ModernFamily, one of the highest rated comedy series on television,currently in its 8th year of production, follows the daily lives of afather, his two children, and their respective families. The show has receivednumerous awards and accolades from critics for its incorporation of comedy,parenthood, and current day issues, all in one show. The sitcom is set in LosAngeles, an ethnically diverse city known for its liberal and progressiveviews. Jay Pritchett depicts a rigid, middle-aged successful business executive,who after a much unhappy marriage to an apparently crazy woman, Dee Dee, is nowmarried to his trophy wife, Gloria. They together have a young child, Joe.
Gloriais from Colombia and has a young son, Manny, from her previous marriage. Jay’s daughter,Claire (doting control freak mom) and her husband Phil (ever-supporting andloving husband) have three children Haley, Alex, and Luke, who are poles apartin personality, ranging from clueless, brainy, and naïve. Jay’s son Mitchell (aconservative attorney) is married to Cameron “Cam” (a flamboyant and colorful “bumpkin”from Missouri) and they have an adopted Vietnamese child named Lily.
This paperwill attempt to demonstrate how the writers and producers of Modern Family, through telling relatablestories, encourage acceptance of an emerging family structure, and address anumber of social values and issues. Through blending the trials andtribulations of heterosexual, interracial, and gay families, and adding issuesfaced by baby boomers and adolescents, the writers portray socially conflictingissues as normal family behavior. Using textual and narrative analysis, thispaper will deconstruct the overall plot and analyze the roles of the characters,to reveal the underlying message of this comedy sitcom and the reasons for its commercialsuccess but relative failure as a mechanism to promote cultural change. Communication criticism and analysisallow for better understanding of the numerous messages we are exposed to inour daily lives. According to Sillars and Gronbeck, “Studies of how humanbeings use and manipulate languages – verbal, visual, acoustic, performative –to affect the beliefs, attitude, values, and behaviors of other people takes usto the heart of communication criticism.” (Sillars & Gronbeck, 2001).
Thispaper will utilize textual and narrative analysis to evaluate the messaging in ModernFamily. Textual analysis involves a systematic analysis,interpretation, and evaluation/ judgement of text and message contents to allowdevelopment of interpretative conclusions (Sillars & Gronbeck, 2001). Itcan be used to gain an understanding of human behavior. According to McKee(2002):Textualanalysis is a way for researchers to gather information about how other humanbeings make sense of the world. It is a methodology – a data-gathering process- for those researchers who want to understand the ways in which members ofvarious cultures and subcultures make sense of who they are, and of how theyfit into the world in which they live. (p.
1)Textualanalysis involves in-depth structured research across multiple areas of whatinfluences human behavior. Sillars &Gronbeck identify three main interpretative approaches used by critics: First, rhetoricaltradition, which is concerned with relationship between discourses and theirability to influence identity, belief, attitudes and values; Second is socialtradition, which deals with how our understanding of the world is constructedby language and social relationships; and lastly, cultural tradition, whichrelates to the influence of value systems in decision making (Sillars &Gronbeck, 2001). Narrative criticism deals with theanalysis of stories to reveal cultural messages. White (1980) connects stories tosocial values, “Narrativity, certainly in factual storytelling and probably infictional storytelling, is intimately related to, if not a function of, theimpulse to moralize reality.” Narratives are an important element of understandingculture. According to Sillars &Gronbeck, there are some assumptions that are used for cultural story analysis;Humans use stories to understand their world; Narrative is a widely used formof discourse; and social reality is created through symbolic action in stories(Sillars & Gronbeck, 2001). Stories have been used in every possible formin human existence to share religious, cultural, social, and familyvalues. Used effectively stories helppeople see their place in the world and can influence and even sway their viewsand beliefs.
Feldman, Sko¨ldberg, Brown & Horner (2004) study found thefollowing: Narrativesare useful data because individuals often make sense of the world and theirplace in it through narrative form. Through telling their stories, peopledistill and reflect a particular understanding of social and politicalrelations. Stories are a common, habitual method people use to communicatetheir ideas. (p. 148)Television plays animportant role in providing entertainment, education, and news to viewers. Ithas evolved over the years to incorporate programming that reflects our societyand has become an important medium for influencing thought and behavior.
Thisclose relationship between television and culture has given producers theability “to influence viewers, either consciously through slanted politicalcommentary, or subtly, by portraying controversial relationships (such assingle parenthood, same-sex marriages, or interracial couplings) as sociallyacceptable (Lule, 2012). The co-creatorsof Modern Family, Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, state that thecharacters in their sitcom are loosely based on themselves and are heavilyinfluenced by coworkers, friends and their families (Egner, 2012). Tellingrelatable stories builds credibility that allows viewers to connect with thenarrative, and even question their own social values and beliefs