Despite the progressive ambitions announced in its title, the sitcom Modern Family (ABC, 2009–) has been excoriated by many viewers for its purported conservatism and reactionary politics. In particular, the program’s treatment of homosexuality, evident in the story line of gay couple Mitch and Cam, has raised the hackles of audiences who see in it a whitewashing of queer life and queer desire. A strain of television criticism posits a conservatism inherent to the narrative structures of the sitcom, and this dynamic would in some measure account for the tension between the program’s progressive sympathies and any conservative arc that viewers might discern. It is also beneficial to contemplate the ways in which narrative structures are themselves politically agnostic, as well as to consider the ways in which most family sitcoms attempt to appeal to viewers across the political divide. Modern Family’s adaptations of sitcom narrativity allow it to advance its progressive ambitions, while the program also plays with the humor of gay stereotypes ultimately to demolish binary assumptions of queer political identity. To read a sitcom through a political lens of conservatism versus liberalism may in some instances stifle the challenges to the prevailing ideological order that a given program explores through its humor—a tension more dynamic and instructive than the invocation of a simplistic interpretive binary that the program attempts to evade.
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Tison Pugh; Conservative Narrativity, Queer Politics, and the Humor of Gay Stereotypes in Modern Family. Camera Obscura 1 December 2017; 32 (3 (96)): 1–31. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-4205055
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