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.
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.
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.
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.
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.