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05/06/2010

'Modern' pecking order: Is a same-sex kiss still a writers' room discussion?

by Jeremy Hooper

Before saying anything else, let me say that I love "Modern Family." Genuinely. I find it funny, sweet, progressive, and genuinely pro-family (no quotes). It manages to be both heartfelt and funny, modern and traditional. It's the kind of show that my husband and I always watch when it airs rather than Tivo for later consumption.

I also find the depiction of gay characters Cameron and Mitchell to be mostly well done. Their relationship, as well as that which they share with their child and family members, feels real. There are still some stereotypical elements. But there are still stereotypical elements in life. And on the show, these moments apply to most all of the characters (e.g. Gloria's background and "gold digger" perceptions; the smart vs. popular teen daughters; Phil's man-child crises).

But that all being said: Last night, a quick scene did cause me to take a bit of pause. Here's a screen grab:

Screen Shot 2010-05-06 At 10.21.31 Am-1
Airport 2010 -- Full Episode (clip comes around 18:57) [ABC]

Okay, so for those who didn't see it, let me set up what's going on here. Phil (at left) and Mitchell (at right) have been on a bit of adventure, rushing back to Mitchell's house to retrieve the latter's forgotten wallet. This takes longer than expected, causing Claire and Cameron to fear that their respective spouses or going to miss the plane. So when Claire and Cameron see their respective spouses, they are understandably elated. Without thinking, Claire greets with a kiss. Mitchell and Cameron -- hug.

The thing I realized when seeing this: I don't believe Mitchell and Cameron have ever kissed on the show. If ever there was a time to do so, it was during this scene last night. It's just what one would do in such a situation. Brothers would hug. Friends might even hug. The boys on 'Entourage' would hug it out. But life partners of any sexual orientation would most likely smooch. And I really have to wonder, if the writers gave Phil and Claire the stage direction to pucker up, was the decision to have Mitchell and Cameron merely hug a deliberate choice? It might just be that they wanted to show that Claire had been drinking and was therefore overly affectionate. It might have been that the actors made these choices themselves. But It might also be something less "Modern."

Now again: I don't want to imply that any of this is necessarily homophobic. This show is far from it. ABC as a network is far from it (the boys on "Brothers and Sisters" and the ladies on "Grey's Anatomy" have certainly kissed without discussion/incident/apology, and the recent coming out episode of "Ugly Betty" was one of the most goosebump-inducing moments of American network television ever). However, when it comes to equality in terms of relationship recognition, we as a society are also still, well -- far from it. So could there still be a heterosexist mentality, either subconscious or stated/pressured, that still keeps writers/directors/producers/networks from treating even committed gay dads who are nicely folded into their loving, accepting family from showing the same, benign affections that their hetero counterparts so easily and non-controversially show? Could we still live in a network TV world where same-sex kisses are largely considered a "thing" that are stunted into sweeps period episodes rather than simply performed with primetime parity?

This whole post is just a series of questions -- I'm not pretending to have the answers. The reasoning might be as benign as any same-sex kiss should be. But considering the lack of Mitch/Cam kissing all around, we have to at least raise the possibility that there's something else at play.

***

**UPDATE, 5/11: Wow, this thing took a life of its own! So much so that ABC has released a statement:

Cameron and Mitchell are a loving, grounded, committed, and demonstrably affectionate couple and have been from the beginning of the series. It happens that we have an episode in the works that addresses Mitchell's slight discomfort with public displays of affection. It will air in the fall and until then, as Phil Dunphy would say, everyone please chillax.
Exclusive: ABC Statement on Cam and Mitch Not Kissing on "Modern Family" [After Elton]

Well, that does sound like Mitchell. So thanks for ABC to addressing it. And thanks to all of you for caring enough to ask questions!

**UPDATE, 5/18: In this week's issue of New York magazine, actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell) adds the following:

"I’m very protective of Mitchell and Cameron, of their relationship. I would like to see them show more physical affection—we film scenes several ways, including kisses—but at the same time we’re moving cautiously, because it’s sort of a gay Trojan horse in people’s living rooms." [SOURCE]

So wait, this shows that the cast and crew are, in fact, aware of "moving cautiously," which would actually seem to go somewhat against ABC's (somewhat condescending) "chillax" comment. After all, a "Trojan Horse" certainly implies a difference between the gay relationship and the others on the show, which is EXACTLY the point we raised in this post.

The truth here would seem to be somewhere in the middle: The network and creators are obviously aware of what they're showing/restraining, but are at the same time vowing to at least address (explain away?) the situation. We're interested to see how it plays out.

***

*SEE ALSO: On this February, 2010 blog, commenters had a similar discussion: Modern Family, "My Funky Valentine": Strangers in the night, removing clothing [What's Alan Watching]

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