By the time Modern Family’s episode, “The Kiss” (broadcast Wednesday, 29 September), made Facebook fans happy, more than 13,160 had “Like”d the idea of “Cam & Mitchell, the adorable gay couple” finally showing a little onscreen PDA (Public Displays of Affection). The producers long insisted that the Facebook site had nothing to do with the already-planned kiss. Whether a concession to ardent fans or a previously planned second-season agenda item, the Kiss hardly lived up to its build-up, but then, what first kiss does?
Other TV series have had more memorable same-gender liplocks, often fraught with the burden of being television “firsts”. Modern Family made the kiss real: low key, sweet, and completely in character with Mitchell and Cam’s relationship. The at-home cuddle was far more intimate, but in an episode of kisses and misses, it’s good to finally see Cam and Mitchell connect.
Unlike Willow and Tara’s first lesbian kiss on US TV (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 2001) or Jack and Ethan’s first gay kiss on US TV (Dawson’s Creek, 2000), Cam and Mitchell’s isn’t one for the records, but perhaps that ultimately is why it became so important to so many of the series’ fans. The much-anticipated Kiss didn’t awkwardly stop the flow of the scene, much less the episode. It didn’t hijack a family dinner, much less hog a close-up. Even more important, it wasn’t a desperate, passionate snog right before a GLBT character dies horribly.
Mitchell and Cam’s was simply one in a series of everyday kisses between two men in love. The only difference is that, this time, we were there to see it.
After Elton’s Michael Jensen, who received a preview copy of “The Kiss”, liked the way “the show explores the issues involved, especially how many gay men are not comfortable with public displays of affection.” He called this kiss “one of the best things to happen for gay visibility in popular culture in a long time.”
The buzz from Twitter near the episode’s end included thousands of positive posts, not only about the Kiss but “The Kiss” and Modern Family in general. Typical comments included “Why was the kiss not a bigger deal? I missed it!”, “Yes, they kissed, and it was NBD,” and “Very nice… Will the riots begin at midnight?” Some tweets voiced complaints that the Kiss didn’t go far enough: “So still no gay kiss on Modern Family!? Even after an episode about kissing!? I’m done with that show.”
Within moments of the episode’s East coast ending, Spoiler TV asked “What did you think of Modern Family—The Kiss?” Of the 25 immediate responders voting within the hour, 64 percent selected Awesome, but even numbers (16 percent) voted Great or OK. As the tweets and limited poll indicate, online fans may simply have concluded “no big deal,” either pro or con.
Perhaps the more important question not just for television culture but for American culture is this: How will Cam and Mitchell’s relationship, including but not limited to kissing, be portrayed in future episodes?
Maybe this kiss, like so many in relationships before it, will lead to other, not quite so carefully scripted public displays of affection. A televised same-gender kiss may be just a kiss, as time goes by.