The ABC (American Broadcasting Company) series “Modern Family” and “Desperate Housewives” are very entertaining, interesting, funny, dramatic, and overall great shows that have won multiple awards due to the writers and actors portrayal of realistic scenarios (to a certain extent or taste) involving family, couples, friends, neighbors, and other social encounters. The show Desperate Housewives aired on October 3, 2004 while, Modern Family made its debut on September 23, 2009. Obviously, whatever certain scenes, character development, and drama that came from the shows, Desperate Housewives is sure to claim to do it “first.” Now, I love these shows, so I have no discrimination against the episodes or characters, but I will say that I understand the debacle that ascended between actor, Tuc Watkins, and actor, Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Tuc Watkins role was Bob Hunter in Desperate Housewives, and Jesse Ferguson’s role was Mitchell Pritchett in Modern Family, both play/played one-half of a gay couple. Whether this is relevant to their character’s “gay stereotypical” portrayals or not, Watkins came out in 2013 and Ferguson came out around his early teen years, both identifying under LGBTQ community. While both actors are quite respected as “gay/queer” characters due to their actual “ gender and sexual identity,” I feel that there is an underlying theme of homosexual stereotypes, sexuality, and an overall hyped expectation from the audience of gay characters/actors gender roles in these “modern” shows.
WATKINS vs. FERGUSON:
Under a Huffington Post-HuffPost Gay Voices article, Tuc Watkins was quoted from a Facebook post he made based on his thoughts on “Modern Family.” He stated that, “Hmm. I think “Modern Family” is clever, hilarious, even terrifically subtle at times. But, for the most part, I have a hard time laughing at the gay guys. In fact, I kinda cringe. It feels a little bit like a gay equivalent of “blackface.”” Furthermore he goes on by saying, “It doesn’t feel “modern” at all. Sure, people come in all shapes, sizes, etc. So why are we fed such 80s stereotypes every week?”” Since the article had a comment/share section, many people commented saying that they agree with Watkins and here are some examples:
Jesse Tyler Ferguson response to Watkins’ statement:
“We can’t be expected to represent every gay person,” he wrote on Facebook. “We can only represent these two people. Also, Mitch is basically a version of me…so I never know how to take it when people say that he is stereotypical. And in defense of Cam, I still can’t figure out how a clown & football coach who also happens to be gay is a stereotype.”
I appreciate Jesse’s professionalism of the whole situation, because even though Tuc has a valid point, he also needs to see that the shows genre is “comedy,” its intent is to make the audience laugh at awkward and very different situations (still having a ‘realistic’ feel). While, Desperate Housewives can be considered a “comedy” at times, it is mostly a “drama” series. In regards to what Jesse states about representing the entire gay community, I believe that that is completely unnecessary and quite impossible anyways. As Butler (1993) says, “To install myself within the terms of an identity category would be turn against the sexuality that the category purports to describe; and this might be true for any identity category which seeks to control the very eroticism that it claims to describe and authorize, much less “liberate.”” I know that certain audience members who identify themselves under “gay, homosexual men, etc.” find it very offensive to see a certain stereotype such as some of the exaggerated motions, emotions, and dress appearance of Cameron Tucker from Modern Family. Of course, the writers weren’t entirely oblivious to the possible riots and hate comments that could ascend towards the show. They made sure that Cam Tucker had those unique or “different” interests such as being a clown, growing up on a farm, and being a football coach. However, in my opinion, I don’t think anyone should want Ferguson’s character or his character’s partner to represent the whole gay community. That includes a flamboyant, “male” and “female“ gender roles stereotype for the sake of popularity, comedic effect, and viewers, and even an ‘impartial’ stereotype for other audience members, it is unnecessary to want that much from a TV SHOW.
This link to a skit from Saturday Night Live further explains this whole discourse of audience expectations of character development, gender, race, and sexuality: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDXaS016fyA
Another claim that Watkins made was that Desperate Housewives did the ‘real, modern gay couple’ first before Modern Family, as well as showing more intimacy such as kissing, “making out,” cuddling together, holding hands, arguing, and hugging for long periods of time. Whether or not it is accurate to say that Watkins’ belief is “true”, I believe that argument itself is sort of labeling and stereotyping people who identify under the LGBTQ community. This is not to say that Tuc is completely unjust for saying what he feels, but I think his argument only made valid points when it came to the “80s gay couple feel” on Modern Family. Tuc Watkins did in fact apologize to Ferguson saying that:
Yes, we can see that there is this notion of gender roles between Cameron and Mitchell, Cam being more on the “feminine, flamboyant” side and Mitchell being the “male, more masculine” role at times. Reasons why I say at times is because there are episodes where Mitchell describes his youthful years of listening to musicals, having many male celebrity crushes, or any other stereotype that associates and “creates” a gay man, he suddenly becomes the more “feminine” one. Same situation occurs when Cameron shows his appreciation and enthusiasm for “manly, rough” sports like Football-thus becoming a football coach on the show. But overall, Watkins puts a lot of pressure on “who did what first,” rather than thinking about the shows overall representation of different gay couples that are interesting to the public (TV audience), as well as if they are bringing open-mindedness to our society. Butler (1993) states, “Sexuality is never fully “expressed” in a performance or practice; there will be passive and butchy femmes, femmy and aggressive butches, and both of those, and more, will turn out to describe more or less anatomically stable “males” and “females.”” Additionally, the desires we have sexually, or in terms of sexuality, are not biologically predetermined or in our “blood” but rather something we practice in our society. Basically, everyone is imitating a gender, a notion of identity, everyone is some way a “drag queen or king,” we all play roles and play with gender. Furthermore, Barbara Risman (430) explains that gender is a social structure, we do gender, we perform it, which in other words: it is not what we are but what we do.