In ‘Modern Family’s’ episode 15 of season 1 a number of societal norms are addressed, some of which challenged others reinforced. Norms such as the ones relating to gay couples with children, typical teenagers, and extended families, in other words the rich older man with the young “hot” wife and step kid. Modern Family as by its name offers us a more modern view of family in today’s society.
The premise of Modern Family is a mock documentary-style sitcom fabricated around three very different families that all share kinship: a gay couple, who’ve just adopted a baby daughter from Vietnam; a husband and wife with three kids; and a May-December marriage between an older man and a woman who has a son from a prior marriage.
This particular episode is based around Valentine ’s Day and follows three different stories of Jay and Gloria, Cam and Mitchel, and of course, Phil and Claire.
Claire and Phil plan a Valentine’s Day excursion which leads them to role playing at a hotel, while Jay and takes Gloria to a David Brenner show where Jay gets picked on for being an older husband and is mistaken for Gloria’s father, and oh yeah! He also bought her diamond earrings with this fat wallet.
Cam and Mitchel however decide to say at home since Mitchel has had a long day at work but the two of them are able to help out a much desperate Manny (Gloria’s kid) with a crush of his own. One of society’s biggest norms is the conflict of marriage and the age at which one is expected to be married and his/her partners age.
As shown in Modern Family Jay is significantly older than Gloria who is your typical trophy wife. The show clearly challenges the accepted norm of marriage and how we as a society have come to accept the so called ‘limitations’, (i. e. age), of marriage. Episode 15 illustrates in a scene where Jay takes Gloria to a comedy show featuring David Brenner (who is from Jay’s generation) for Valentine’s Day, however she wants to go salsa dancing. Once there David Brenner mistakes Jay for Gloria’s father and pick on him for being an older husband.
The show clearly challenges the accepted norm of a traditional family/marriage and displays the May-December marriage as an accepted view of the modern family. It also shows how Jay is not the ‘classic husband’ due to his age difference. As this norm is being presented, the same norm is being challenged in a different way. Earlier in the episode Jays is shown to give Gloria a diamond earring which demonstrations that Jay is a typical husband, one who is expected to buy his wife diamonds earrings, necklaces, etc.
Through this example, Jay demonstrates the traits that are exhibited in the ‘classic husband’. In today’s society the issue of gay marriage is a delicate one, where gay marriage is becoming more and more accepted in society but is still illegal in some states of the U. S. An even bigger issue lies with same-sex couples adopting babies, which is clearly not yet fully accepted by society and is not an image that forms when a picture of a typical family is cast. These norms are tested when the show follows the story of Cam and Mitchel (Jays Son) on Valentine’s Day.
Cam and Mitchel are a gay married couple, who decide to stay at home for Valentine’s Day. In Modern Family, Mitchel is not shows as a typical gay man instead he’s busy with his work and wearing shirts without any flowers or patterns, does not act like the norm gay man. While Cam on the other hand is a very prototypical gay man, always wearing colorful shirts with patterns, dressing up Lilly (Cam/Mitchel adopted daughter) in costumes for Valentine’s Day. These two characters are quite unlike one another where one reinforces the typical gay man, the other see to challenge the typical gay man.
The couple also has an adopted Vietnamese daughter, again challenging the norm in society of a traditional family. Cam and Mitchel while staying at home agree to babysit Manny who is upset over a girl who he has written a poem to, hoping it would impress her. Manny, unlike other kids who hang-out with their friends and ride their bikes, writes poems and is not the least bit self-conscious. He is very mature and intuitive for his age and is often shown doing adult-like things, such as writing poems, challenging the norm of a usual 13 year old kid.
Fathers in past years have been considered to be stricter on their kids, teaching them discipline and to focus on school. Phil however does not follow that same norm, instead he try’s very hard even in fact goes out of his way to be a “funny” dad/husband. Challenging the societal norm of what is known as a typical father. Claire conversely is a very common stay at home, minivan driving house wife who looks after the kids. She reinforced the utmost ideological norms of what a middle class house wife should be like.
Talking care of the kids and being a loving mother. Claire and Phil like a normal couple exchange only cards and go to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day which is what they’ve been doing for years. However this all changes when the couple decides to go role playing at a hotel. The two meet at the hotel bar and he “picks her up”, she then goes to the bathroom and comes back wearing her coat with no clothes underneath. As they prepare to go upstairs she gets her coat stuck in the escalator, which she cannot take off.
The circumstances turn worse when they begin running into different acquaintances from work and school, all of whom recommend that she take the coat off. These sequences of event illustrate how much distinct Clair and Phil are from a classical couple, challenging the norm of the traditional couple. The norm for a 13 year old boy is quite simple, a goofy, mischievous, and fun-loving boy who is not very bright. This norm is supported in Modern Family through Luke (Clair’s son).
As the episode begins Phil and Luke come running into the house laughing over something they call a water weasel, a water pipe attached to a nerf ball. Luke is the standard of a typical 13 year old. Phil however is not 13 yet acts like one at times, further challenging his norm of a typical “Dad”. The norm for the young teenage daughter has changed completely over the past decades, now the norm for a teenage girl is almost expected her to be rebellious, wild and care free. A norm which Haley (Clair’s daughter) most definitely reinforces.
As illustrated in this episode Haley’s boyfriend Dylan give Haley a picture portrait of Haley and himself half-naked in bed, which of course terrifies her mom and she takes it away. Haley patently reinforces the norm of a typical modern day teenager. In conclusion, the norms presented in Modern Family are mostly challenged to that of a typical nuclear family as an ideal, but yet in some instances as in the case of Haley and Claire the norms of the young teenage daughter and the stay at home house wife are confirmed.
The show does need a balance of both, to reinforce norms and challenge them to become a successful comedy. Most of the norms that are challenged are all done in a fun-making manner. The show for the most part encourages the viewer to work for or at least echo on the need for change in society. The episode mostly challenges thoughts of consumption and view’s the show’s audience as citizens not consumerist. Modern Family without a doubt offers us a look into what in today’s society is viewed as a “Modern family”.