Sunday, May 18, 2014

TV: Failing as entertainment, failing as propaganda

Last week, ABC's Modern Family began the usual nonsense the show is so infamous for -- scattering characters and common sense to the winds.  Allegedly, the episode -- the first of a two-parter -- was about a same-sex couple getting married but so much of the show went to Phil playing blind, Clair fretting over her son, and Gloria and Jay hanging out with Cam's parents.


Cam and Mitchell are an insulting same-sex couple portrayed by Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson on Modern Family.  Cam is the ultimate gay stereotype -- even tossing pinkies in the air (and calling them "the girls") -- but at least he has heart.  Mitch is a bitch, a nasty little bitch.

Always questioning Cam's childhood stories, always mocking him behind his back (especially when talking to the 'documentary' filmmaker or filmmakers) and spending a large amount of time being embarrassed by him.  Part of the reason Mitch is such a bitch is that he's played by the awful Jesse Tyler Ferguson.  He's giving the exact same 'performance' he did in The Class.  He's a highly limited 'actor' and there's little he can provide other than bitchy when it comes to humor.

For five seasons, America has endured this awful show that rips off Christopher Guests' mockumentaries.  It's used the 'tell it to the camera' approach because the writers lack any genuine real talent or understanding of humanity.  So they string together attempts at funny (which rarely go anywhere) with talking-to-the-camera bits and a lot of moralizing.  A lot of moralizing.

The show suffers from both a lack of originality and an inflated sense of purpose.

We've ignored the show because, mainly, there are too few Latin performers on TV and Sofia Bergara almost manages to redeem the Latin spitfire stereotype that's been slapped on her by the largely male and Anglo White writers.

Modern Family has been sold as the story of America but it's another laugh free sitcom that has no real diversity.  For example, only 27 of 120 episodes were written or co-written by women.

That may go a long way towards explaining how the series went through four seasons with no main female character working outside the home.

It's funny, as this show offers one stereotype after another, to hear it praised.

US President Barack Obama has praised it for example.  This despite the lack of African-Americans featured on the show.

Phil has an African-American friend he found late in the show.  Sometimes the writers remember him, sometimes they don't -- mainly, they don't.

The real question about Modern Family is what is so "modern" about it?

The gay couple!

The ones who don't have a sex life?

At one point, the show was under heavy fire for the fact that Cam and Mitch never even kissed.

The response to that?

The producers insisted this wasn't them, this was a storyline.  And we learned that Mitch (a created character) was uncomfortable with public displays of affection due to his father, as Gloria summed it up, not telling Mitch he loves him.

The whole thing played off less like a storyline and more like a justification for the producers own homophobia.

Along the way, they've also trafficked in xenophobic statements about Asian-Americans.

It's been a lousy ride.

One that just got worst last week.

In the lead-up to the two-part season ender, actress Julie Bowen (Clair) made a ridiculous statement.  Ruth called it out for being insulting.  It was that.

It was also more than that.

Bowen told Bill Keveney (USA Today), of Mitch's father's homophobic reaction to his son's wedding, "He gives a voice to audience members who aren't on board."

No, he doesn't and Bowen's a stupid performer.

If you don't know what you're talking about, don't speak.

Art can do many things including propagandize.

Jane Fonda successfully used film in the way Bowen wrongly believes Modern Family can.

In her IPC films, Jane played a woman awakening to this or that.  Her character then embarked on a journey, take the audience along with the character.

Well, why can't Modern Family do the same thing.

For a number of reasons.

First of all, those opposed to marriage equality are not going to watch a wedding of Mitch and Cam.

Secondly, the show's been on for five seasons now.  It's very doubtful that there's any 'radicalization' left for its audience.

Thirdly, they ought to be a little more concerned about how they're failing at art

As Ruth notes, The Simpsons and The Family Guy both, seasons ago, did this exact same story with Marge and Lois.  So it's tired.

Fourthly, and most importantly, by redoing this tired story, they are normalizing homophobia.

Why, at this late date, are gay characters being shoved on the back burner?

The episode should be about Mitch and Cam and their love.

Instead, it's about a straight character.

And it's about the straight character's problem: He's struggling with his adult son being gay.

It's about five seasons too late for such a storyline but it's typical of this show which works overtime to keep Cam and Mitch at arms length.

Supposedly, Mitch grew up closer to his mother DeDe while his sister Claire was closer to their father Jay.

Guess who's not at the wedding?

Yep, DeDe (Shelley Long).  The parent who would be supportive isn't showing.

Again, the show spends a lot of time normalizing and justifying homophobia.

It's about as modern as 1991.

And that might mean something if this was 1994 and not 2014.

Lovable Jay is a homophobe.

And the star.  The star even in an episode that's supposed to be about Mitch and Cam getting married.

The way this normalizing works out usually is that a homphobe gets applauded for coming into the current century.

That's what Modern Family wants to do and wants to create.

That's one story and it's a story that's been told repeatedly.

But no one should mistake this story for the story of a wedding.

Mitch and Cam are extras, 'local color,' served up to glorify a straight man who's going to leave a little bit of his homophobia behind.

Again, that's a story.  Its not particularly modern or even new.  But if the show didn't traffic in the tired and stereotypical, it wouldn't manage to fill out ten minutes, let alone five seasons.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }