Below is a scene of Mitchell and Cameron from Modern Family
In the video, Mitchell and Cameron wants to enroll their adopted daughter, Lily, to a prestigious school. They thought Lily would have a good chance in getting enrolled because of her status as an asian adoptive daughter to a gay couple . However, another couple is trying to enroll their child in the same school at the same time with qualities that seem to beat theirs.The child is African with lesbian parents, one of whom is disabled.
In the show, Mitchell and Cameron represent the portrayal of gay characters as another model minority. Mitchell, in particular, displays qualities similarly given to Asian characters — Type A, high strung, timid but smart, and economically successful. He is generally not confrontational and prefers professionalism in difficult situations. In addition, he works at law firm after graduating Cornell and Columbia University at the top of his class which contributes to the successful stereotype. On the other hand, Cameron portrays the other aspect of stereotypes given to gay characters. He has a very big personality and a flare for theatricals. As such, his bubbly outgoing personality contrasts to Mitch’s uptight manner. Although he might be flamboyant, Cameron has mainstream interests and an american backgrounds that would appeal to the viewers like football and growing up in a farm in the midwest. This might be why Cameron exist as a character since he has traits that still grounds him to the mainstream culture.
Both Mitchell and Cameron have seemingly negative traits that is actually admired by mainstream media. They have this obsession in making sure Lily’s life is perfect by going to the right schools, etc. Although we all know that helicopter parenting is generally not a good thing for the child, it resonates with our deeply ingrained idea of pursuing material security through a solid work ethic. Seeing a gay couple going through difficulties to achieve success is much more digestible than those “getting hand outs”. As Becker puts it in his work Gay-Themed Television and the Slumpy Class, “… gays and lesbians, reported to be well educated with a disproportionate amount of disposable income, seemed to be economically self-sufficient.”
Another thing worth noting about the scene provided is that there seems to be a hierarchy of marginalized communities. In the video, lesbian parents with a disabled partner and african boy is implied to beat gay parents with an asian girl. Based on this limited example, It seems like the group that “wins” is the one that belongs to a less accepted marginalized group. This might be due to the saturation of “safe” token minorities being represented in the media. As such, the line of what might be seen as this “safe” token minority is being slowly pushed further towards the less accepted. This line is what becker might refer to as “edgy, risque programming”. A decade ago, during the Gay 90’s, the group that lands perfectly on this edgy and risque line would have been predominantly white gay male couples. In other words, the change that we might be seeing might be a reflection in the shifting attitudes and identities of many Americans.
The change in what is considered edgy and risque in Television might also be partly motivated by the need to attract viewers in a market saturated with similar shows. As Jane Arthurs points out in her work Sex and the City and Consumer Culture, in order for a show to be successful it needs to have the “ability to innovate within a pattern of predictable pleasures … that appeals to a commercially attractive audience”. The show does this with the scene simultaneously portraying the gay characters as a model minority while calling attention to how commonly LGBTQ is represented by white males.
To add more, I think it’s interesting how the show is portraying a gay couple exploiting the slumpy sensibility. This is a recent phenomenon where “maintaining at least an appearance of celebrating social differences became de rigeur for those who wanted to be ‘hip’ and ‘sophisticated’ “(Becker). The scene in Modern Family highlights this apparent acceptance and celebration of diversity in the mainstream media. The couple knows that their non-traditional status will give them an edge since it will provide the school with a passive way of affirming their open-mindedness, analogous to the way that slumpies consume gay-inclusive shows as Becker points out.
1.) What do you think is the direction that LGBTQ characters are being portrayed in Television is going?
2.) What do you think is today’s version of edgy and risque programming?
3.) Do you think that the representation of gay characters reflects the acceptance of LGTBQ among Americans?
4.) How do you think LGBTQ Characters should be portrayed in Television shows?
Relevant Readings: Gay-Themed Television and the Slumpy Class by Ron Becker and Sex and the City and Consumer Culture by Jane Arthurs
Thoughts and comments are welcome below!