Good afternoon all, and welcome back for a Tuesday Pop Review. Last week, we discussed the new season of The Office, which is struggling through life after Steve Carell. This week we discuss ABC’s hit Modern Family, which airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. Modern Family is in the midst of a third hit season and shows no sign of slowing down. For those unfamiliar with the show, it revolves around three related households in L.A. Ed O’Neill (a/k/a Al Bundy) is the wealthy patriarch, who lives with his much younger second wife, a Colombian bombshell, and her young son Manny. O’Neill’s two kids include a daughter who lives with her husband and three kids and his son who lives with his life partner and their adopted daughter.
The show is consistently stellar and so versatile that a panel of 20 random fans would likely reveal at least 6-7 different favorite characters, though I would estimate that most fans think that the homosexual couple steals the show. I couldn’t disagree, as Cameron and Mitchell are excellent.
It leads me to a broader discussion of how prevalent gay characters have become on television. Approximately 10-12 years ago, ABC’s Ellen became the first show to have a gay lead character. It was a highly publicized and I even recall a public “countdown” to the episode where Ellen DeGeneris’ character emerged from the closet.
Since then, the number of gay characters on TV sitcoms and dramas are too many to count. Just off the top of my head I can think of key characters on Will & Grace, The Office, NYPD Blue, Mad Men, and others. My question, and unfortunately I do not have a lot of homosexual friends (or at least those that I know of), is whether the gay community considers the movement progress toward the goal of acceptance and equality. I ask this, not to be controversial, but more because it seems like the characters that I see on television generally create laughs through stereotypical humor. In other words, should the gay community be happy that millions of American homes are laughing at gay characters for “acting gay?” Maybe it’s the first level of progress — awareness, and at some point it will not be used as a comedy source.
It reminds me of similar issues for African-Americans and Jews during the celebrated run of All in the Family, featuring the bigoted main character Archie Bunker. Fans celebrate this show as a groundbreaking “parody” of our society’s once more widespread ignorance toward diversity. I would argue, however, that All in the Family, was nothing more than pure marketing brilliance. It catered both to those who celebrated it as a parody AND to the still signficant segment of the population (especially at that time) who continued to hold a bias or animus toward minorities. You can’t convince me that half of All in the Family’s viewers cracked up at the show because they shared Archie’s views.
Is there something more to this expanding phenomena of gay characters or is it simply history repeating itself? I’d love to know your thoughts on it…