Observation of Family Patterns in the Television Show “Ugly Betty”
The television series Ugly Betty is ABC’s primetime drama-comedy hit that details the life of Betty Suarez – an ordinary “Queens” girl who sports braces and lacks any fashion sense – as she struggles to keep up with the fast paced world of the New York fashion industry. Adapted from the Colombian telenovela Betty la Fea [Betty the Ugly], the American version adapts the colorful cast and story into the city of New York where the heroine Betty [played by America Ferrera] together with her family and friends embark on a sometimes hilarious-sometimes tragic adventures.
In the series, a central trait to the character of Betty Suarez is her close relations with her extended Hispanic family composed of widower father Ignacio, older sister Hilda and nephew [and budding fashionista] Justin. In fact, it can be said that in Ugly Betty, the concept family and family ties is a central and underlying theme that is often explored and intertwined with the show’s plots in the past three seasons of the American version. Often either Betty’s family or those of her employer’s Daniel [the Mead family] play crucial roles in detailing the episode’s plot or in coloring and shaping the development of the series many protagonists and antagonists.
For example, in the 14th episode of the third season entitled The Courtship of Betty’s Father, Betty accidentally discovers her father’s romantic involvement with his nurse Elena while trying to create a tribute video for Claire Mead who was about to celebrate her 60th birthday. A large part of the episode’s plot involves Betty and sister Hilda’s reaction to the sight of their father dating again – a reaction that is not at all positive specially with the ethical ramifications. However, resolution is offered through the parallel plot involving the Meads, where the Mead matriarch Claire feels alone and neglected by her family [husband Bradford died in the previous season; son-turned-daughter Alex/Alexis is in exile in Europe with his/her son; and Daniel busy with his blooming romantic entanglements]. Through Claire, Betty comes to realize that their father needs companionship aside from what she, her sister and nephew provides. On the other hand, through Betty, Daniel realizes the importance of spending quality time with his mother (Hayek & Silverman, 2009).
Ugly Betty, as a family-oriented television show, has two families [the Suarezes and the Meads] that depicts contrasting family and parenting patterns. The Suarez family primarily depicts several parenting patterns. Judging from the relationship and the way the Suarez household interacts and makes decisions, the Suarez family primarily applies a permissive pattern that is often alternated or combined with either authoritative or no-nonsense parenting patterns. Hilda, a single mother, is a prime example of the mixture since she allows Justin enough slack and leeway to develop as a person while also grabbing the reigns when Justin goes out of line – a trait that is typical of no-nonsense parenting (Cole, 2004, p.345). The same can be said with Ignacio who lets his children decide their own paths despite of differing opinions while also maintaining an open stance should his daughters learn the consequences of their action/decision – a pattern typical of the permissive pattern (Cole, 2004, p.345). As a household comprised of primarily adults, the Suarezes also apply the authoritative pattern. However, authority and power often shifts between Ignacio and his two daughters depending on the situation. Regardless of who is calling the shots, the members do embark on discussions and explanations of decisions and rules.
The Mead family on the other hand, from the character hints and provided background for siblings Daniel and Alex/Alexis, mostly applied the authoritarian parenting pattern especially when the patriarch Bradford was still alive. Coming from a rich and very public family, Bradford as a parent lacked in expressing warmth, was demanding and controlling, and stresses obedience – traits typical of the authoritarian pattern (Cole, 2004, p.345-346). However, after Bradford’s death the Meads adapted an authoritative pattern. Like with the Suarezes, power and authority is distributed between siblings Alexis and Daniel [especially in running the magazine Mode] with Claire stepping in whenever the two are at irresolvable odds. Again decisions are shared and reasons provided whenever someone makes a decision or action (Cole, 2004, p.345).
The results of these parenting patterns are also evident in the children of both households. In the Suarezes case, Betty best demonstrates the result of having a authoritative parent as she grew up to be self-reliant, self-controlled, contented and with a high level of curiosity (Cole, 2004, p.346). Daniel on the other hand [especially in the first season], bet demonstrates the result of growing up in a authoritarian household: he initially lacked curiosity and motivation and was socially maladapted (Cole, 2004, p.246). However, by the third season he has also matured enough to be [almost] in the same level as Betty.
Cole, M., (2004). The Development of Children & Study Guide. New York: Worth Publishers.
Hayek, S. & Silverman, B. (Producer). (February 12, 2009). Ugly Betty [Television program]. ABC.