Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Modern Family and the Conservative Viewer

With the invention of DVR, very few television shows can be classified as "appointment television." You know what I mean? The shows that you have to run home and watch the same night that they air. With LOST ending it's run last spring, the number grew even smaller in the Epperson household. Sorry Cougar Town. We'll watch you when we are good and ready. Actually, I don't watch Cougar Town. I don't get it. It sounds like a nature show but it really is just about that old woman from FRIENDS. What gives?

Anyway, there are a few shows that we watch consistently the same night they air. In fact, last week when all of our favorite shows premiered for the new season, my wife and I were faced with a dilemma. It was late on a "school night" and we had several shows to catch up on. What did we do? Pull the extra TV into the living room and watch two shows at once? Of course not... she thought that was a dumb idea. I call it multi-tasking.

Back to the problem at hand. There were two old favorites (the Office and 30 Rock), one newer favorite (Community) and the one with the best writing (Modern Family). The hypothetical question, "If your favorite shows were drowning, and you only had one lifejacket, which one would you save?" had become a reality.

We threw Modern Family the lifejacket.

The ABC show, about three very different family units, racked up a ton of (well-deserved) praise at the Emmy Awards this summer. The characters are complex and have heart. The writing is outstanding. It accomplishes everything a sitcom should. Great comedy, and I mean really, really great comedy makes you laugh, not just because it is funny, but because you know how the characters feel. Comedy works when it tells your personal story. When this happens, the line between fiction and reality blurs and you begin to feel like you actually know the characters. They become real people. Modern Family does that week after week.

It is no surprise that a lot of people I know enjoy the show too. It seriously makes other sitcoms look like they were written by a room full of brain damaged chimps. Yeah, I'm talking about you Two and a Half Men. But what is surprising is that so many conservatives like the show. What? Conservatives love a show with a gay couple. Yep. They like it. A lot.

Is that weird? Yes. But I think I can explain.

It helps that the show's gay couple, Cameron and Mitchell, are likable guys. They are successful. They love their family. They have an adopted Asian baby. And they are safe. In fact, until this evening's episode, Cam and Mitchell, had never kissed on screen. A decision that I am sure has been discussed at length in the ABC offices. Keeping gay characters safe is essential for a wide audience.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. Based on my experience, most people who support gay marriage have come to that conclusion because they know someone affected by it. We all act like that. Beliefs are a lot easier to stand on until you know someone who would be hurt by your mantra. It doesn't make them right, or wrong, but it does change the way we approach it. Especially for a person with a subjective view of absolutes.

Yeah, but this doesn't explain why someone who opposes gay marriage could come to love a show like Modern Family. Or does it? Remember, we like shows like Modern Family because they make us feel like we know the characters. Even if they just come over once a week, somewhere in our minds, on some level, they are real people.

It appears that most viewers like Cam and Mitchell more than they dislike their lifestyle choice. This is exactly the same reason why a heterosexual woman in her 50's would attend a gay pride parade. At a glance, she seems out of place. Then you realize that her son is homosexual. In the end, regardless of her beliefs, she loves her son more than she dislikes his sexual orientation.

Are these two situations exactly the same? No, of course not. But I do think that it points to how a conservative viewer could rationalize loving the show. I also think that shows like Modern Family are going to change the way borderline conservatives view the homosexual marriage debate.

This isn't an open letter to ABC to cancel this so-called debauchery. I'm not calling for a boycott. I'm not going to join a parade either. I'm not writing to pronounce anything at all. I'm just pointing out how interesting this whole thing is.

And I'm going to keep watching.

1 comment:

Travis Jones said...

Very interesting. I've never seen Modern Family, but it sounds interesting. If it makes me laugh harder than Two and a Half Men, then I will be hooked.