Modern Family Is The Best Show On Television

23 04 2010

After re-reading and having impromptu discussions about my previous post, “Is TV Doing Enough,” I seem to have misrepresented my overall opinion of television. Let me just restate, for the record: TV WILL INEVITABLY SAVE US ALL! My criticisms of television only arise and flail about when I feel like it is letting everyone down, not living up to its potential, or neglecting to do its chores (which include loading the dishwasher, among others). In fact, to extend that metaphor, TV is like my fourth kid and when it makes me proud I am full of nothing but praise and bragging to my friends about its grades and athletic achievements… urging them to watch. When it disappoints me I criticize and verbally abuse it until it locks itself in its room, refusing to come out until I “understand its feelings” when it knows full well its being punished until it learns its lesson. Sex and the City and Will & Grace (among others) just let Daddy down and needed to be scolded, but along came Modern Family and made Papa proud again.

Modern Family is currently the best show on television, as my title claims, and it is awesome for all the reasons SATC and W&G are not, specifically (for this post) concerning notions of homosexuality. What is any marginalized group ultimately working toward? No, not better pancakes! Equality, plain and simple, or even more simply, to not be referred to as  “marginalized” anymore. While a lot of television doesn’t do too much to remedy this situation, preferring to perpetuate the marginalization behind a veneer of pseudo-progressive ideals, Modern Family offers an implicit equality across the board. The show represents a spectrum of homosexuality that isn’t limited to extremes and embraces it, not as monolithic stereotypes, but as something more fluid and diverse. The homosexual relationship between Cameron and Mitchell plays out with the same ups and downs, and ins and outs (gulp!) as any “traditional” family. In fact, within the show they are often the most “normal,” centered, and realistic family. Their gayness isn’t paraded about for our amusement (which is not to say we don’t laugh at them) the way Jack and Will’s is, it’s just another characteristic of their personalities, no more controversial than their height or hair color. This represents the equality to which I’m referring. I think if you asked gay couples what they want most in the midst of all the gay marriage controversy in this culture, a large portion would answer, “just to be recognized as a family.” Cameron and Mitchell’s marriage is as idyllic as any on television. That’s not to mention how they each exhibit qualities that go against our preconceived notions of homosexuals made popular and normalized by W&G.

Just look at the titles of each show: Will & Grace suggests that it is a show about a heterosexual couple which ultimately puts the show in the closet, denying what it is truly about for the sake of appearance. I don’t know how you can watch the show and not consider its title an affront to the gay community. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it should have been called “The Big Gay Sitcom,” but I hope you see where I’m going with this. Modern Family doesn’t place its homosexual identity at the forefront either, but it doesn’t intentionally mislead the viewer the way W&G does, in my opinion. It makes a statement of equality… that homosexual couples are just a cog in the wheel of our culture, and not some weird, creepy wheel people don’t want to admit exists. They are a part of the fabric of our society, no different than the Cleavers or the Seavers or the Bluths.

I don’t want you to think I hate W&G. I love that show, and I understand that it, in a large way, opened the door for more tolerant and developed gay characters across the televisual landscape. I just feel like, as my kids, W&G just went through the motions and did a shitty job, and now I’m about to put Modern Family‘s homework on the fucking fridge.


Is TV Doing Enough?

11 04 2010

I run my mouth about a lot of things, most notably, television. And most people look at me like I have a dick growing out of my head (which is an expression somewhere between disgust and complete fascination, with a twinge of jealousy) when I tell them that I want/expect more from my TV. If you don’t believe by now that television has a unique and unwavering power to influence lives and ideas, you have some serious denial issues. Those issues aside, my question is: if the people who make television understand this, and they most certainly do, how else can you explain Oprah, can’t they use that power for the forces of good rather than evil?

Basically, television gives us enough substance to keep us from whining about minorities and sexism and classism and all those other things disenfranchised grad students and undersexed activists love to talk about, and fills the rest of the half hour with messages that give that substance the big ole middle finger. The two shows (among many) that represent this theory for me are Sex and the City and Will & Grace. Both shows offer notions of a progressive social attitude or at least a less traditional (stereotypical) televisual representation toward both femininity and sexuality on the surface. That’s generally enough to keep 14 year old girls and their parents feeling good about watching “a show that promotes a strong sense of femininity and independence.” But anyone who has seen even one episode of SATC understands what it’s about: fucking and shopping. Yes, the show has four principle characters who are strong independent women, and who together embody a move away from typical domestic and subservient representations… but then what? Lots of fucking and shopping, reducing any feminist initiative into little more than the plot of House Bunny. Young girls growing up with SATC rarely learn that feminism is about equality, not sex. SATC takes the battle for equality and makes it a fuck contest. Forget equal pay and a move away from ingrained patriarchal social constructs, we just want to bang dudes. That’ll teach ’em.

W&G has a similar position in the battle for sexual equality. “Look at us! Look at us! We have two openly gay men on network television! Give us awards! The fight is over!”  It reminds me of this Onion article that ran once the series ended (series-finale-of-will-grace-ends-eightyear-truce-b,1971) but it also feeds right back into my theory for once you get past the fact that Will and Jack are gay, you realize that the show offers very little in the way of validating a homosexual lifestyle as a “normal” American way of life. The show simply provides the masses with a digestible spoonful of homosexuality, not looking to bridge any sort of gap of tolerance. W&G basically states, if you’re going to be gay you’d better be as flamboyant and cock hungry as Jack or we better not be able to tell by looking at you. As I’ve said in many a lecture, I’m not saying that the public is clamoring for as much hardcore gay sex as they can swallow (pun) on Must See TV, but the example of a centered, humanized homosexual would be nice.

To all of you who are quick to argue that it’s not TV’s job to represent anyone properly or help shape our cultural consciousness… shut the fuck up. It’s a cop out. And even if it isn’t their responsibility, does that mean they can’t make an effort to do it? There are countless things in my life that aren’t my responsibility, but I do them anyway, to make the world a better place. Like writing this blog. I don’t have to drop knowledge on you at such an alarming rate, but I do, because I care. And maybe that’s the problem.

His Name is Fucking “Beaver”… Literally!

28 03 2010

There are so many ways to look at television. Well, technically, there’s only one… with your eyes, but metaphysically speaking, there are many. I’m going to lay out a situation that came up in class last week, and let you decide for yourself. We watched Leave It To Beaver, along with Growing Pains and Modern Family to attempt to trace movements in conceptions of the American family from early televisual representations in the 50’s through contemporary concepts of today. Basically, does TV reflect or dictate cultural shifts? This became a rather spirited debate with an equal number of people falling on either side of the argument. Ultimately, I told them the truth and everyone was forced to agree or face punishment in the form of watching Two And A Half Men for the rest of the semester. The truth being: TV reflects or dictates depending on each individual’s relationship with television.

Anyhoo, the debate got particularly “interesting” when talk turned to sex, as it is often wont to do. The controversy stemmed from the following section of dialogue in the Leave It To Beaver episode, “Child Care” in which the young Wally Cleaver is talking to Pete, the old fire chief on the phone about not being able to visit that day:

Pete: Oh, hello there, Wally!

Wally: Hey, Pete, the Beaver and I won’t be able to come down and help you polish old number seven, you won’t let any other kids polish it, will ya?

Pete: No, don’t you worry. You tell the Beaver I’ll save all the brass for you, even let you do a couple extra nozzles.

Wally: Gee thanks, Pete.

He had me at “polish.” Now, I really don’t feel like I have to write anything else, because the above transcription is clearly some of the most homoerotic fiction ever put to film, especially when ole Pete drops the “nozzle-bomb!” But, as me and my TAs were the only ones howling with laughter as the episode played, I started to question whether or not my assumption that our culture is so hyper-sexual that we look for, and find it in even the most benign and boner-killing circumstances, was correct. At some point, sex went from being implicit to explicit, and the three shows we watched outlined that to an almost obnoxious degree. My implication that the writers in the 50’s were as sexual as their future brethren, and that this kind of dialogue was just their own way of venting this repressed sexuality with a knowing wink to those willing to look (not unlike the hidden cocks in Little Mermaid, with Disney being the modern day holdover of 50’s sexual mores) was met with far too many, “you’re looking too far into it’s” than I anticipated. After all, I contended that is indeed my job to look to far into things. Especially things that we so often take for granted, like television and all it’s normalizing powers. I was, some might say, oddly aghast considering the predatorial nature of the scene. But my aghastity (just made that up) had more to do with the fact that I seemed to be the only one looking for it.

In the end, I suppose my students taught me something important: that they are, in most cases, smarter than I am when it comes to understanding the cultural zeitgeist. Here was a golden opportunity to take something innocent and turn it into a crude, base joke about sex, and they didn’t take the bait. Actually, they did take the bait, but they took it and rubbed it in my face, exclaiming, “this is stupid bait. What, did you think we were just going to fall in line with this… bait? Use better bait! Like night-crawlers or something.”

Shrimp Taco Rewrite

21 03 2010

OK, I realize advertising is ridiculous. I realize it makes shit seem awesome when it pretty much blows. I realize advertisers have a vested interest in blurring the line between “need” and “want.” I realize that it’s a necessary evil, and without commercials, I don’t get to watch my hours upon hours of Kardashians. I get all that. It’s their job, I suppose. But there is currently a commercial running about a million times a day for which I simply cannot stand. I’m posting it here, and I’m sure you’ve seen it and either cringed or punched something. But humor me and watch it again, then read my rewrite that immediately follows.

I’m a shrimp blogger, and I assure you there’s nothing sexual about it. I’ve traveled seven continents cramming nasty shellfish down my throat until I find one that doesn’t make me puke all over the young boy I’m attempting to proposition. The legendary Hercules Shrimp? I “blogged it,” then I ate it. There was nothing “shrimp” I left “unblogged.” But when word came in that Taco Bell had Pacific Shrimp tacos with six succulent shrimp marinated in a waterfall of spices, I had to ask, “are you fucking kidding me? You mean the same shit hole that came up with “Lava Sauce” has taken my life’s work and reduced it to a value menu item?” Then I laughed until it turned into violent sobbing and the waitress asked me to please put my shirt back on. To which I replied, “seriously?! Shrimp tacos?!” Another soul crushed by the Mexican-type food complex. The new Pacific Shrimp tacos, only from Taco Bell… because who the fuck else could come up with this shit?

How Do You Like Your Racism?

15 03 2010

As it inevitably does, the discussion of race on television again comes down to a question of: how do you like your racism? Do you like it swept under the rug like so many cellophane juice-box straw wrappers (pretty much every sitcom from the 80’s-present, most notably Friends)? Or do you prefer your bigotry out in the open, on your sleeve, without a net, or some other applicable metaphor (All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, Curb Your Enthusiasm)? Or do you Obama-size it, and just assume racism has been eradicated because we have a black president? The truth is, none of these options is a very good one. Think about it, why would you sweep something awesome under the rug? What gets swept under rugs: dead hookers, and old US magazines? No one’s sweeping nachos or birthday checks for $25 from your grandmother under the rug. The point is, putting it under the rug doesn’t make anything less shitty… and yes, I just implied, with pinpoint accuracy I might add, that racism blows relative to the awesomeness of nachos. But the other alternative isn’t much better, if at all. Having your racism “out in the open” suggests that you’ve had it chained to a pipe in your crawl space for most of its adult life, until one day it gnawed through its shackles and ran out into the neighborhood, naked and howling “I hate Jews and blacks” until someone either punched or shot it. It’s against your will and the act of voicing that intolerance in no way makes you more tolerant. “On your sleeve” associates racism with random filth of questionable origin, and “without a net” makes you think that it’s so risky to have an opinion about race, if and when you do, you will plummet to your death… at a circus.

So, what am I trying to say? I have no idea. Racism’s ass? Was it more effective or enlightening or progressive to see Archie Bunker and George Jefferson scream epithets back and forth at each other, or to watch Larry David slur himself into a corner and try to talk his way out through discourse? Or does our hyper-awareness of race (possibly as a result of these shows, among other things) and our need to maintain politically correct stasis sufficiently thwart this kind of hatred and negativity? My bottom line is: TV is a normalizing agent. It has an almost unparalleled ability (next to Britney) to dictate and manipulate social consciousness. So, if that’s true, and we’re talking about the shows listed above and hundreds of others like them, it would seem that a lot more good came out of watching Good Times than Full House. There used to be something at stake, and the Norman Lear shows of the 70’s didn’t shy away from that. They embraced that and catapulted shit that mattered into the public discourse. It was once or twice a week, prime time therapy for a culture in tumult. Well our culture is about to shit its pants right now, and there’s nothing worse than sweeping shit under the rug.

Big Love Is Just Straight Up Crazy.

7 03 2010

What happens when they sync their cycles?

Not sure how many of you are watching HBO’s polygamist free-for-all, Big Love, but for those of you not in the know, or who maybe caught an episode here and there because your aunt forced you into it after a family Sunday dinner because she insisted you had to see “the show with the guy from Twister.” Either way, it’s fast becoming the most insane quality show on television… and by insane, I mean literally insane, as in, a lunatic wouldn’t even be able to make sense of the shit that goes down. If even a fraction of what happens on Big Love accurately depicts life as a secret polygamist in suburban Utah, it’s enough to scare you into never leaving your house again. Last week, dude had to go to Mexico to save his son and parents from a rogue polygamist death squad, all the while running for state Senate and trying to keep his concubine and illegitimate child in the country. It sounds like I just made that up, I know, but it’s FOR REAL! Oh, I almost forgot, he’s got 3 wives, all in different developmental stages of crazy, that he has to keep happy. If his dick doesn’t fall off, you might think he’s going to slip into a drama-induced coma. I know what you’re thinking: “hey, this all just sounds like a really shitty run of The Young and the Restless” or some other trashy afternoon soap. It’s not. The show has a heart that is rarely seen on TV. The best television is that which has the ability to make the audience appeal to, or align themselves with otherwise marginalized people or groups. Big Love has achieved this, and more, and has only scratched the surface of what pockets of American life are out there, undocumented, waiting to be given a voice.

It’s Extra Sad When A Boner Dies

26 02 2010

Police in Vancouver are investigating the death of a body found in a park, believed to be that of Andrew Koenig who played Richard “Boner” Stabone on the 80’s family sitcom Growing Pains. One cannot deny Boner’s contributions to the legacy of sitcom sidekicks. Not just his name, which seems radically progressive considering the times, and the added twist of being Dick Boner, but more important, his ability to not only provide Mike with a partner in crime but also a conscience when they were scamming on girls or cheating on tests or sticking it to Principal Dewitt or infuriating Coach Lubbock was remarkable. I know it’s obnoxious to reduce a person to their most iconic role, but I didn’t know Andrew Koenig… I knew Boner. He left his mark, even after only 25 episodes, and I know my childhood would not have been the same without him.