The Washington Post

‘Modern Family’ vs. ‘The Cosby Show’

ABC's "Modern Family" stars Ty Burrell as Phil, Sarah Hyland as Haley, Ariel Winter as Alex, Nolan Gould as Luke and Julie Bowen as Claire. (Bob D’Amico/ABC)

Not everyone was cheering at its success last night, however. Sheri L. Parks was watching with her daughter and couldn’t help but feel a little worried.

“There are mounds of research that suggests that television sets up normative behavior for children, that they see TV families as ‘normal,’ that they take away strategies for interacting with people,” said the University of Maryland American Studies associate professor.

Parks studies pop culture’s effect on people and I sought out her opinion after the Emmys broadcast.

“I don’t mind parody at all. It just is not the only way to approach such an important element of society,” she said.

“Where are the inheritors of ‘The Cosby Show’?”

ABC’s “Modern Family,” and NBC’s copycat “Up All Night,” are radically different than previous family sitcoms like Cosby. Those earlier shows were funny while still imbuing storylines with lessons and filling scenes of with signs of familial love. They reinforced our cultural idea that a strong family unit, despite slight imperfections and frustrations, will make its members healthier, better people.

That might not have been entirely true, but maybe the flipside of that isn’t entirely true either. Parks said the attitude that “everything is aggressively funny sets the expectation that nothing is sacred or even sincere.”

None of the characters on Cosby would have, for instance, bought Adam Mansbach’s, “Go the F--- To Sleep.” And they would not have agreed with what Julie Bowen, who last night won Best Supporting Actress for Modern Family, said after she accepted her award: “I think if I wasn’t a mom, it would be harder to look at a child and understand how you can hate and love them all at once.”

Is it a good thing we’re finally acknowledging the harsher realities of parenting? Is there harm in laughing about it within earshot of the kids?


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