The popularity of family TV shows has been prevalent for decades, and regardless of whether audiences have been aware of it or not, they have always presented a message via the depiction of the so-called regular family. With shows such as Brady Bunch and Leave it to Beaver, as well as The Simpsons and Modern Family, society has evolved from depicting the nuclear, functional family that is often patriarchial as the ideal to heavily promoting the acceptance of the existence of no ideal. Instead, family TV shows depict, more often than not in a funny light, the everyday challenges of a family in the 21st century. The societal perception of the family has drastically changed since family TV shows first to gain popularity, and they will continue to undergo changes as their prevalence continues. However, as family depictions in the media continue to change, the quintessential family is starting to get eroded out of focus, with the acceptance of every form of the family becoming increasingly prevalent.
Modern Family offers a portrayal of the life of a 21st-century family, and it features a mother comparing herself to her stepmother, which is similar to how mothers in society normally compare how they raise their children with how other women do the same. The shows centers around a blended family, whose type has become increasingly common in today’s society. The teen girls present in Modern Family are representations of society’s perception of beauty and intelligence, and more significantly, the rarity of them mixing. Sexy, loud stereotypes regarding women of Latina descent are reinforced in Modern Family as has been the norm in the majority of current TV shows, which is unfortunate. Lastly, relationships pertaining to the LGBTQ community have continued to gain acceptance, with more and more people embracing them. The analysis of the portrayals detailed above in Modern Family can help provide an understanding of the 21st-century society that they exist within and the interactions they have as they go about their lives.
Many consider Modern Family to be one of, if not the most influential family TV show in recent history, with the show offering a portrayal of a dysfunctional family living in the 21st century (Smith-Driggs, 2017). ABC’s website details the show as revolving around the Pritchett-Dunphy-Tucker clan, which is a large family that is wonderfully blended. The three families mentioned above offer the audience a true and often comical perception into the sometimes twisted, sometimes warm, reflection of the 21st-century family (Smith-Driggs, 2017). The TV show depicts the new versions of the family in a comical light, and society is gradually becoming an actual reflection of Modern Family, with more and more families in this day and age straying moving away from the ideal perception of a family and adopting a more dysfunctional model.
Modern Family hails from an extended line of well-received family TV shows, all offering a depiction of a typical family within society at the time of airing (Smith-Driggs, 2017). For example, Leave it to Beaver was set in the 1950s and featured the portrayal of a functional, Caucasian, middle-class family. The shows that were set in the era in question were, more often than not, concerned with depicting the conventional patriarchy and the nuclear family unit and it involved the reinforcement of gender norms such as girls always having to look pretty, fooling around being in the nature of boys, and mothers doing all the housework while fathers earn money. Changes in culture and families resulted in a change in TV shows too, and that became evident when the national divorce rate increased in the 1960s, creating increasingly separated families (Smith-Driggs, 2017). Thus, The Brady Bunch emerged, with each episode of the show’s five seasons portraying a different situation in the family unit, but the show touched upon limited matters that can be deemed socially controversial.
During the same era, The Cosby Show emerged, and it offered a look into a functional family of African-American descent, with the show also offering a look at how similar a Black family was to a white family (Smith-Driggs, 2017). Doing so was meaningful, given that it was a fact that that the majority of audiences found it hard to understand at the time. Roseanne offered the first depiction of a family that can be perceived as realistic in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The show featured both parents working away from home, with the lead characters also being overweight, and also featuring a household that was female-dominated, as well as gay characters (Smith-Driggs, 2017). Ever since the emergence of Roseanne, there has been an increased encouragement for acceptance of every family form within the media, more so with regards to LGBTQ relationships.
All the shows detailed above have contributed to the prevalence of Modern Family, and similar to the other family TV shows, it is riddled with subtle messages pertaining to the acceptance of every type of family relationship, regardless of how different it is from the accepted norms (Smith-Driggs, 2017). Modern Family focuses on the stereotypes centered around blended families, the LGBTQ community, Latina women, and motherhood. Claire Dunphy is depicted as a woman with a loving spouse, two daughters, one of whom dresses well, while the other is an unattractive genius and a son who is portrayed as a typical teenage boy with a knack for having fun and messing around (Smith-Driggs, 2017). While Claire might be perceived to have it all, she, unfortunately, has a habit of comparing herself to her stepmother Gloria, and that makes her view herself as a frantic mother who is always rushing around to help her offspring with something.
Claire’s perception of Gloria is that of a beautiful and composed mother, and while the former does not resent the latter, the comparisons of her shortcomings to Gloria’s success slightly strain their relationship (Smith-Driggs, 2017). Such a relationship can be equated to mothers in the 21st century comparing themselves to other mothers, especially those with a heavy online presence. These mothers often present their best selves online as they go about promoting commodities and offering motherhood tips. While the mention of a mother blogger can be perceived as an extreme example of mothers making comparisons between themselves and others, the majority of mothers find it relatable feeling less capable than other mothers. Therefore, with family TV shows striving to ensure that family depictions are relatable to the audience, Claire and Gloria’s relationship is given much emphasis (Smith-Driggs, 2017).
Modern Family’s other relatable premise is its depiction of a stepfamily, with the show featuring Claire’s father divorcing a woman called Dede and marrying Gloria. Jay and Gloria’s blended family can be perceived as a representation of increasing norms pertaining to stepfamilies in today’s society (Smith-Driggs, 2017). Research by the United States Census Bureau revealed that 1300 new stepfamilies are being created on a daily basis, with more than half of families in the U.S. being re-coupled or remarried, and one out of two marriages concluding in divorce. Modern Family offers one of the several modern depictions of blended families, with increasing divorce rates contributing towards the increased acceptance and expectations of such families.
The majority of TV shows and films are known to offer depictions of the stereotypical ditz, gorgeous shopper, and the intelligent, but unattractive tomboy. Modern Family is no different as the stereotypes in question are reinforced by Claire’s daughters Alex and Haley, with the former playing the tomboy and the latter the ditz (Smith-Driggs, 2017). The majority of family shows depict such a sibling setup because the tomboys are meant to watch their older sisters’ behaviors and actions while frowning upon them, and attempting everything they can to make sure that they do not turn out the same. Thus, the tomboys can be perceived as a representation of the opposite side of the so-called feminine spectrum (Smith-Driggs, 2017). The depiction of such stereotypes offers a glimpse into society, given that it is the belief of many that a woman who is both intelligent and beautiful is next to impossible to find.
Of all the statements made by the show, the biggest statement that Modern Family can be perceived to make is via the show’s depiction of gay marriage (Rosen, 2020). Jay’s only son ad Claire’s brother, Mitchell, is a spouse to another man called Cam, and the two have adopted a baby girl named Lily. Over the last two decades, the media’s perception of gay relationships has been unnatural and uncomfortable. However, such relationships have continued to become the norm, with many people embracing such life partnerships. The depiction of LGBTQ relationships in the media continues pushing for equality, while also promoting the acceptance of every type of sexual orientation (Rosen, 2020). In Modern Family, Jay was initially portrayed as resentful of the fact that his son, Mitchel, was a member of the LGBTQ community, he eventually grew to embrace it (Rosen, 2020). The father-son situation detailed above mirrors society, given that while society once resented people with different sexual orientations, it has gradually learned to be accepting of those differences, while also embracing them.
However, while Modern Family might be looking to lessen the multiple stereotypes pertaining to the typical family, the show heavily reinforces one significant stereotype, that of Latina women (Rosen, 2020). Research has revealed that some of the most significant stereotypes about women of Latina descent include the fact that they enjoy showing cleavage, they have high-pitched voices that are loud and obnoxious, they all speak with accents, they are immigrants, they are staunch Catholics, they have long, wavy hair and that they hail from dangerous origins. The only Latina woman in Modern Family is Gloria and she reinforces every one of the stereotypes detailed above. One of the show’s episodes features Gloria’s mother and sister visiting for the christening of Gloria’s baby, and it is an episode that features increased reinforcement of the stereotype in question (Rosen, 2020). Unfortunately, Gloria’s stereotypical portrayal is just one of many in family TV shows pertaining to the depiction of Latina women. Statistics have shown that the Hispanic population within the United States, which is more than 17% of the nation’s population, yearns for TV shows that depict their culture in a realistic manner, and not stereotypically.
While the various families depicted in Modern Family have their differences, they all share a commonality amongst themselves, which is that every one of the parents is seriously dedicated to their children (Rosen, 2020). The show portrays how family always comes first, and that it ultimately brings them together. Therefore, Modern Family begs the question: does the “family comes first” motto fall in line with what society perceives as normal or does it contradict it? However, there is no denying that the TV show teaches the message of acceptance to all who watch it has contributed significantly to the typical family being perceived in more than one mold (Smith-Driggs, 2017). A mother and father with two offspring are no longer viewed as the classic family and expectations of it have diminished. Instead, biracial families, single-parent households, divorced parents, LGBTQ families and many more are all being perceived as normal families. While it has been more recently seen in regards to the LGBTQ community, the continued acceptance in question will continue to become prevalent to various households and all people. Modern Family has both contributed to and hindered the aforementioned growth (Smith-Driggs, 2017). The show’s presentation of every form of family, which includes families that make mistakes, are plagued with problems, and still, love each other, is enough for it to be regarded as one of the most influential family TV shows of the 21st century.
Modern Family details the daily struggles of a typical family living in the 21st century. The TV show depicts the new versions of the family in a comical light, and society is gradually becoming an actual reflection of Modern Family, with more and more families in this day and age straying moving away from the ideal perception of a family and adopting a more dysfunctional model. Modern Family focuses on the stereotypes centered around blended families, the LGBTQ community, Latina women, and motherhood. The depiction of such stereotypes offers a glimpse into society, given that it is the belief of many that a woman who is both intelligent and beautiful is next to impossible to find. the biggest statement that Modern Family can be perceived to make is via the show’s depiction of gay marriage. Over the last two decades, the media’s perception of gay relationships has been unnatural and uncomfortable. However, such relationships have continued to become the norm, with many people embracing such life partnerships. In Modern Family, Jay was initially portrayed as resentful of the fact that his son, Mitchel, was a member of the LGBTQ community, he eventually grew to embrace it. The depiction of LGBTQ relationships in the media continues pushing for equality, while also promoting the acceptance of every type of sexual orientation. However, while Modern Family might be looking to lessen the multiple stereotypes pertaining to the typical family, the show heavily reinforces one significant stereotype, that of Latina women.
Rosen, L. (2021). ‘Modern Family,’ a longtime Emmy favorite, paved the way and stepped aside. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 December 2021, from https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2020-06-18/modern-family-says-goodbye-after-11-seasons.
Smith-Driggs, E. (2021). Modern Family promotes the acceptance of all types of families – The New York Experience. Nybyu.com. Retrieved 6 December 2021, from http://nybyu.com/pop-culture-analysis/modern-family-promotes-the-acceptance-of-all-types-of-families/.