The ongoing low profile of sociologists on TV shows

A recent line in a Modern Family episode emphasizes the relatively low status of sociologists in the entertainment industry:

Now they won’t let me drive around anyone smarter than a sociology professor.

A bit more context: Alex Dunphy had the task of driving around a Nobel Prize winner in a golf cart on her college campus. Because she was starstruck by the researcher, she drove recklessly and he fell out. Thus, she could only be entrusted with a sociology professor (and lower?).

This is likely just a throwaway line and yet it reminds me that sociologists rarely exist in shows and films. From earlier blog posts:

Searches for those with sociology backgrounds to play roles is rare.

Michael Bay once had thoughts about a show involving a sociologist.

A sociologist could host “History Detectives.”

This reminds me of a quote about statisticians in the book Health and Numbers:

There are aspects of statistics other than it being intellectually difficult that are barriers to learning. For one thing, statistics does not benefit from a glamorous image that motivates students to persist through tedious and frustrating lessons…there are no TV dramas with a good-looking statistician playing the lead, and few mothers’ chests swell with pride as they introduce their son or daughter as “the statistician.”

Many academic fields likely do not come off well in shows and films. The exceptions, like Indiana Jones (though not exactly a representative exemplar of his field), are notable.

Dunphy’s home from Modern Family isn’t exactly a middle-class home

The home used as the Phil and Claire Dunphy household on Modern Family is up for sale:

[G]et ready for a blast of memories from “Modern Family,” the Golden Globe & Emmy-winning ABC prime-time comedy that was filmed at 10336 Dunleer Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90064.

The price is $2.35 million, but listing agent Mitch Hagerman of Coldwell Banker Previews International said there’s decent income potential given the fact that TV producers have forked over generous fees for the right to film exterior shots of the property. He said it would be up to the new owners to negotiate with ABC Studios…

The home is a traditional, two-story style and has been impeccably remodeled, complete with crown molding, wood floors and upgraded appliances. It sits on a prime street in the coveted Cheviot Hills neighborhood. Hagerman says the home should sell pretty easily on its own merits.

“It’s a charming, gorgeous, cozy, family-oriented and classic-style home in a fantastic neighborhood where there’s very little inventory,” he said.

The home offers 4 bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, plus a powder room. The home last sold for $1.97 million in 2006.

A nice and expensive home. This is interesting because the Dunphy family is portrayed as being fairly middle-class. Phil is a realtor who is not the most successful or smart (these are running points throughout the shows). Claire recently returned to work, working for her father’s closet business, after not working. Where do they get all of their money? How do they afford such a nice house?

Sociologist Juliet Schor argued in The Overspent American that one problem of post-World War II television is that it showed an increasingly lavish middle-class lifestyle. The evolving image of the middle-class on television showed families with more money and possessions and not much discussion about how they could afford it all. The Dunphys are supposed to look like normal Americans yet their lifestyle is pretty wealthy with little concern about money and pretty nice possessions. Schor suggests portrayals like this pushed more Americans to consume more.

In other words, the show plays off the idea the extended family depicted is a “typical” American family yet its class status is far from what many American families experience.