Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
This week, Modern Family broadcast a controversial episode in which two-year-old character Lily drops the “f-bomb” (http://insidetv.ew.com/2012/01/18/modern-family-f-word/). The ABC sitcom airs Wednesdays at 9pm (at least in EST), but the episode raised the ire of protest groups before show-time even rolled around. Both the Parents Television Council and a student-organization called The No Cussing Club objected to the toddler’s role in the storyline. To be fair, actress Aubrey Anderson-Emmons doesn’t actually say the f-word; she says “fudge,” and only through the bleeping and visual editing in the final cut can viewers determine that her character curses.
The incident raises for me a lot of chicken-egg concerns about the relationship between the media and its audience. While it’s common to hear that examples of violence, sexuality, and foul language in the media promote similar behaviors in reality, I think it’s fair to ask what kind of audience supports programs like that in the first place. To what extent are audiences passive or active in the shaping of media, which, ultimately, must please the viewers in order to survive? As much as I don’t condone violence or foul language or a lot of the sexual content that exists in the media, I also don’t expect the media to act as my moral compass; television programs like Modern Family exist to entertain audiences and make money for networks, not to provide moral instruction. How much are shows like Modern Family influencing our culture, and how much are they mirroring it, if perhaps with better writing and more comedic fodder?
Given that the show airs at 9pm and consistently features mature storylines, it seems obvious that it’s a program intended for adults. I’m not saying that using the f-word is a good idea, that media watchdogs and viewers don’t have a right to protest, or that the narrative is in good taste. But the show isn’t called “Model Family,” it’s called Modern Family, and this episode fits with the provocative tone of the entire series. It can be an opportunity for reflection on media standards, but it can also be a chance to ponder our roles as media audiences and, for parents, as vastly more influential role models for our children and their language usage.