screen, and by combining these stereotypes with the mockumentary style Modern Family is able to give off a feeling of realism that makes the characters even more relatable. Modern Family gives off a feeling or realism not found in many sitcoms, and that is due in a large part because it is presented in a mockumentary style. A mockumentary is a type of film or television show in which fictional events are presented in the form of a documentary.
By using this style the show is able to give off an aura of realism not found in normal sitcoms. It makes its characters and their interactions that much more believable and relatable despite the sometimes crazy situations the characters find themselves in. Another valuable addition the mockumentary style allows Modern Family to take advantage of is interviews. Character interviews are worked into the situations to give a particular character’s opinions and thoughts out in the open, yet the other characters they may or may not be talking about do not know what is being said about them.
This allows the audience to get inside the minds of the characters where in normal sitcoms the characters have to state what they are thinking in conversations with other characters. Not only does this help make situations funnier, as the audience knows what is going on in the characters mind as the situation is playing out, but it also helps deliver that sense of realism, letting characters say things to the camera they would never say to another character on the show. The Dunphy family is the first family we see in the pilot, and within minutes we can know everything about their character.
Phil is the stereotypical lovable, immature, goofball of a man, and Claire is the responsible, mature woman of the household. This can be seen through the first scene in which we see Claire and Phil in which they are preparing their children for school. Claire is the one who is actually doing the work to get the kids to school on time, while Phil is too busy on his phone to be of any help. Later, their son Luke accidentally shoots his sister Alex with his new BB gun, and Phil does not want to carry out the agreed upon punishment (shooting Luke with the gun. Claire forces Phil to act responsibly and to not just be the ‘cool dad’ that he perceives himself to be.
Both these scenarios plays off the stereotype that the women of the house is the one who actually does the work and gets things done while the husband is mostly there to enforce the rules and to punish the children when they break the rules. Weather this stereotype is accurate or not isn’t an issue, because most nuclear families can relate to feeling this way every now and then. In this way Modern Family successfully uses the stereotype of the nuclear family to relate the Dunphy family to the audience.
While Phil and Claire represent the common stereotype of the nuclear family, Jay and Gloria Pritchett represent the much less common inter-generation family structure. We find Jay and Gloria at a soccer game for Gloria’s son from a previous marriage, Manny. Gloria, being the stereotypical hot-blooded Columbian women, is chanting and raving for Manny while Jay reads a newspaper in his foldout chair. Soon Gloria is exchanging heated words with another mom, and Jay has to defuse the situation.
Jay is depicted as being a stereotypical old man, which can be seen particularly well in the scene where he has trouble getting out of his chair when a much younger man is hitting on Gloria. Jay can also been seen using a stereotypically older mentality later in the episode when he tells his homosexual son, Mitchell, that he shouldn’t adopt, and that if he has to it should be a dog. The inter-generational family is less common than the nuclear family structure, so Jay and Gloria are more stereotypical so that the audience can relate to them since most don’t know much about this kind of family.
Another kind of family many people are not likely to have a lot of knowledge about is the last couple we see, the homosexual couple of Michelle and Cameron, who are on a plane heading home after adopting a Vietnamese baby. Cameron, who goes by Cam, is what many would consider the stereotypical homosexual man. He acts very feminine and shies away from conflict, except when his loved ones are involved. Cam is also very theatrical as can be seen later on in the episode when Cam and Mitchell are announcing to the rest of the family that they have adopted.
Cam walks out holding the baby up in the air while the song ‘Circle of Life’ plays, parodying the opening scene of Lion King. His partner, Mitchell, acts much more masculine and is more aggressive as can be seen when he decides to give the passengers of the plane ‘the speech’ about not judging homosexuals after a misconstrued comment. Most people are unlikely to have the same amount of expose to homosexual families as they are to the nuclear family structure, so they what they know about them is shaped almost entirely by the media.
Much like with Jay and Gloria, Cam and Mitchell are both stereotypes so that the audiences will be able to relate to them. Each major character in Modern Family represents a different stereotype. These characters are stereotypes so we can relate to them right off the back. Of course all of these characters have their own quirks and personality traits that make them fun to watch and unique to the show, but usually these traits are extremes taken from the stereotypes they are portraying.
Modern Family takes these stereotypical characters and does something unique with them by putting them in the same extended family. How often does one find a homosexual family structure, an inter-generation family structure, and a nuclear family structure within the same extended family on an American television show? With the combined use of relatable stereotypes and a momentary style, Modern Family is able to create an authentic sense of realism not seen very often in modern sitcoms.
Courtney from Study Moose
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