Modern Family is an ABC comedy that began in 2009 and has become increasingly popular ever since. The show is centered around three families, which are apart of one large, extended family. Jay Pritchett is the father of two children, Claire and Mitchell. Jay is married to a much younger, exotic woman named Gloria. They raise her son from a previous marriage, Manny, together. Claire is married to husband Phil Dunphy and they have three children together. The oldest is Haley who is the typical teenager.
The middle child is Alex who is very smart. Luke is the youngest and only son. Mitchell is partners with Cameron and they have adopted a Vietnamese child together, Lily. The show gets most of its humor thanks to the stereotypical plot lines it conveys. My focus is on the relationship between Mitchell and Cam. I think it is great that the show makes a gay couple more visible and socially acceptable to the public eye; however, sometimes the writers show their relationship functioning in a way that is not how most gay couples work.
I will analyze not only how Modern Family reinforces homosexual stereotypes but also how it challenges them.
Our society has portrayed gay men as very flamboyant and feminine. The media shows them to be very involved in fashion and/or decorating and not so often involved in aspects that have been deemed “masculine”. Instead, they are perceived to love Broadway shows and musicals, have a feminine voice and not really show any masculine attributes.
They are obsessed with their appearances and bodies. The usual night out for a gay man is clubbing at gay bars with drugs and alcohol. Many gay men are not shown to have long-lasting relationships. They are seen as promiscuous and interesting in seeking physical intimacy more often than emotional. Since they are seen as promiscuous, it is a stereotype that they are not involved in ‘real’ committed relationships. It is also assumed that in homosexual relationships there must be the ‘female’ (passive) role and a ‘male’ (dominant) role. The stereotypes basically solidify the construct that all gay men are the same and there is no diversity between them. Relationships between two men are cookie-cutter, or so they’re thought to be (Lipp, 2017)
Cam is a very flamboyant, high-maintenance type of gay; the sassy fashionista type. Mitchell, on the other hand, is a more subtle gay. He doesn’t dress as loudly as Cam does, and he’s far more subdued. As for the other gay characters, they pretty much embody Cam’s flamboyant. Certainly, gay men like this exist in real life, but there are far more than just these two types out in the world, but Modern Family only seems to focus on these two kinds in the numerous gay characters they have. When it comes to Cam and Mitch as characters, their traits are pretty much all gay stereotypes. In the episode ‘Boys’ Night Out’, Cam and Mitchell are excited to go out with some of their gay friends to a very nice restaurant. The writers are really conforming to the gay stereotype as they down martinis and gossip loudly about their boy crushes they had growing up. Jay, Mitchell’s father, ends up at the same place coincidentally and the party invites him to join in. Mitchell becomes very hesitant. Yes, his dad knows he’s gay but how gay does he want to show his father he is? At this point, he’s never been able to fully open up to his dad. Jay ends up fitting right in amongst all the drinking and laughter, which eases Mitchell nerve about letting his father see that side of him. This is another stereotype that it can be hard for gay people to come out to their families because they are afraid of rejection or interference with the relationship.
Conversely, Modern Family sheds light on how it is entirely possible for these two men in a relationship to shatter some of these stereotypes, much like real life gay men in similar relationships. It is clear that Mitchell and Cam are obviously very committed to each other. Although they are often seen bickering, the authenticity of their relationship is never questioned, clearly opposing the idea that all gays want is sex and promiscuity. Another challenge of stereotype is how well they work together on bringing up their adopted daughter. There has been much speculation on whether or not gay couples are fit to raise children. The question is often brought up ‘Who will be the maternal/paternal figure? Etc”. The fact that these men are so open about their adoption process and the struggles of being new parents is a good indication that the show is trying to challenge that view. There was a lot of controversy about the couple from avid viewers complaining that the two were never seen being intimate. A Facebook group was made about it, the writers of the show announced that there was an episode of them kissing to be aired shortly. The episode explained that Mitchell did not like PDA so that’s why Cam and Mitchell are not intimate together. Although some uneasy-to-please viewers were still not satisfied, most thought the situation was handled well (LA Times n.d.).This challenges another stereotype of gay men because they are usually shown as being very touchy-feely and completely fine with PDA. Often misconstrued ideas of gay men being promiscuous and unable to have committed relationships adds on to the stereotype of them being so willing to displays affection in public.
Although sometimes Modern Family can reinforce the gay stereotype, it is really important to have gay couples portrayed in the media. It makes these relationships more visible, which will hopefully lead people to be more open-minded. It is also important for people to be aware and educated about what stereotypes are and what they mean, so they can address them and react to them according. In this specific instance it was geared toward comedic relief but in other aspects, it can be harmful. It’s important to remember that stereotypes–as mentioned in lecture– are just opinions, attitudes, and judgments and not everyone fits into this model that the media creates (Huft, 2018).