‘Leave It to Beaver’ vs. ‘Modern Family’

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Even though I am considered an “English” teacher, I would rather call myself a “thinking” teacher. In my opinion, it is more important to teach kids how to think than it is to teach them what a synechedoche or polysyndeton is. I teach more about how to develop ideas, how to craft an infallible argument, and how to manipulate/persuade your audience (or, in their cases, their parents) rather than I do vocabulary, literary terms, and novels. My most favorite thing to do is discuss societal issues: why are we the way we are? how are we different than our parents’ generation? do we just accept these changes or do we need to try to fix them?

Today in my class, we compared and contrasted an episode of ‘Leave It to Beaver’ to an episode of ‘Modern Family’. Wow. The next time you have some free time on your hands, I would highly suggest you do this because the contrasts are drastic. About the only commonalities between the two shows (besides the snarky student responses, such as “they all wear clothes”, “they all live in a house”, “they all have sidewalks”) are that (a) these are shows, displaying how families should function and (b) everyone comes together for a happy resolution in the end. However, in Beaver, the family is happy the whole time, while in Modern Family, the family argues, bites each other’s heads off, and insults each other before reaching the happy resolution in the end.

Other differences: In “Leave It to Beaver”, life is dominated by strict social customs: the parents do not fight in front of the children (in the episode we watched, they get in an argument and basically say, “We will just sweep this under the rug right now and talk about it later”); the dad serves as the disciplinarian and the mom is the nurturer (she even sits in the back seat of the car); the kids are constantly playing outside with the neighbors and the show attempts to teach a moral about the importance of honesty and telling the truth. On the other hand, “Modern Family” depicts three diverse couples; the kids talk back to the parents, the parents try to find an excuse to get out of watching Luke’s competitive soccer game; then, of course, there are the incredibly progressive marriages of Cam and Mitchell, Jay and Gloria. The kids’ entertainment often comes from technology and playing “Words with Friends”. And, in these families, there is NO sweeping under the rug; the family engages in a full out brawl and does not hold any of their feelings back. In comparison to “Leave It to Beaver”, I think the purpose of “Modern Family” is to mock the very realistic family dynamics. “Modern Family” includes more drinking, more sexual references, more cussing–but, at the same time–more humor, more enthusiasm, more human qualities.

So, we have spent some time discussing what these shows say about our society and how they influence how we live our lives. I personally see the benefits and drawbacks in both types of societies. On one hand, I see the value of a “Leave It to Beaver” society, where the kids refer to their parents are “sir” and “ma’am” and would never talk back, where the goal is to teach valuable life lessons (instead of trying to be a helicopter parent/protecter). But, at the same time, I think conflicts never quite get discussed or resolved; everyone kind of puts on this fake front to adhere to social customs.

Clearly, “Modern Family” suggests that we are a more progressive and open society; we accept different kinds of marriages that are not the traditional nuclear family; they feel comfortable to share their feelings (which, I think suppressing your feelings can often lead to bad, bad things). But, on the other hand, I think we also live in a very selfish and independent society; Phil and Claire opt out of Luke’s soccer game because they “do not like wasting their time, sitting on the sidelines when they have errands to run”; much of the family interactions occur when one person walks through the kitchen, playing on their cell phone, etc.

Ever since I took biological psychology in college, I have been contemplating this ethical dilemma: Does watching violent tv and playing violent video games make us a more violent society? I wonder the same thing about these pop culture influences. Are we learning from shows, such as “Modern Family”, that it is OK to be dysfunctional, to talk back to our parents, to be independent members? Or, are shows like “Modern Family” just a mere reflection of who we are as people?

4 Responses

  1. I think that just as “Leave it to Beaver” presented a totally false facade of the typical American family back in the day so too do a number of popular comedies today inflate and hyper ventilate the notion of a psuedo relality on the viewing public.. While gratuitous violence might often times lead to antisocial behavior in the real world I wonder if neurotic hyper sexual activity ( often presented as the norm in The Big Bang Theory” ) is often more damaging than blatant violence? At times Hollywood script writers pathologies saturate the television screen with certain mental mores that exist only in their medicated minds. Thanks for your article.

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