For those of us who work and research various aspects of inclusion, it isn’t possible to indulge in pop culture without analyzing it. A lot of serials and songs one would have heard earlier, have to now pass through a test, which now runs parallel, unconsciously sieving. When I watched Modern Family (2009-2020) a couple of years ago, I was fascinated. But recently, my colleague Rhea brought up regional inclusion in Modern Family that got me thinking of other kinds of inclusions that are portrayed in the series.
To give you a quick plot, Jay Pritchett is married to Gloria Delgado-Pritchett who is much younger to him. Gloria is Colombian and has a son Manny from her first marriage. Manny is a mature, poetic and wonderfully sensitive kid. One of Jay’s children is Claire Dunphy, who left her job to stay at home. Her husband is Phil Dunphy, who is an understanding and fun father to their 3 children – Hailey, Alex and Luke. Jay’s other child is Mitchell Pritchett (Mitch) whose partner is Cameron Tucker (Cam), and they adopt a child Lily from Vietnam who grows up to be someone with a mind of her own. All these three families make up the Modern family. There are many other characters who add to the complexity, emotions, and drama. As characters, I love that Cameron keeps on breaking gender stereotypes (being a football coach to start with) but at the same time remains unabashedly dramatic. Some of the most heartwarming moments are when Cameron bonds with other members of the ‘Modern Family.’ This is not to say the series did not have its problematic moments. Some were left unaddressed and not called out, whereas some were used as a deliberate ploy to address them later in (usually) the same episode.
I am going to share some of my favorite learning moments from the series. Mitch and Cam have been one of the most popular, long term and committed queer relationship on TV. Their relationship is just like any other long-term couple’s. Their personalities, their career choices, habits, and quirks do not attempt to make them into anything out of ordinary, and yet they are. The episode where marriage equality becomes a reality was shown with a lot of hope, as any couple would feel once the legal barrier to their partnership is lifted. Another one where both their fathers continue to emphasize that their son is not a ‘woman’ in the relationship, a heteronormative expectation from any relationship that does not conform to their understanding. The jokes that are made, have a way of coming to an emotional and poignant point. I tear up when after all that could go wrong on the day of the wedding, Jay comes around accepting how happy Mitch and Cameron are together and then happily walks him down the aisle.
The other favorite point was where Cameron is wished on Mother’s Day not only by other mothers in the park but also by Mitch, by bringing his breakfast in bed. I thought it was a big challenge and important conversation, because to critique heteronormativity without misogyny was important. Although they do bring on some of the cliches of how they see mother’s role, but it brought out queer anxieties about heteronormative expectations from them.
There are conversations, humor, situations that make you stretch your own bias, and yet you come back learning something. For example, when Cameron teaches Lily the word ‘adoption’ by taking away its negativity. There are wonderful heart to heart conversations between Cam and Manny, where Cameron reminds him that being who you are, is important. Similarly bonding between Cameron and Gloria, where their fun personas get a chance to come out. The series makes you want to remember moments, where you may have judged someone hastily, and then gives you a scenario, that how there could be a different way to look at it and be, the next time.
There are so many biases – conscious and unconscious, that are challenged while you watch a series like this, where you learn along with the characters. The discomfort of the unfamiliar, the stepping back from the unknown and mocking what you can’t and don’t want to understand, were things the series made you live with. I was amazed and was happy to challenge my own biases. Any workplace is made up of diverse individuals who bring so much of themselves. We know workplaces benefit from diversity not just in terms of creative ideas, diverse thinking but also in terms of better opportunities for professional growth. Our colleagues may be very different in various ways from us, but that is a lived experience of diversity. Safe workplaces are built by ensuring that every person associated with it, feels included, and valued for who they are.