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Broaching the Delicate Topic of Sofia Vergara’s Oh-So-Indelicate Performances on Modern Family

January 28, 2012

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.”

And after this Daily Beast article from just a couple of days ago,

 “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.

  1. Paul the Geek permalink*
    January 29, 2012 4:16 pm

    Wow. So NOT Larry the NOT Cable Guy wasn’t funny even BEFORE he adopted the persona. Good to know…

  2. Anonymous permalink
    March 3, 2012 12:19 am

    Spanish women are funny, more animated, more lively and more saucy than American women. Absolutely. This is good. I could stereotype American women as women with no bodies, fat, insipid, shy, timid, depressed or expressionless, etc……..

    I do not think that her accent is funny, though, because it does sound grotesque and is over done. It would be funny if she would talk the way she talked in the video above, but it is annoying and very fake the way it is done on tv and not at all life like. I have known plenty of Latinas with strong accents and they do not sound like her. I do not like this aspect of the show at all and wished that they just had her sound like herself. It is actually for this reason that I do not watch the show.

    By the way, I know that she is Columbian, but she is obviously of Spanish descent. She has a typical Spanish body and temperament. Spanish women are definitely assertive and feisty.

    However, I think that they are trying to make her dumb here? is this right? I do not know because I do not watch the show. If this is the case, then they are making stuff up. Spanish women are very smart. Spain is a first world country and Spanish people women have had to be smart to overcome all of the obstacles. Spain did not even get Marshall aid help and it still rose to prominence all by itself and was economically strong enough to enter the EU in 1986. Spanish money is worth more than American so those Spanish genes are strong.

    The encyclopedia will even tell you that the true Spanish stereotype is that the Spanish are very strong willed, resourceful (which means clever) and tough.

    Also I would be more inclined to watch the show if she were her natural blonde. It is not cool that Hollywood refuses to cast blondes in “Latina roles”. This is silly and truly messed up. There are plenty of Spanish blondes and being a Spanish blonde with a Spanish body and attitude is so normal in hispanic countries. Why are they discriminating against blondes? This is silly. Why does Hollywood just want people to think that Spanish people have dark hair? is there an agenda here???? Are they afraid that people will find out that the hispanics really are not a race or an ethnic group?

    I know why but………

    • Anonymous permalink
      May 7, 2012 2:20 pm

      Your Eurocentric views on women are really disappointing. Trying to explain why Ms. Vergara is talented and assertive, and such, because of her Spanish descent is narrow-minded and outdated. Most Colombian (not Columbian btw) people, and a major percentage of Latin Americans as a matter of fact, have European roots, but not many will claim to be Spanish, Portuguese, Italian or German, first, and then Colombian, Brazilian or Argentine. This feistiness that you seem to admire in all its European glory is also pride, as in national pride, a concept northern people seem hard to understand.

  3. Sue permalink
    June 23, 2012 7:49 am

    She is one of the most annoying characters on television. I’m forced to change the channel when I hear her annoying voice.

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