Friday, April 13, 2012

Polite or Honest? The Modern Family Problem

The other day I was watching the most recent episode of Modern Family. (I won't be talking about the whole episode but there will be a couple of spoilers for one storyline.) So Mitchell and Cam are driving around in their car with a PA system they've set up, so they can campaign for Claire (it's voting day and she's running for city council).

At some point, of course, they pull over to the side of the road and have a conversation without knowing that they have left their speakers on. Everyone on the side of the road can hear them as they talk about a woman they know, whom they see on the sidewalk, and how she is engaged to a gay man. Of course, since she hears the whole conversation, they have to talk to her about what they said. She's upset and asking them to be honest with her: do they really think he is gay? They console her, saying "No of course not," and "we were just gossiping." She asks them more than once if they are really sure and they assure her that he's not gay. At the end of the episode, in one of their interview segments, they say to the audience, "Three weeks later, they got married. The wedding was beautiful. He did all the flowers....which is a perfectly normal thing for a straight guy to do." The implication, of course, is that yes, he is gay, and she is still in denial.

Now, yes this is a sitcom, and the situation is funny, but it also left me feeling a little uncomfortable. Why not just tell her the truth? (Again, I realize this is a sitcom and destroying her engagement might not have been a funny ending, but just go with me.) What's really gonna be worse for this woman: to find out/admit to herself that her fiancee is gay, cancel the wedding, and try to move on with her life, or to find out that her husband is gay after months/years of marriage?

This got me thinking about society in general and how it is so often considered better to be polite than honest. Why is that? Yes there are certain situations that call for it. I remember once going to a wedding out of town, and I only brought one dress with me. I asked my sister and friends how I looked, but I didn't want them to be completely honest. After all, I only brought one dress; whether or not it looked good, at this point it was my only option. What good would it do to tell me that it wasn't the best dress for me? None. In this situation, in which I might not look my best for one night but a little lie or extra encouragement would keep me from feeling self-conscious all night, polite trumped honest.

But in the story of Modern Family, we aren't talking about one night of self-consciousness. We are talking about a woman's life. Her marriage. A relationship in which she has invested a lot of time and energy. She deserves to know the truth that she either has been too blind to see or unwilling to admit to herself. And Mitchell and Cam seem to know her pretty well. Maybe they aren't best friends, maybe they wouldn't seek her out to tell her this normally, but after they've blasted it over their campaign speakers, I personally think they owe her the truth. And they could always say, "You know, we've never seen him actually having sex with a man, so these are just suspicions, but we've always thought it, and you can do what you want with the information." I just don't see how it does her any good to lie to her.
I know this picture is from another episode. Deal with it.

Why aren't we more willing to be direct with the people that we know and care about? Why is it that we always want to be polite to others, even in situations when it is potentially more damaging? Most of the time (my dress example excluded), when people ask for an opinion or information, they want your honest answer. Yes, sometimes the truth hurts, and sometimes you might even get angry or upset with the person who told it to you. But in the end, isn't it better to know?

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