November 11, 2015

1/64 Cherokee in Modern Family

I'm not watching Modern Family anymore, but I saw a commercial for this week's episode, The More You Ignore Me. In it, Phil Dunphy says this as he runs to his car:I may be 1/64 Cherokee but I'm also 63/64 crazy white guy!Comment:  Wow, they're really going to the Cherokee well on this show. Following 1/16 Cherokee in Modern Family, it's the second time someone's claimed to be Cherokee.

There's nothing wrong with this, exactly. Phil could well be 1/64th Cherokee by blood. More likely, someone told him his great-great-great-great grandmother was Cherokee and he swallowed the story uncritically. Which is how it goes about 63/64ths of the time.

But the show has tried this gimmick twice, which makes the writers seem a little thoughtless and unoriginal. Not to mention desperate. Have they been listening to the critics who have pointed out how white the show is? Except for Gloria, who's a fiery Latina stereotype?

What better way to inject some color--literally and figuratively--into their white-bread characters? Many people claim to have Cherokee ancestors who are difficult if not impossible to verify. It's a cheap way to imply a character isn't as white and privileged as he seems.

If Phil is 1/64th Cherokee, you're supposed to feel 1/64th more sympathy for him, or something. The show can then proceed without confronting a single issue of race or culture. It's the TV equivalent of checking a box on a job application. "For the sake of the diversity police, we checked the ethnicity box for Phil this week. Done!"

For more on Modern Family, see History Class in Modern Family.

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