On last night’s episode of Modern Family, the gay couple, Mitchell and Cameron had a very brief and understated homosexual kiss. THAT’S RIGHT. Two dudes kissed each other ON TELEVISION. The issue of Mitchell and Cameron’s sexless relationship was a hotbed of blogtroversy last season because people were outraged that a gay couple would be shown to live together and be raising a child together and yet never engage in any kind of outward affection. Fair enough! That’s a totally reasonable thing to be kind of bothered by! The furor was pretty short lived as hints of “the kiss episode” started appearing as early as last May. And now it is here and people are working very hard to figure out what it all MEANS.
The truth is, it probably doesn’t mean that much, and it probably shouldn’t mean that much?
One has to give Modern Family credit for downplaying the kiss, which appears in the background, and is insubstantial and inconsequential. Yes! Because that is what kissing between two long-term domestic partners is: insubstantial and inconsequential. And it is a mark of the world we live in that an insubstantial, inconsequential kiss on a sitcom is a THING that people REALLY WANT TO TALK ABOUT. It is certainly a good thing, it seems, to have three dimensional gay characters on a TV show who represent an aspect of gay life that isn’t all horse tranquilizers and “manscaping” jokes (although I do think we as a culture can move past the homosexual-obsession-with-Liza thing as “sophisticated-gay” humor touchstone). But, personally, I always get a little weirded out when a lot of noise is made about a thing that we all agree shouldn’t be a big deal in the first place. Do you know what I mean? Like, if we’re all on Team Who Cares when it comes to honest depictions of homosexuals in popular culture, then it feels like planting the Victory Flag in the Morality Dirt (this metaphor is getting VERY good) actually sort of makes the other side’s point. Everything that is triumphed as a win becomes the opposition’s loss (and every loss makes one wish to fight harder). (And it should be noted that subtle background kisses in third-act scenes on primetime sitcoms rarely move the needle in terms of Actual Bigotry.)
Look, I’m not saying that we don’t live in a nightmare world of unfounded and indefensible hatred borne of the fear that we’re all going to die EVEN IF WE ARE STRAIGHT. We do live in that world. (Especially lately, unfortunately.) And I don’t mean to suggest that there are not very real triumphs to be had in the eternal war between good and evil. There are! And maybe I’m wrong (JUST KIDDING, NOT POSSIBLE), and maybe this is one of those incredible things that we’re going to tell our grandchildren about, right after the story of how Barack Obama came to be the first disappointing black president. I’m just saying that we should be careful! Of granting too much power to a thing that ultimately is just correct. Because that’s what the gay kiss on Modern Family is. It’s not actually a brave step from a forward-thinking show (I mean, it is, but also:) as much as it is just THE RIGHT FUCKING WAY TO DEPICT HUMAN LIFE ON THIS PLANET, KIND OF, I MEAN, I ALSO KNOW WE ARE STILL TALKING ABOUT AN ABC SITCOM SO LET’S NOT GET TOO CARRIED AWAY. If you believe that equality is simply the way that things must be (MUST, not SHOULD), then it is clear that gestures towards equality don’t need a pat on the back. A pat on the back is insulting to the very notion of real equality. Just saying.
On a somewhat separate note: now that Modern Family has won Emmy Awards for Excellence and is getting incredibly high ratings, can we stop pretending that a prime time sitcom full of veteran comic actors on a fucking Big Three Network is an “underdog.” I don’t know what that was all about, but enough of that.