Family TV shows have always been popular, and, whether audiences have known it or not, they have always sent a message through their portrayal of the so-called “typical family.” From Leave it to Beaver, to Brady Bunch, then from The Simpsons to Modern Family, society has gone from painting the nuclear, functional, patriarchal family as the ideal to increasingly promoting the acceptance of no ideal. Rather, family TV shows portray, commonly in a humorous light, the daily struggles of a 21st century family. Society’s views of family have changed drastically since the premiere of Leave it to Beaver, and they will continue to change until after the last episode of Modern Family airs. But as the media changes its portrayals of the family, the “quintessential family” is beginning to fade out of focus while the acceptance of all types of families is, slowly, coming into view.
Modern Family, perhaps the most influential family TV show currently on television, depicts a dysfunctional family in the 21th century. On ABC’s website, the show is described as follows: “Modern Family stars the Pritchett-Dunphy-Tucker clan, a wonderfully large and blended family. Together these three families give us an honest and often hilarious look into the sometimes warm, sometimes twisted, embrace of the modern family.” Modern Family portrays the new versions of the family in a humorous light. More and more families are changing to reflect the dysfunctional model seen in Modern Family.
This video gives a brief overview of what will be discussed in this paper.
Modern Family comes from a long line of successful family TV shows, all portraying the “typical family” in society during that time. Leave it to Beaver is a TV show set in the late 1950s that portrays a functional, white, middle class family. The shows in this era were most concerned with portraying the nuclear family unit and traditional patriarch. Leave it to Beaver reinforces gender norms: Girls look pretty, boys fool around, fathers earn money, and mothers do the housework. Quotes like, “I never saw a mom lying down in the daytime before,” show that the TV show was not only created to portray the typical family in the 50s, but also to subtly send the message that that portrayal was the “ideal.”
As cultures changed and families changed, so did TV shows. The nation’s divorce rate climbed in the 1960s, creating increasingly split-up families. Hence, the next big TV show that emerged was The Brady Bunch. This “blended family” featured a man, Mike, with three boys marrying a woman, Carol, with three girls. In the five seasons, each episode highlights different situations within the family unit, each coming back to their harmonious familial system by the end of the episode. The TV show pushed very few socially controversial buttons. Overall, The Brady Bunch showed that a functional, blended family was attainable, and even desirable. The Bill Cosby Show emerged during this same era. It was a remarkable series in that it showed that a functional African-American family was fairly similar to a functional white family, which was hard for audiences to comprehend during that time. The show’s comedic nature distracted audiences from disputing this powerful social statement.
Roseanne, another popular sitcom, was one of the first portrayals of the “realistic” family in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Both parents worked outside the home, the lead characters were overweight, and it featured a female dominated household and homosexual characters. Since Roseanne, there has been a greater push for acceptance of all types of families in the media, particularly regarding homosexual relationships. In the TV series Happily Divorced (2011-2013), the main characters get divorced on good terms after 18 years of marriage because the husband comes out as gay. Shows like this, showing that happiness is possible even if you are divorced or gay, simply did not exist in the 1950s. Society has come a long way.
7th Heaven, created in the late 1990s/early 2000s, shows how a minister father and stay-at-home mother raise their seven children, mess-ups and all. The Simpsons, created in 1989 and still airing today, is an animated, satirical depiction of working-class life. Because the show is animated, some argue that it is easier for the producers to make fun of society because creators have the power to create the character’s own universe. Since the show is still airing today, writers can continue to put comedic twists on current political and economic situations. “In The Simpsons, politicians are corrupt, ministers such as Reverend Lovejoy are indifferent to churchgoers, and the local police force is incompetent.”
Pop Culture Analysis
All of these TV shows have led to Modern Family, the most recent portrayal of the “typical family.” And just like every other family TV show, Modern Family is full of subtle messages regarding acceptance of all different types of family relationships. The show highlights stereotypes surrounding motherhood, blended families, adolescence, Latina women, and homosexuality.
Claire Dunphy, the “supermom,” has a loving husband, two daughters, and one son. One of her daughters, Haley, is a ditz who dresses well, and the other, Alex, is an unattractive genius. Her son, Luke, is a typical teenage boy who loves to mess around and have fun. Claire also drives a minivan, perhaps the most iconic “supermom car.” What could possibly be wrong with Claire, the seemingly perfect mom? Well, she compares herself to Gloria, her step-mom. Claire views herself as a frazzled mom that is constantly running around helping her kids with something, or cooking or cleaning. Claire views Gloria as a gorgeous, calm mom that always looks put together. Claire never resents Gloria, she just compares her shortcomings to Gloria’s successes. This relationship can be likened to 21st century moms comparing themselves to other moms, especially “mommy bloggers.” Mommy bloggers present their best selves on social media while promoting products and giving motherhood tips to viewers. While mommy bloggers are extreme examples of mothers comparing themselves to one another, many mothers can relate to feeling less capable than other surrounding mothers. And since family TV shows strive to make the portrayed families relatable to all audiences, the relationship between Claire and Gloria is emphasized.
Another relatable part of Modern Family is its portrayal of a stepfamily. In the show, Jay divorces a woman named Dede, then marries Gloria. Jay had two children with Dede, Claire and Mitchell, and Gloria had one child, Manny, before marrying Jay. Jay and Gloria’s blended family represents the rising norm of stepfamilies in society today. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1300 new stepfamilies are forming every day, over 50% of U.S. families are remarried or re-coupled, and one out of two marriages ends in divorce. Modern Family is one of many modern media portrayals of a blended family. As the divorce rates rise, blended families are becoming more accepted, and even expected.
In many TV shows and movies, the stereotypical “ditzy, gorgeous shopper” and “smart, unattractive tomboy” make an appearance. In Modern Family, these stereotypes are represented by Claire’s daughters Haley and Alex. In another popular family TV show, Last Man Standing, Mandy and Eve play the ditz and the tomboy, respectively. In these two shows and many others, the ditz is the older daughter and the tomboy the younger daughter. Perhaps this is because the tomboys watch their older sisters in horror, and do everything in their power to behave differently. Hence, the tomboys represent the opposite side of the “girly spectrum.” These frequently used stereotypes tell us a lot about society – society may believe a smart and beautiful woman is extremely hard to find.
While Modern Family may be seeking to diminish many stereotypes surrounding the “typical family,” the show is reinforcing one major stereotype – that of Latina women. According to a recent article, some of the biggest stereotypes surrounding Latina women include the following: they all have accents, they love to show cleavage, they are immigrants, they have loud, obnoxious, high-pitched voices, they have long, wavy hair, they are devout Catholics, and they come from dangerous neighborhoods. Gloria is the only Latina in Modern Family, and she embodies all of these mentioned stereotypes. In one episode, Gloria’s mother and sister come to town for Gloria’s baby’s christening. This episode further reinforces Latina stereotypes. There are multiple conversations referencing the “village” they came from. For example, Gloria’s mother has Gloria’s laundry in hand when she asks, “Where’s the river?” Additionally, Jay has a hard time getting along with his mother-in-law. One reason is because she insists Jay and Gloria name their son after her late husband, but Jay refuses. Unfortunately, many current TV shows feature Latina women similarly portrayed as Gloria is, but one recently popular show, Jane the Virgin, has been praised for its “authentic, genuine representation of a Hispanic family.” A recent article argues that the Hispanic population in the United States (over 17% of the total population) longs for TV shows that portray their culture realistically, not stereotypically. Unfortunately, Modern Family highlights Gloria as a stereotypical Latina instead of just a normal mother.
Perhaps the biggest statement Modern Family makes is through its portrayal of a homosexual marriage. Jay’s only son, Mitchell, is married to a man named Cam, and together they adopt a little girl, Lily. Throughout the past 20 years, the media has viewed homosexual relationships as uncomfortable and unnatural. Now, such relationships are becoming more normal and even embraced. The first major moment for the LGBTQ community was when Ellen, a comedian and media icon, publicly came out as lesbian on her sitcom in 1997. While the sitcom was originally cancelled soon after her announcement, Ellen now runs one of the most successful daytime TV shows in the industry, winning 30 daytime Emmy awards. She also hosted the Oscars in 2014. Orange is the New Black, a popular TV show running since 2013, also helped the LGBTQ movement by introducing many regularly appearing homosexual, bisexual, and transgender characters. Portrayals of homosexuality in the media continue to push for equality and push for the acceptance of all types of sexual orientations. In Modern Family, Jay originally resented Mitchel’s homosexuality, but has grown to embrace it. This parallels society – though first resenting those with differing sexual orientations, society has slowly learned how to accept and embrace those differences.
Modern Family highlights the everyday struggles of the “typical family” in the 21st century. Claire, the “supermom” compares herself and her mothering to her step-mom, Gloria, similar to many mothers’ comparisons today. The show features a blended family – the type of family becoming more and more normal in society. The teen girls in Modern Family represent what society believes about beauty and smarts, and more importantly, how they rarely mix together. Sexy, loud stereotypes surrounding Latina women continue to be enforced in current TV shows. Finally, homosexual relationships are becoming more accepted and even embraced. Analyzing these portrayals in Modern Family can help audiences understand the society they live in.
Though the three types of families portrayed in Modern Family have their differences, there is one commonality between all of them: all of the parents are extremely dedicated to their kids. Family always comes first, and ultimately that is what unites them all. The question remains – does this “family comes first” motto in Modern Family resonate with what society considers “normal” or contradict it?
Overall, Modern Family sends the message of acceptance to audiences everywhere. The “typical family” is no longer one mold. A mom and a dad with two kids is no longer regarded as the “quintessential family,” and it certainly is no longer expected. Rather, biracial families, homosexual families, families with working mothers, families with stay-at-home dads, single parent households, blended families, divorced parents, adopted children, couples living together instead of getting married – all of these are considered families. Though more recently seen regarding homosexuality, this growing acceptance will spread to all households and all people. Modern Family has both aided and hindered this growth. Its introduction of all types of families – families that still have problems, families that still make mistakes, yet families that still love each other – makes it quite possibly the most influential family TV show of all time.