Facebook and the “Modern” Couple

Two very different controversies involving gay life and the entertainment world are playing out on Betty White's favorite site

In the latest episode of "Modern Family," uptight lawyer Mitchell, half of the most loveable couple of the TV season, is having trouble taking it easy, even on a trip to Hawaii.

“I just don’t find relaxing that relaxing,” he said.

The line, no doubt written months ago, inadvertently played on another level. Wednesday’s broadcast came after the program’s producers asked for patience in response to the Facebook campaign demanding that Mitchell and his life partner, Cam, kiss on the show.

“It happens that we have an episode in the works that addresses Mitchell's slight discomfort with public displays of affection,” said the statement, released to AfterElton.com.  “It will air in the fall and until then, as [goofball dad] Phil Dunphy would say, everyone please chillax.”

Meanwhile, another controversy involving gays and the entertainment world is also playing out online: "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy is calling for a boycott of Newsweek unless there’s an apology for an opinion piece by a gay writer that seemed to suggest homosexual actors shouldn't portray straight characters.

The requisite "Boycott Newsweek" Facebook page is up, and off to a modest start.

It's another a sign of the "modern" media times. Facebook is increasingly being used to promote campaigns – whether overtly political (the Obama presidential run and Sarah Palin's not-so-stealthy White House bid), fun TV camp (the successful Betty White/“Saturday Night Live” push) or as the latest gay-themed examples show, a mix of social movements and entertainment.

But does everybody just need to "chillax?"

The premise of "Modern Family" is that an extended, blended clan of eccentric characters is being filmed for some kind of unspecified reality show. Mitchell, unlike the outgoing Cam, clearly doesn’t like the cameras. He’s the most tightly wound of the bunch, and any attempts at loosening up end in disaster (in the latest episode, Mitchell accidentally leaves his and Cam’s baby daughter Lilly in an elevator when he lets his guard down for a moment).

Actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays Mitchell, reportedly tweeted his support for the Facebook smooch campaign (the page is called “Let Cam & Mitchell Kiss on Modern Family”). It’s unclear, though, what Ferguson, a gay man who has played heterosexual characters, thinks of the Newsweek piece by Ramin Setoodeh.

Setdoodeh’s essay prompted a backlash – most prominently from Murphy, who called the piece “mind-blowingly bigoted,” and actress Kristin Chenoweth, who slammed the article as “horrendously homophobic.” The piece criticizes openly-gay actor Sean Hayes (Jack from “Will & Grace”) who plays a straight character opposite Chenoweth in the Broadway revival of “Promises, Promises.”

“Frankly, it's weird seeing Hayes play straight,” Setdoodeh writes. “He comes off as wooden and insincere, like he's trying to hide something, which of course he is.”

He also takes aim at this season’s subplot on “Glee” (Chenoweth has a recurring role on the show) that has openly gay actor Jonathan Groff’s character wooing teen diva Rachel. “There's something about his performance that feels off,” Setdoodeh writes. “In half his scenes, he scowls – is that a substitute for being straight? When he smiles or giggles, he seems more like your average theater queen, a better romantic match for [gay glee club member] Kurt than Rachel.”

Setdoodeh notes that Groff’s character, a plant from a rival glee club sent to toy with Rachel’s heart, might turn out to be gay. Which might turn out to be true – but that doesn’t make the writer’s wrong-headed argument anymore palatable.

Murphy’s boycott campaign, in addition to inspiring the Facebook page, has generated publicity that Setdoodeh notes has led to nasty emails and blog posts. “It went viral,” he wrote in a follow-up article. “You can disagree with me if you like, but when was the last time you saw a movie starring a gay actor? The point of my essay was not to disparage my own community, but to examine an issue that is being swept under the rug.”

The boycott call is excessive – the provocative piece showed its power by spurring debate. The “Modern Family” and Newsweek episodes show the power of Facebook and the Internet to give folks an almost instant say in entertainment-related issues that can go beyond, say, demanding a hosting gig for a beloved 88-year-old actress.

Meanwhile, we’ll chillax and wait for Cam and Mitchell’s first TV kiss, which, we expect, will be like most everything else on “Modern Family”: as funny as it is sweet.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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