The “Modern Family effect,” a reference to the ABC family sitcom that premiered in 2009, first emerged to describe the program’s ratings success and then shifted in meaning to discuss its seemingly bipartisan depiction of same-sex marriage. This convergence of television’s political economy and liberal politics underwrites the program’s titular modernity, which celebrates its portrayals of sexuality, kinship, and intimacy as progressive, yet bases them in conservative visions of gender. While the program announces its token interest in racial plurality through its core ensemble, Modern Family relationally racializes Asian American, Latinx, and Black recurring and side characters through performances of cultural capital. Their differences deviate from the sexual modernity represented by the program’s core white families. Despite the token representations of racial diversity, these co-constructing representations of race, class, gender, and sexuality maintain whiteness as sexual modernity’s affective core. Modern Family thus expresses the ideological contours of mainstream diversity politics. However, its narrative efforts to synthesize its contradictions reflect the program’s pedagogy of middlebrow cultural citizenship. Modern Family thus expresses the privatization of diversity, or how turns to private personhood become an affective form of management that translates moralisms about diversity into symbolic capital. This process maintains the distinction of a demographic of classed viewers who find themselves and their values reflected in the Pritchetts of Modern Family.
Douglas S. Ishii; Diversity Times Three: The “Modern Family Effect” and the Privatization of Diversity. Camera Obscura 1 December 2017; 32 (3 (96)): 33–61. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-4205066
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