I would like to dedicate this chapter to my family. I would not be the person I am today without their constant love and support. I am so incredibly gracious to be lucky to have them in my life and be a part of such an amazing family.
Keywords: Identification, Representation, Redundancy, Television, Family
What is a common similarity between The Simpsons, The Goldbergs, The Cosby Show, George Lopez, and The Middle? Is it that they are all television shows? Are they all comedies? Did they all run for multiple seasons? Yes, yes, and yes. All of those are correct answers however, there is an inherent characteristic of the shows that may not immediately be noticeable when one initially watches them.
All the protagonist families that are depicted in these shows are nuclear families, one that contains two parents of the opposite sex and their own biological children (Types of Families | Cultural Anthropology). None of the shows highlight different types of families: ones with adopted children, divorced parents, same-sex couples, and many more. A show that shows several different types of families (nuclear and not) is Modern Family. Representation and the idea of someone seeing themselves on television are so essential. The rhetorical term of identification arises when speaking about the presence of certain characters in a television show. Identification is important to me because my family is not a “traditional” family. Growing up I saw many shows that highlighted the lives of traditional families. I always wanted a show to contain a family similar to mine, where they were the main characters and the storyline revolved around them. It is imperative to represent families who are not nuclear because it allows people to see the normalcy in an “untraditional family.” Modern Family represents the identification of three different types of families: nuclear, blended, and LGBTQ+. The representation of a “modern family” challenges the definition of a traditional family and allows its audience to identify with the new norm. In this essay, I analyze the different families portrayed in Modern Family, empathize the importance of their identification, and examine how it allows “nontraditional” families to feel represented in a narrative.
Modern Family is about three families: the Pritchetts (Jay and Gloria), the Dunphys (Phil and Claire), and the Tucker-Pritchetts (Cam and Mitch). The Dunphy’s are a nuclear family, Phil and Claire are both married and have biological children. The Pritchett’s are a blended family with a significant age gap between spouses. Jay is a divorced man who has remarried Gloria who has had Manny in her previous family. Later in the show, the two have a second child together named Joe. Lastly, the Tucker-Pritchett family is an LGBTQ+ and adoption family. Cam and Mitch are both gay men who have adopted Lilly. The show highlights three different types of families (nuclear, blended, and LGBTQ+) with different aspects in them, for instance, half-siblings, adoption, and age gap (“LGBTQ+ Inclusive Family Diversity Definitions”).
The feeling of belonging and acceptance is unlike any other. People dream to be a part of a group where they can be their authentic selves and be able to relate with others. Modern Family allows for people to embrace the differences and find a relation with the characters. The idea of identification goes hand-in-hand with the concept of belonging and forming associations with others through common grounds (Wright). Identification highlights the desire for people to find a shared group, with similarities, interests, and aspects of their lives where they feel a belonging too (Harte). In a study done by GLAAD in the 2017-2018 television year, 6.7% of television characters were a part of the LGBTQ+ community (Winderman and Smith). This is an incredibly small number for television shows, services, and stations that are offered in the 21st century. Modern Family combats the misrepresentation problem that the media is facing today and has been allowing LGTBQ+ members to identify with modern television. With the inclusion of an LGBTQ+ family, viewers can identify and relate with the Tucker-Pritchett family. This is particularly relevant because Modern Family was created in 2009, eight years before the GLAAD study was conducted and six years before same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States. In season 11 episode 16 titled “I’m Going to Miss This” Cam and Mitch adopt a son. They are nervous about his arrival and Lily their adopted daughter calms them down and states “we got this” (Modern Family) when the three of them look over their newest addition to the family. This scene is so touching because it shows all the fears a family usually has in anticipation of a new child yet the sense of community and belonging when the baby is delivered. Another example of identification of the beauty in Cam and Mitch’s relationship is in season 5 episode 24 titled “The Wedding (Part 2)” they get married. A comedic series of mishaps and bumps in the road occurs throughout the episode however it ends with a beautiful scene and monologue showing the love they have for each other at their wedding. People can relate, feel welcomed, and accepted to what they see on the screen.
Additionally, the idea of identification goes along with the Pritchett Family. Blended families, families with age gaps, and half-siblings can see a family similar to theirs that functions and loves each other like a nuclear family. The Pritchetts challenge the stigma of an age gap in a relationship and show the normality of what it is like to live in a blended family with step and half children.
The consistent representation of different forms of a family in the show is important when addressing identification in Modern Family. Redundancy is a prominent counterargument to identification. In this case, the redundancy of showing the different types of families builds off the idea that they are reliable and honest (Carpenter). The act of continuing to show the families coexisting and functioning similarly dismisses the idea that a nuclear family is an ideal and typical family. An example of this redundancy that allows for the identification to appear genuine is when Jay speaks about Manny as his son. In season 2 episode 7, titled “Chirp,” Jay fires an employee at his company for putting Manny at risk of an injury. Manny is furious at Jay and does not understand why Jay would fire the man. After constant bickering and arguing throughout the whole episode, Jay furiously states that “anyone that puts my kid in danger doesn’t get a second chance” (Modern Family) where Manny states “did you just call me your kid … you never said that before” (Modern Family) and Jay responds, “well, of course, you’re my kid what do you think!” (Modern Family). This is a subtle yet powerful scene where a stepchild finally feels noticed by their stepfather. Throughout the rest of the series, Jay and Manny identify themselves as father and son. This redundancy of them announcing their father/son relationship is solidified in season 10 episode 21 titled “Commencement” when Manny’s biological father comes to spend time with him at his graduation. Manny goes up to Jay at the end of the episode and says “[Jay,] you and me today you know that’s what I think of father-son time” (Modern Family) where Jay cheers Manny with an alcoholic beverage and says, “here’s to you son” (Modern Family). This confirms that different types of families can operate together. They have the same love, same fights, and happiness with one another. Modern Family actively puts different types of families in the center of the story. They do not make a small cameo; in fact, they are the main characters and get an equal amount of screen time and importance to the narrative. The redundancy of the families forming together creates an image of relatability for the audience. This redundancy allows for identification to come into place because the audience is not ostracized for being different. They are continually celebrated allowing for people to feel content with sharing the similarities with each of the families on the screen.
A counterargument for Modern Family is that it does not have the ability for people to identify with different families because it lacks truth. The argument further addresses that there needs to be truth for identification (Kirk). For instance, outside of the show, the three married couples are not married. It can be argued that it is not an accurate representation of the different types of families. However, I argue that the couples not being married is not a problem. They are professional actors who have been trained and made a career out of the art of impersonation. They have studied the type of character they need to portray and give the illusion that their relationships are authentic. Additionally, the audience is aware of the fact that they are actors and not married. They watch the show to be entertained and know that it is not truly real. Finding associations, relations, and ultimately identifying with specific characters is supposed to effortlessly come along, it is not forced (Wright).
As I started watching Modern Family, I knew it is a very special television show. Not only does it represent different types of families, but it also changes the common opinion that a family needs to be nuclear to be “normal.” It allows its audience to identify with the new norm. In this chapter, I analyzed the different families portrayed in Modern Family. I used the rhetorical term of identification to create a sense of belonging while challenging the idea through the counterargument of redundancy. Through the repetition of showing “non-traditional” families, Modern Family creates a new definition of a family. The audience can relate to the characters and families that are depicted and expressed. Modern Family has been such an incredibly eye-opening show for me. It taught me about different types of families and allowed me to see a family that is (somewhat) similar to mine. So, this draws a question. The next time a television show is on, try to see what types of families, communities, and people are being represented. Is it the same as every other television show? Or is it like Modern Family? A show that creates the new normal.
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