Friday, November 18, 2011


For the past week I've been showing my students the pilot episode of Modern Family, as part of a lesson about bonds, changing  family definitions and modern relationships. I've shown it to 15 classes and I still find it hilarious every time Phil's hand slips on the bannister, or when Cameron comes into the room, holding Lily above his head, Lion King music blaring.

I've wanted to show Modern Family to them for a while, given its status as one of the top TV shows in the world and winner of numerous Emmy Awards. But I've also wanted a way to break into their narrow world view, and it's the perfect show for that. The ideas of divorce, second marriage, gay relationships, step-families, teenage relationships and international marriage are pretty normal for most of us in the west, but for Korean children (hell, adults too) these are baffling concepts that blow their minds!

I often feel like Korean society is still in the 1980's in many ways, and I underestimated how many things they'd consider astonishing. Even foreign adoption (the fact that Lily is from Vietnam) was amazing to them. This should not have surprised me, given that the Korean government is cracking down on foreigners adopting Korean babies, and that Koreans consider adoption to be a bad thing. If it's not blood family, it's not real family, according to my co-teacher. So, adoption: Brain explosion.

I didn't tell them what the show was about before I pushed play. I wanted to see their natural reactions, especially to Cam and Mitchell. It took them a while to click what they were seeing, and when they realised what the relationship was, most of them let out a big 'GAY! TEACHER, GAY!' Funnily enough, they settled down pretty quickly if I ignored their reaction, and they seemed to almost forget about it. In fact, they focused more on how cute the baby was, and how funny Cam was. Afterwards, when explaining the family tree, I told them that I have 'many gay friends' and they found this fascinating! So, The Gays: Brain explosion, but quick recovery.

Oddly, the thing they seemed to have the most trouble with was the fact that Jay and Gloria were married before, to other people, but these people were not dead. I said, when explaining stepfathers: "Imagine your mom and dad are not married any more. Your mom marries a new man. He is your stepfather." Lord above, the protests! "Teacher no! Where is my dad?!" Me: "Your dad is still alive, but not with your mom..." Her: "But why? No." I'm not advocating divorce by any means, but I was surprised by how foreign a concept it seemed to be. Apparently kids who have divorced parents often leave school because of how humiliating it is/how badly they are teased. So, second marriages/divorce: bigger brain explosion than The Gays.

The funniest parts of the episode for them were also the most physical. Phil slipping down the bannister greased in baby oil. Phil having to shoot Luke with a BB gun, but then shooting everyone else, including himself, by mistake. Phil destroying Luke at basketball. So... pretty much everything Phil did. Ty Burrell does such an amazing job as Phil, he totally deserves his Emmy. His acting is probably the closest to Korean comedy, the physicality and slap-sticky humour is perfect for these kids.

Afterwards, a lot of kids came to ask where they could watch more episodes, which I thought was great. I know I'm not changing the world, and that it's just a TV show, but it's unlike anything they usually watch. Anything that opens their minds, gets them to see outside the bubbles they live in, and they get to laugh a bit during a tough school week is fine by me! Also, come on, how funny is this show?!

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