Modern Family

3/9/11 (Taken from a Moodle Post made for Campus Ecology)

Tonight I sat down attentively in front of my computer–notebook perched upon my lap and ballpoint pen at the ready. Pulling up the latest episode of my favorite TV show Modern Family, (a quirky take on Suburban family life that follows a gay couple, a “nuclear” family of sorts, and a hilarious older husband-bombshell latin wife with a “ladies man” ten-year old for a son duo) the experience of pressing play didn’t feel so relaxing.


Normally, when Modern Family begins, I ease back into my chair and prepare to laugh. This time, I wasn’t just mindlessly digesting the witty cultural references–I was analyzing them.

This particular episode began with Claire Dunphy speaking rapidly on a cordless home phone to her neighbor about various plans for picking up and dropping off the kids. Her often clueless husband Phil interrupts her to point out that the coupon they won for a spa day at a recent charity event is about to expire. Claire quickly brushes the coupon aside, listing the million motherly things she has to do. She speaks in an annoyed tone about the inevitable reaction of the neighbor ladies when they see that she cancelled appointments to go to the spa for “me time.” Of course, Phil doesn’t see how this matters at all, and decides to cash in the free manicure for himself. From here on out, the episode is a great play on our cultural conception of gender roles.

Cutting to the charming gay couple of Cam and Mitchell, the nervous new parents of adopted Asian baby “Lily” argue about parenting techniques. Cam has learned from Oprah about a 16 year old girl who freaked out after being adopted. Worried about this happening to his poor Lily, he has begun to teach her to clap and smile every time the word “adopt” is used. In any form. This is a great reference to our constant attention to media about parenting. We are always searching for advice about how our kids should be progressing, what they need to succeed, and how to avoid completely messing them up. Cam and Mitchell also endlessly document Lily’s life–scrapbooking and videotaping in a way that mimics perfectly all of those crazy parents in the park.
The dynamics of a gay couple demonstrates our cultural stereotypes of gay parenting as well (for example, later in the episode Cam and Mitchell decide to write a story for Lily about how they decided to adopt her. Thinking that they will cash in on a new market niche, they go to the local bookstore only to discover there is now an entire section on gay parenting, bisexual parenting, gay parenting of Asian babies, gay adoptive parenting, and various other humorously specific subsections.)

Back at the nail salon, Phil gets advice from all of the women around him about what his wife “really wants to hear.” They let him in on the secret that he shouldn’t keep trying to fix everything she tells him is bothering her, but instead offer support. Taking their advice to heart, Phil returns home to his wife and tells her how hard he knows she works and how much he appreciates her. She is incredibly grateful and the two embrace. She doesn’t notice his new manicure. Phil is obviously offended. Again addressing gender roles, we see how balance and equality in a marriage is played upon in television. This part of the episode also speaks to how much we learn from the romantic nuances of TV. We laugh at the fact that Phil has become so “feminine.” And yet, we still long for Claire to appreciate him. I like Modern Family because it allows us to think twice about what we see as “normal.”

I could go on and on about the dynamics of Jay, Gloria, and Manny (the family of a rich older man, his hot young wife and her quirky son) but for the sake of time and space, I’ll leave them to your imagination.

Though I watched this episode on Hulu, there were still a few 30 second long ads. The fact that the length of these ads is shown in the corner of the screen is significant–it allows you to gauge just how much you can get done in that amount of time before you return to the screen. 30 seconds is enough time to sprint to the sink to get a glass of water, or refill a bowl of chips. The timing becomes an art. I feel like this is the way we live most of our lives. We are constantly trying to fill up every second with as much multi tasking as possible.

Tonight, I sat through every commercial. The ads were diverse–neosporin, a delta faucet head, and dryer sheets. I was particularly interested in the neosporin and the dryer sheets. Neosporin featured a full cast of muppet like characters singing a hokey jingle with adorable toothy-grinned small children. I could just picture the 5 year olds at home singing along. That’s one way to teach brand loyalty. It also tells us that to be good mothers we need to cover our children’s cuts with only the best product out there. The bounce dryer sheet commercial began with the question “which do you use? the bar or the sheet?” Several answers ensued, and the jist of the commercial was that your choice and your reasoning made you unique. This was true too with a JC Penney dress commercial that featured the phrase “we make the pattern, you make the dress amazing.” Here, we see the American obsession with using consumer buying power to maintain the “freedom of individuality.” By becoming consumer conformists, we believe we are protecting our nonconforming identities.

I think I might start actually “watching” the shows I watch from now on.


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