#Unmodernfamily, Stigma Isn’t funny

Unmodern FamilyFull disclosure: I am a huge Modern Family Fan. My DVR is set to record each new episode. I believe that it is the best written, cast and, produced sitcom on TV since MASH. In the past they have used comedy very effectively to positively address many social stigmas including Gay marriage, Gay adoption, interracial families and obnoxious realtors. Therefore, I have very mixed emotions about the decision ABC and the producers of Modern Family made to air a rerun of a Halloween episode that featured Claire Dunphy creating an Insane Asylum House of Horrors in hopes of winning a neighborhood haunted house contest. Depiction of people in straight-jackets, restraints and “old” electro-shock equipment, even in a comedic context, only reinforces stereotypes of people with serious mental health conditions.

I have to believe that the produces understand the negative effects of these stereotypes because they included a plot device in which a supporting character “lies” about having been committed to a mental health institution in order to “guilt” Claire into changing the theme of their house. (This scene was exasperated by another character who used several negative, inappropriate and, demeaning descriptions of the mental health institution.) When the episode originally aired last year, many mental health organizations and advocates including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) tried to explain to the network and the producers why the episode was so offensive to people with mental health conditions and request that the episode not be aired again. The title of the episode that aired last year was “Awsomeland” (referencing the benign fantasy and magic that Phil Dunphy wanted to create) so changing the title for this year’s episode to, “She Crazy” feels a little bit like a poke in the eye to NAMI and the other mental health advocates who objected to it last year.

I am usually the first person to say; “lighten up!” when people take political correctness and indignation about pop culture to ridiculous lengths. I do not believe that Mental Health conditions or institutions are off limits for comedy or satire (see my Facebook post from October 13 re: comic Frank King and the references he makes to his struggle with depression and suicide in his act.) but this episode went too far. I agree with NAMI that ABC’s decision to rerun this episode was “callous” and hurtful.