Jesse Tyler Ferguson Responds To ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill On ‘The View’ | Modern Family‘s Jesse Tyler Ferguson joined the ladies of The View today to discuss Tennessee’s proposed “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as well as comments by state Rep. Joey Hensley (R) that parents should not let their kids watch Modern Family because they might learn that gay people exist. Ferguson called the legislation “ridiculous,” pointing out, “If we just don’t say things, it’s not like they don’t exist,” and that such rules stigmatize gay youth. The ladies also had a variety of perspectives to share. Watch it:
If you’ve ever doubted that popular culture influences public opinion and public policy, it’s worth reading today’s decision by Judge Reinhardt striking down Proposition 8, California’s equal marriage rights ban. In it, Reinhardt looks at popular culture across time to trace the particular meaning that marriage has for us, and to explain why the alternatives states have tried to offer gay couples simply aren’t as resonant or powerful to us:
We are excited to see someone ask, “Will you marry me?”, whether on bended knee in a restaurant or in text splashed across a stadium Jumbotron. Certainly it would not have the same effect to see “Will you enter into a registered domestic partnership with me?”. Groucho Marx’s one-liner, “Marriage is a wonderful institution…but who wants to live in an institution?” would lack its punch if the word ‘marriage’ were replaced with the alternative phrase. So too with Shakespeare’s “A young man married is a man that’s marr’d,” Lincoln’s “Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory,” and Sinatra’s “A man doesn’t know what happiness is until he’s married. By then it’s too late.” We see tropes like “marrying for love” versus “marrying for money” played out again and again in our films and literature because of the recognized importance and permanence of the marriage relationship. Had Marilyn Monroe’s film been called How to Register a Domestic Partnership with a Millionaire, it would not have conveyed the same meaning as did her famous movie, even though the underlying drama for same-sex couples is no different. The name ‘marriage’ signifies the unique recognition that society gives to harmonious, loyal, enduring, and intimate relationships.
The long-established tropes of popular culture, in other words, help shape our special understanding of marriage. And the weight and persistence of those tropes is part of the reason that creating alternatives to marriage doesn’t work: they don’t carry the same legal rights and responsibilities, and they don’t have the same cultural heft, and can’t for a very, very long time. Representation in culture, in other words, affects the way people and institutions are represented and protected in reality.
I also think it’s worth noting that Proposition 8 prompted a vigorous cultural response as well as a legal one. The No H8 campaign acquired such cachet that participation became near-mandatory in Hollywood, posing for it became a plot point on reality shows, and even Cindy McCain hopped on board in 2010, a clear case of cultural cachet trumping party loyalty. Milk, the Academy Award-winning biopic of slain City Supervisor Harvey Milk was released in the Castro to rally support against Proposition 8, a development that likely contributed to Sean Penn’s Best Actor victory in the role, and Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black followed up that movie with 8, a play about the legal challenge to the law that’s become a key tool in celebrity marriage quality fundraisers.
And I think it’s no surprise in the post-Proposition 8 era, we’ve seen an explosion of pop culture depictions of gay California couples, whether it’s Mitch and Cam on Modern Family, to Jules and Nic in The Kids are All Right, to Brady and Cheeks on webseries Husbands. These characters deserve the right to marry because they’re citizens who ought to be entitled to the rights and responsibilities available to their straight counterparts. But these portrayals are also about establishing gay couples as part of a rich comedic and dramatic tradition of flawed people in the process of building more perfect unions.
I think June Thomas has a provocative argument on her hands, suggesting that Rob, however much it may make with the humping-Grandma jokes, is doing something right in putting Latinos on screen without divorcing them from their heritage, or from Latino comedic traditions:
Rosa’s brother Hector, constantly scheming to line his own pockets, is played by Eugenio Derbez, one of Mexico’s pre-eminent comedians. His clowning doesn’t appeal to me, but Derbez is bringing a Univision-esque, south-of-the-border comedy style to U.S. television. In effect, he’s facilitating another kind of assimilation.
Many of Rob’s themes were first explored in Chico and the Man, which aired between 1974 and 1978 and was the first U.S. series set in a Mexican-American neighborhood. In that show, a charismatic young Chicano (Freddie Prinze) gradually won the affections of a crabby old white guy who didn’t hate Mexicans so much as he objected to the way changing demographics were shaking up his world. It’s a little depressing that nearly 40 years after Chico was first broadcast, we’re still stuck at the “first contact” stage in our depictions of the relationships between different communities, but at least television is once again paying attention to Latinos…On Modern Family and Glee, the Latino characters are cut off from their culture. On the former, there’s a discomfiting sense that the white Pritchett family rescued the Delgados from poverty (if we believe Gloria’s tales of her early life in Colombia) and bad parenting. (When Manny’s biological father, Javier, comes to visit, Jay always has to step in to save his stepson from disappointment.) The one time someone from Santana’s birth family appeared on Glee, it was a total downer: Her abuela broke her heart by kicking her out of the house after she came out. Wizards of Waverly Place sometimes explored Mexican traditions in a bicultural Italian-Mexican family—Alex celebrated her quinceañera, for example—but the kids’ more splashy heritage (as wizards, natch) tended to dominate. At least on Rob, the focus is on Mexican-American culture.
The question, though, is whether Rob is going to be the future of Latino comedy in America, or whether it’s backfill, making up for a dearth of representations that should have been there earlier and issues that should have been worked out on-screen long before this. The numbers are undeniably good overall, though as Joe Adalian points out, they’re not great among the coveted 18-34 year-old-viewers. Among them, the Rob does only slightly better than Parks and Recreation.
It’s probably worth noting that Parks and Recreation also has a half-Latina character in the form of April Ludgate. April’s fascinating precisely because she has an evolving relationship with her heritage. She’s annoyed by the idea that she’s supposed to be so lively and colorful.” But it’s not like she’s running away from her ethnic heritage. She tries on the idea of running away to Venezuela with Eduardo and she speaks Spanish particularly when she’s upset or tipsy. It’s interesting to contrast her to Gloria on Modern Family, who I think June is wrong to say is cut off from her culture—certainly, she’s constantly citing aphorisms, traditions, and superstitions, though most of them are clearly exaggerated and made up. But unlike April, we don’t necessarily see Gloria negotiating her identity now that she and Manny are in a new setting: Gloria and Manny’s heritage is a source of punchlines more than it is a source of plot or character developments. In other words, while on Rob, the identity conflicts are between multiple characters, on Parks and Recreation, that’s a negotiation process that’s going on within a single character. First contact between whites and Latinos is the past: figuring out how Latinos and elements of Latino culture are going to fit into both individuals’ lives and American culture as a whole is the future.
ABC has been very, very good at building diverse casts and rosters of characters for television shows, and minority media groups recognized them for it earlier this week. When the nominations for the NAACP Image Awards came out, ABC was in the mix in prime time with Modern Family in Outstanding Comedy Series, Vanessa Williams in Desperate Housewives, Damon Wayans, Jr. in Happy Endings, Sofia Vergara for Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy for Outstanding Drama Series, Taye Diggs in Private Practice, Chandra Wilson, Sandra Oh, Loretta Devine, and James Pickens, Jr. for acting on Grey’s Anatomy. And the network snagged an additional eight nominations in the GLAAD Media Awards, including Grey’s Anatomy and Pretty Little Liars in Outstanding Drama Series, Happy Endings and Modern Family, and the episode “Acceptance” on Man Up!.
I’m particularly glad to see the love for Happy Endings, which has its flaws, but I think is the best group-of-friends comedy on television right now. At the Television Critics Association press tour, I asked creator David Caspe how he came up with the character of Max, who I think is one of the most balanced portrayals of a gay man anywhere in popular culture right now. Caspe said that while he knows Max has gotten praise for avoiding being either totally nelly or totally butch, he just based the character on a friend of his. It’s evidence of the fact that pop culture will get more diverse not only as the country does, and generational turnover (hopefully) makes the entertainment industry less white and dudely, but as white dudes have more diverse groups of friends and more contact with other kinds of people.
Similarly, Revenge, about which I really should be writing more, has done a nice job of getting different kinds of people into what’s typically seen as a hegemonic enclave. They’ve got both race and class in Ashley, who is trying to make her way in a world that looks down on her more for her economic station than (at least explicitly) her skin color. And Nolan is gay and techie and something entirely behind the standard menu of gay stereotypes. Tyler’s bisexuality was handled as if it was no big deal — neither he nor Nolan have ever had a conversation about their sex lives that’s about orientation, just individuals. Sometimes, I think TV shows get themselves hung up on the idea of diversity because they think they’d have to tell stories that are explicitly about the experience of being diverse. But it turns out that black people and gay people want things that don’t have to do with being black and gay.
At yesterday’s session with the showrunners for ABC’s comedies, Steve Levitan said that while the network mostly shields him from people who have moral objections to his portrayal of a gay family as normal and well-adjusted, he’s got an answer for those who reach him directly:
I get shielded from most of the nutjobs. Occasionally something will leak through on Twitter or something. But it’s so rare. One of the biggest surprises of our show is that America or the world really has embraced Mitchell and Cam. We’re in 200 markets around the world, including, by the way, Vatican City, and they’ve embraced Mitchell and Cam. I think that’s interesting. It’s easy for people to object to something in the abstract. But when you make it personal and show that these people have good hearts and are loving, committed parents, it’s hard not to love them. So I say to the hard right, watch the show and see if you have it in your heart to love Cam and Mitch.
This, of course, goes straight to the motivation behind keeping things like gay families off the air. The lies people tell about gay people and their relationship, gay people and their ability to raise children, can only persist in the absence of contact with healthy gay couples or images of them.
President Obama, in his continuing quest to be both perfect parent and semi-hipster in his pop culture consumption habits, told People Magazine that his favorite television shows are Modern Family, Homeland, and Boardwalk Empire. Two of those three are about government (or the people who live in opposition to it), but all of these shows offer lessons for the man who holds the World’s Hardest job.
1. Drama never gets you anywhere (Modern Family): No Drama Obama’s alternately been praised for rising above Washington nonsense and pilloried for supposedly failing to fire up his base. But if there’s one thing ABC’s hit comedy preaches, it’s that getting all fired up generally isn’t worth it. Whether you’re freaking out on a bird in your living room, your overly-sexy, age-inappropriate step-mother, or letting Eric Cantor bait you, keeping your focus on your desired outcome rather than a perceived slight is the quickest route to getting what you want while expending minimal energy.
2. Listen to Women (Homeland): Earlier this fall, Obama took heat when Ron Suskind’s most recent book on the administration suggested that the Commander in Chief and his closest male advisers blew off the counsel of high-ranking female staffers. Now, I assume no one quite as mentally unhealthy as Carrie Mathison is working in the Obama White House. But the show’s a reminder that if we can overlook Rahm Emanuel’s temper tantrums, we should try to look past charges that women are “emotional,” too. Insights come from all sorts of places.
3. Sad but true: minority constituencies will be pretty patient (Boardwalk Empire):Boardwalk Empire started its second season with Nucky Thompson playing Atlantic City’s white and black communities off against each other. He supports Chalky White’s strike, but only when the black community tells Chalky they’re done being patient with him — and when stirring up the city coincides with Nucky’s own interests. And the season ended (in part) with Jimmy Darmody delivering more compensation money — and three Klansmen — to Chalky for judgment and distribution to the victims’ families. But he could have bought himself a meeting with Nucky with less. Leadership like that is what gets us the administration’s decision Plan B.
4. Diversity is strength (Modern Family): The show’s having a bit of a shaky season. But it’s at its best when devoted to storylines that show us people who thought they were different bridged by common interest, whether Cam and Jay bond over football or Gloria peps Claire up to run for local office. The message isn’t just that our differences are bridgeable — it’s that we’re stronger when we can make common cause on those shared interests and convictions.
5. National security and foreign affairs involve huge shifts — but individual actions matter too (Homeland): Just because the home-grown terrorists who periodically make headlines generally don’t seem to be all they’ve cracked up to be doesn’t mean that individuals can’t change the course of foreign policy and international affairs. Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia helped set off the Arab Spring. On the season finale of Homeland, Tom Walker and Nicholas Brody may make terrible history, as did the September 11 hijackers. We can try to make ourselves safer and our institutions stronger. But we probably can’t reduce the complex motivations that lead people to protest or to terror to predictable algorithms.
Eric Stonestreet: ‘Modern Family’ Is Showing America ‘You Don’t Have To Be A Man And A Woman To Give A Child A Home’ | Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet — who plays one half of the gay couple Cam and Mitchell — told the ladies of The View this morning that he receives overwhelmingly positive feedback for the way the gay relationship is portrayed on the show. “Slowly but surely, I think Modern Family — and Cam and Mitch specifically — are having some impact on showing people that you don’t have to be a man and a woman to give a child a beautiful, wonderful, loving home,” he said. Stonestreet also thanked the hosts for allowing him to come out as straight and meet his girlfriend. Watch it:
I’ve always thought that being a member of the First Family must be a pretty stressful, depressing experience. But NBC needs to do something other than what it’s doing, so maybe their forthcoming comedy about the president’s family co-created by former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett will have funny new insights. To help them along, here are five real-life First Family disasters, and their television comedy solutions:
1. Popular radio host of the opposite party insults 13-year-old First Daughter’s looks. Rush Limbaugh famously held up a picture of Chelsea Clinton while cracking, “Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is also a White House dog?” Solution: Taking the warm but misguided advice from his college buddy, Phil Dunphy, the President stands up for his daughter in a way that seems dorky and embarrassing at the time but that wins him points at home, and ultimately, with the voters.
2. President’s younger sister has a lobotomy gone badly wrong, his family institutionalizes her, everyone keeps mum. It says everything you need to know about how the press coverage of presidential races that the Kennedys basically got away with concealing Rosemary Kennedy’s intellectual disabilities and the lobotomy that left her confined to an institution. Solution: Sue Sylvester yells at the president in memory of her deceased sister with Down syndrome, leading to a Very Special episode family reunion and absolutely no character development for anyone.
3. President uses younger daughter’s beloved family pet as cynical prop during political speech: The Checkers speech. It was a thing:
Solution: Brian Griffin shows up, makes martinis for everyone, and lectures the president firmly on the dignity of humans and alcoholic dogs alike. The president later tells absolutely no one about his hallucinations of a talking dog and trusts that the discretion of the West Wing staff means no one will ask about the smashed cocktail glasses in the Oval Office, but resolves to treat animals that bear his name with more respect.
4. First Lady takes vacation that is criticized in the press as overly lavish and out of touch with the times: Michelle Obama got dinged for taking her daughters to Spain last summer, even though she paid for the trip — including the cost of her government plane travel—herself. Solution: Family Ties-style, the First Lady’s breezy family vacation turns into high state-craft when she’s accidentally entangled in an international spy caper. In the end, with help from FBI Agent Bert Macklin, she recovers the president’s rubies, making the cost of the trip totally worth it. Plus, she makes a courtesy call on whichever monarch said hijinks take place in proximity of.
5. First Daughter marries Speaker of the House, has affair with, and child by, a Senator, is a generally hedonistic, awesome (if probably pretty unpleasant in real life) gossip. Seriously, someone should make one of those goofy First Daughter-style movies about a theoretically fragile daughter of a president who needs protecting when she tries to be her own person and live a normal life, but make it about the spectacularly un-fragile, un-PC Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Solution: None, just a highly profitable spinoff that sells lots of “If you haven’t got anything good to say about anyone, come and sit by me” t-shirts.