The Stereotypical Representation of Gloria Pritchett in Modern Family

Contributors: Andrew Wilding & J.D. Palacios

     Most if not all of the modern world relies on popular media for cultural knowledge at the different social groups throughout the world.  It is a common tendency for media outlets to rely on portraying different people using stereotypes, which can be interpreted as good or bad, this just depends on the viewer.  For our purposes, we have decided to analyze a particular culture group’s representation through a character in a current television show.  The cultural group we have chosen is the Latin American population and the character we are analyzing is Gloria Pritchett from Modern Family played by Sofia Vergara.  The different stereotypes that are associated with Latin culture and represented by Vergara’s character are a hypersexualized persona, tendencies of a hot temper, and holding family and cultural values first above all else.

        Sofia Vergara herself is considered a very attractive woman by the majority of pop culture.  She holds all the physical traits associated with Latin beauty according to an article written by Isabel Guzman and Angharad Valdivia title Brain, Brow and Booty: Latina Iconicity in U.S. Popular Culture.  As stated in the article, Latina beauty is characterized by, “red-colored lips, bright seductive clothing, curvaceous hips and breasts, long brunette hair, and extravagant jewelry.” (Guzman & Valdivia, 311)  As you might expect, these traits are exaggerated and attention is brought to them throughout Modern Family in several episodes with male characters and even Vergara bringing attention to them and the effect they have on the general public surrounding Gloria (Sofia).  One example of what kind of impact Gloria’s looks have on people are when her son in-law, Phil Dunphy, who is married to her step daughter Claire, clearly fights temptation in a quite obvious fashion.  Another example are the couple instances where Claire Dunphy, who is Gloria’s step-daughter, gives judging or jealous looks based on her Step-Mother’s physical appearance in comparison to her own.  Her physical appearance matching the idealized Latin physique absolutely helps in her character background in being the trophy wife to retired business owner Jay Pritchett.  While it may just be personal opinion, but I feel that if the trophy wife were any other ethnicity, she would merely be the good-looking wife of the show.  The fact that the character is played by Sofia Vergara immediately brings to mind the fact that such a stereotype of the exotic Latin beauty exists and has existed in popular media for some time.  Aside from the physical appearance of Latin women, the stereotype also pertains to the beliefs and values held in the culture.

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 4.45.30 PM
Extra Flirtatious Wife: This image captures a scene in which Jay, Gloria’s husband, is acting especially “flirty” with Gloria. This instance is just one of many in which a character verbally expresses sexual interest in her. Although the two are a couple, Jay capitalizes on the physical aspects of Gloria. Such instances hypersexualize Gloria, and thus promote the stereotypical notion that Latin American women’s bodies are one of their primary traits. Not only is Gloria aware that many of her friends find her attractive, but she takes advantage of these instances to acknowledge it, bragging about her own beauty and relating it to her Latin-American background as if it is an accomplishment others should strive for.
Watching Gloria Through Sunglasses
S01E23: “Hawaii” – While Claire talks to her husband Phil, she notices that he is looking at Gloria getting out of the pool behind him through Claire’s sunglasses. When called out, he says, “Is it just me or is she moving in slow motion?” This was an instance of how Phil Dunphy was tempted by Gloria’s looks, most of the time it happens in front of his wife, like in this picture.
The Feud
S05E15: “The Feud” – Gloria lets Manny know that she knows the moms of Manny’s classmates judge her for her, “accent and my bouncy bosom.”  However she doesn’t let it bother her because she has confidence. This speaks out to Gloria’s acknowledgement that her physical appearance is very different from other women, who coincidentally happen to be all middle-aged white women.

      For Latin culture, the media would lead you to believe that violent outbursts are the common tendencies, however these instances would be present in the male gendered population in Latin culture.  This is not the case for Gloria Pritchett, who takes this perceived male trait and makes it her own.  Throughout the show, she showcases that she can get just as hot headed as any man you could think of.  Examples of said behavior are how she reacts to when she chases after some kids who egged her house saying, “you egg my house I kill what you love!” and her familiarity with a pistol that she keeps in the house.  When she first uses it, she recalls her childhood in Columbia and makes it seem like guns are a common occurrence.  The ability to remember back on life such as hers isn’t one that is normally associated with feminine qualities, and would more likely be expected from a more masculine set.

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Gun Savvy: Gloria’s past was filled with crimes, including crimes she committed and crimes being constantly committed in the neighborhoods around her. This image captures a flashback demonstrating Gloria using her pistol. She is not using it for self-defense in this instance, but rather, for violent threats. Although violent criminal histories tend to be perceived as traits of male Latin Americans in popular media, here it is shown to be a principal trait of Gloria’s. The “gender-balancing” does more harm than good, as this trait still contributes to negative portrayals of the Latin American culture.
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Violence Always an Option: In various instances throughout the show, Gloria showcases her hotheadedness in situations where it is uncalled for. Modern Family takes this stereotype to the extreme by humoring threats of violence. This image is taken from a scene where Gloria’s house was defaced, and in response, she threatened to kill the children who are responsible. For Gloria to view aggression as a solution to all problems is a result of American media normalizing that trait among Latin Americans. Furthermore, to depict the scene in such a lighthearted manner reinforces the idea that these depictions are acceptable in television, thus causing the cycle to repeat.
I am not a hothead, I'm Colombian
S04S05: “Open House of Horrors” – Gloria’s son Manny points out how his mother is, “acting like such a hothead lately.” She responds by saying, “I am not a hothead, I’m a Columbian.” Here the show acknowledges and makes humor from the common association people draw between hot tempers and the Latin population

     Yet another stereotype given to Latin culture is that anyone who can be defined by such more than likely has very strong ties to their cultural heritage and values.  This can definitely be said about Gloria Pritchett.  In the show, her determination to express her culture and traditions is usually something that brings together the family after some sort of argument has torn them apart.  Her devotion to tradition sometimes causes strife between her husband who was born and raised in the U.S. and isn’t as doesn’t have the same level of priority set to culture. However, no matter what problem that Gloria may have with Jay or any other member of the family, she ultimately looks for ways to resolve it because she believes without family, people would have nothing.

Fulgencio
S04E13: “Fulgencio” – This image shows Gloria in a church setting, while engrossed in the religious ceremony that is taking place. Many scenes in Modern Family show Gloria’s devotion to religion and such accompanying traditions. This is not objectively harmful, but in Gloria’s case, she repeatedly ties it to her Colombian roots and states that such strict devotion is natural for Colombians. Lisa Henderson’s “Representation” discusses that such mindsets do not support inclusion, since inclusion is most impactful if differences within groups are portrayed (Henderson, 174). Instead, Gloria conforms to a stereotype that often befalls Latin women in television, in having uncompromising obedience to cultural norms.
Gloria Reprimanding Jay
S02E02: “The Kiss” – Gloria reprimands Jay for making fun of the recently deceased, warning him saying, “there’s already one dead person in the room you wanna make it two?” This ties in two of the stereotypes talked about throughout the text: prone to being a hot head and having a strong connection to cultural beliefs

Losing my children to America
S04E19: “The Future Dunphy’s” – Gloria expresses how lost she feels regarding her children, heartbroken that they are embracing American Culture more and more every day, and trying to forget the culture of where they’re from. She says how, “[Her first born son] has forgotten most of his spanish and [Her youngest] isn’t even going to learn it.” This probable future devastates her.
     The stereotypical attributes given to Sofia Vergara’s character highlight the misguided perceptions of popular media on culture. Her character is confined to displaying idealized femininity in terms of her physical appearance, especially when viewed with the belief that she is part of the “exotic other.” In viewing these representations, it is critical to study not just the numerous stereotypical features, but also the self-accepting attitudes of the characters. Although Gloria Pritchett is justified in being confident in herself, she is not justified in generalizing those traits to her race or culture, which she often does. Neither are the Modern Family writers justified in defining her whole persona by such one-dimensional qualities. More progressive steps for future representations must involve more variety of Latin American personas, in characters who owe their personalities to themselves, not just their cultural roots.

Works Cited:

Henderson, Lisa. Representation. In Laurie Ouellette & Jonathan Gray (Eds.), Keywords for Media Studies (172-176). New York: New York University Press.

Molina Guzman, Isabel & Valdivia, Angharad. (2004). Brain, Brow, and Booty: Latina Iconicity in U.S. Popular Culture. The Communication Review. 7. 205-221. 10.1080/10714420490448723.

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