Courtesy of ABC

November 14, 2021

Emotional Attachment to the TV Family

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The scene fades into a black screen. The credits slowly creep their way up. You catch a glimpse of your frozen facial expression between the gaps of the credits. That is it. It is over. How would you ever move on from this point if the show you grew up with is over? 

The strong emotions that transport from our screens to our hearts play a pivotal role in our development.

The reason why we get so emotionally attached to a piece of film is because of a combination of techniques used by creators and the psychological processes that inevitably occur in the viewers’ brains. 

At the fundamental level, human brains are not equipped to distinguish between real and fictitious relationships. Historically, the idea of “falling in love” with fictional and media characters began when Western ideals combined with Japanese media during the Meiji period (1868-1912). In the early 20th century, both Japan and the U.S. continued to expand their romantic culture alongside the emergence of strong celebrity worship and fan cultures. Media psychologists, Horton and Wohl (1956) had established that the concept of “parasocial relationships” (a psychological relationship between a viewer and the performer) can develop with little to no sense of obligation, effort, or responsibility on the part of the watcher. Our brains constantly seek understanding and connections in our lives; they cannot help but hold onto the strong emotions felt by the performer, resulting in a psycho-relationship. 

Another reason why viewers experience severe attachment to performances is because of the proximity effect. This effect states that a positive correlation occurs between people who spend a lot of time together. As we sink into binge episodes, we begin an unintentional relationship with the character in front of us. Mainly, the fuel behind this relationship is due to personal unresolved conflicts and thoughts. When watching a show, viewers seek qualities or characteristics in the show’s characters that are missing from their lives. 

Taking these factors and psychological aspects into consideration, here is an iconic show that I believe will make a monumental comeback within the next year. 

With its first episode premiering in September of 2009, Modern Family began its monumental effect on viewers across the world. It continued on for eleven more successful years. I remember pausing the enjoyment of my cereal as Modern Family first popped up on our TV screen. As a nine-year-old, I did not quite get the clever jokes as well as my mother did. My delayed laughter followed my mother’s as we both sat mesmerized at the simple, yet captivating show that played in front of us. Viewers who followed the show since its birth watched the cast grow up along with it. As the show’s family tree grew more complex, the audience’s fascination accelerated as well. Modern Family offers watchers an understanding of a normal, yet unconventional family dynamic. Modern Family has everything watchers want without compromising its quality: humor, heart, likable characters, genuine acting and writing. Since there is such a variety of characters for viewers to follow, Modern Family inevitably creates a connection in any viewer who finds comfort and happiness in the show. Whether you are a rebellious teenager who is still finding your passion in the world or you are reaching the end of your life and seek to only enjoy the wonders of your years, Modern Family touches the hearts of its devoted viewers. 

With the pandemic halting normal activities, people are constantly seeking the comfort of life prior to Covid-19. A 2020 survey from Statista shows that the comedy genre placed second for most in-demand TV genres in the U.S. Viewers seek the comfort of viewing life without the restrictions of a pandemic, leaning towards comedic relief. In addition to providing comedic relief and a sense of normalcy, Modern Family addresses relevant issues beyond its time. From the episode that highlighted the distracting effects of technology on a family to the representation of the LGBTQ+ community, Modern Family strategically touches on controversial topics through a comedic lens. 

As new shows swarm streaming services, Modern Family’s legacy will find its way into the hearts of old and new generations of viewers. 

Haley Qin is a freshman in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].