(source: google images)
The public sphere is defined by Habermas as “a domain of our social life where such a thing as public opinion can be formed (where) citizens… deal with the matters of general interest without being subject to coercion… (to) express and publicize their views. (Mckee, 2005)
The emergence of the American sitcom Modern Family is just one example of a media text that has led to significant debate within the mediated public sphere. The 2009 premiere on ABC saw 12.6 million viewers tune into the program, and it has since gone on to receive critical acclaim. But the acclaim to which the television show has seized is undeniably because of the way in which the show deviates from the norm, challenging society’s perceptions of what the term ‘family’ really means. The show follows the story of three interrelated families in a mockumentary like manner. There is the somewhat stereotypical traditional family, consisting of a mother, father and their three children. There is another family consisting of a sixty-year-old man and his youthful hispanic trophy wife and her son. And the third family, being the most taboo for prime time television, comprising of two homosexual men raising their adopted daughter. The controversy that has arised is undoubtedly because the show connotes today’s dysfunctionalities in families, rather than painting a perfect picture.
The show accentuates issues that are relevant in today’s multidimensional families, which has in turn led to debate within the public sphere. Modern family embraces issues such as gay marriage and adoption, it emphasizes the changing patterns of family and the deterioration of the once ‘typical’ nuclear structured family. Co-creator of modern family, Steve Levitan believes, “audiences are definitely more open to a gay couple in a sitcom than they were 10 years ago,” (Raphael, 2010) however the blossoming relationship between these gay men still seems as if it’s just too much for some viewers.
While it was always the shows intention to express the complexities of family, “preserving the ideal of the family as conflicted, but functioning,” (Feiler, 2011) it is completely up to the viewer how they perceive the television show, controversial or not. However, as the show continues to play on “simmering topics of sexuality, technology and dysfunction,” (Feiler, 2011) it will only continue to cause a stir for some within the mediated public sphere.
And I will leave you with this, despite what constitutes a family, whether that be a nuclear structured family, blended family, or gay couple, don’t the core values remain the same regardless of family structure. So why the debate??
Feiler, B, 2011, What ‘Modern Family’ Says About Modern Families, NY times, viewed 6 April 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/23/fashion/23THISLIFE.html?adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1396869649-A326CWVAWnuuwqOwgPLUlA
Mckee, A 2005, An Introduction to the Public Sphere, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp1-31
Raphael, A, 2010, Modern Family: the dysfunctional domestic sitcom that’s officially funnier than 30 Rock and Glee, The guardian, viewed 6 April 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2010/oct/02/modern-family-30-rock-glee