Broaching the Delicate Topic of Sofia Vergara’s Oh-So-Indelicate Performances on Modern Family
I’m usually of the mind that an insightful, edifying entry in an Internet comments section is only slightly less rare than a talking squirrel. However, in preparing to address this topic that’s been on my mind for weeks, I found that a few articles had already been written about the subject, and I was heartened to see reader comments such as the ones below.
After this article,
“She is playing the part of the ‘spicy Latina’ for the Anglo masses.”
“She is very funny. And, yes, a little of her goes a long way.”
“Jesh She screams but she is foooony!”
“Yes, I agree she yells too much. I used to love the show, but now, it seems as of late I have to grab the remote and turn the audio down. Way too much screaming for my tastes. They’ve almost lost me for that reason!”
“You people are almost as funny as the show – the ENTIRE show is stereotypical, that’s why people like it…. That’s why it’s funny and that’s why it is a good show. It takes a good writing crew to get away with having an ultra-fem gay couple who adopt a an Asian girl who are for the most part likable idiots and not have the left chasing them in the dead of night with pitchforks and torches.”
In case you haven’t already guessed, the issue that’s been troubling me is that I like Modern Family quite a bit, but pretty much every time Sofia Vergara’s Gloria Pritchett character is on the screen, I want to throw something at my sound system to silence her torturous nails-on-chalkboard screeching.
With the show now its third season, Gloria’s voice has grown even more shrill, and her language has become even more mangled in that special Modern Family way that tries SO HARD to make her adorably dim. A couple of weeks ago, it reached a point where I was reminded of arguably the worst “comedic character with an annoyingly exaggerated voice” of our time, and I desperately wanted to be able to write a cogent comparison of Gloria Pritchett and, that’s right, Larry the Cable Guy.
[By the way, check out this video of the comedian Dan Whitney before he invented that walking regional slur of a character, Larry the Cable Guy. This evidence of the pandering, insulting artifice behind the character blows my mind every time.]
But however badly I initially wanted to do it, I just can’t make a fair comparison between “Gloria” and “Larry,” for the primary reason that there is obviously some degree of credibility at the heart of Sofia Vergara’s performances and Gloria Pritchett’s character traits. Plain and simple, Vergara is fit to portray a bilingual Latina woman because she is one herself. On the other hand, as evidenced by the video linked above, Dan Whitney is putting on a 100% fake verbal and visual costume every time he appears in public as Larry the Cable Guy.
I do think it’s clear from the following video, however, that Gloria Pritchett’s voice and her verbal tics are based on exaggerations of Sofia Vergara’s natural speaking voice.
Vergara admitted as much in a 2010 interview with Oprah, saying that she exaggerated her voice for comedic effect and that she had “realized that sometimes it was funnier to say “YOOOUHH” [rather] than “you.’”
OK, so Sofia Vergara “fakes it” sometimes, accent-wise, when she’s playing Gloria Pritchett. My initial reaction to that fact, and certainly to its manifestation in numerous Modern Family episodes, is deep annoyance. But since Vergara isn’t appropriating the idioms and speech patterns of any culture other than her own, the fair next question is, “What’s the harm?” And that’s where we have to turn to stereotypes in media portrayals.
As described in the two articles linked at the beginning of this piece, the more essential question about the Gloria Pritchett character is whether she’s the latest in a long line of culturally insensitive portrayals of Latinas in American media. I’m a Southern white guy who knows only marginal Spanglish and has never been to any Spanish-speaking country, so I think I’ll bow out of offering an opinion on that question. Suffice to say that I can see the merits of both viewpoints offered in the two articles linked above and in their subsequent comments sections. Some who know the culture firsthand vouch for the authenticity and appropriateness of Gloria’s animated speech, mispronounced words and fiery personality. Others with informed perspectives say that she’s a caricature of real Latina women. I can’t offer any other informed comments on the “authenticity” question.
Regardless, I do find it unfortunate that, in this week’s Daily Beast article, Sofia Vergara is willing to consider the “stereotype” question only insofar as it pertains to her being typecast as the spicy Colombiana or Latina in future roles. I would have hoped that Vergara would be able to look beyond her own career prospects and reflect on whether Gloria Pritchett, and her future characters, reinforce or help break down persistent and pernicious ethnic stereotypes in the culture at large. For whatever reason, those important questions just aren’t on her mind. But the next time she’s asked to really play up the “saucy Latina attitude” or hilariously mispronounce an English word, perhaps they should be.
Otherwise, we may start to see a few cracks in the wall of credibility that separates Sofia Vergara from the many hacks who do nothing but play paper-thin characters based on persistent cultural stereotypes. Annoying components of her current character notwithstanding, Vergara does strike me as a talented and likable figure in the entertainment world, and I’d hate for her to have anything in common with Larry the Cable Guy other than their stunning good looks.