Modern Family: Claire Dunphy Was A "Karen" Before "Karen" Wasn't Cool
Was Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen) from ABC's Modern Family an influence on today's wave of "Karens"? Here's why it might just be true...
Re-watching comfort shows is a common practice that most of us share. Recently, I have picked up Modern Family marathons and have watched the show all over, with the exception of the later seasons, 10 and 11— not the strongest of the bunch, if we are honest. That said, the show still brings comfort to my evenings and a smile to my face more often than not. It is one of those shows with aspects that remind me of my own family: being close, the Sunday gatherings with extended family members, and the loud misunderstandings between siblings that were forgotten within minutes.
While it brings smiles and an immense sense of comfort into my evenings, especially after work, it is fair to say not all of it has aged as nicely as other parts have; there are some jokes in it that are a bit cringey. I mean, toward the later seasons, the cliche tropes of stereotyping when it came to being Colombian-slash-Latinx, Asian, or gay became pretty common at times and borderline uncomfortable. Also, what I call the David Lynch effect: let us crap on all our women and make them all cliche, empty shells of the women we were molding them to be. Not to mention the level of shittiness among the members of the family toward the others just increasingly grew, becoming more of an It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia dynamic at times, filled with very schticky moments.
Anyway, while I am aware the show was not meant to portray a perfect family, but a modern one that portrays everyday people who face hurdles and carry misconceptions, privilege, racism, homophobic, misogynistic, ignorant, and at times even hypocritical. However, nothing makes me roll my eyes at times more than Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen), and for the exact reasons they wanted me to be: she was the stereotypical Karen before Karens even became a thing, and here are some of the moments that really stuck with me:
The Neighbors: Remember when she tried sabotaging Ronnie and Amber LaFontaine (Steve Zahn & Andrea Anders) from moving into the house next to the Dunphys? They even tried seducing another couple to move in, which backfired on them as they came across as too needy. Claire has such a privileged mindset at times that she thinks she can bend the rules without consequences. This extends to the episode in which a neighbor across from the Dunphys and the LaFontaines decides to put up a very explicit stature on the front lawn, and they decide to take it upon themselves to vandalize it.
The "STOP" Sign: remember when Claire just started going around to get a stop sign for one of the streets in the neighborhood? She made posters looking for the owner of a car that was way too fast, then decided to run for council when they denied her request for a stop sign. I mean, I understand the reasoning, but do not get the attitude of believing so deeply you are owed everything you want.
Reporting Gloria as "Illegal": in Season 5 Episode 8 "ClosetCon '13," after a series of misunderstandings that lead to a very uncomfortable night, Jay tells Claire he knows she was the one who anonymously tipped immigration on Gloria when they first got together. Her hatred for Gloria and constant alluding to her Gloria being a gold-digger simply out of jealousy just makes me nuts when I see those episodes. Hell, even when she gets so happy at the thought of Gloria getting fat when pregnant just makes me fume.
Going to Alumni Reunion by Herself (Season 4 Episode 16 "Bad Hair Day"): I feel like Phil always gets the short end of the stick, having to answer to many things when Claire constantly fucks up anniversaries, valentines, going to the overly sexual dude, having to escape her life by going to a shooting range and never having to answer for her shortcomings because she is a wife and mom and she is owed… you know… yawn.
And let us not forget her need to always be right, which we get to see she learned from Jay. Two examples that make me roll my eyes: when she got a copy of the supermarket video to prove Phil was the one who pushed her absent-mindedly; and the time she f****d up another kid for Luke to win the "Boner Face Award," which once again backfires on her. She did manage to find a way to blame Jay for her need to be right, never quite taking ownership of her own toxicity.
Let me be clear that this is by no means to be disparaging against Bowen, as she does a fantastic job playing this character in so many awards-worthy ways. I mean, she definitely did it right enough to get me to react or cringe each time Claire goes the extra mile. It is incredible the things you catch when you re-watch a show and wonder how you missed them in the first place, especially through a 2023 lens.