What ho wee readers, my family binged watch Modern Family during Scotland’s Lockdown. And for those of you who don’t know what that is, I’ll wait a few seconds for you to go and look it up…you good? Good, on with show…or, err post.
When the show first began Haley Dunphy was not well liked as a character – with many labelling her as selfish, spoiled and narcissistic. Now I’m not going to sit here and defend early Haley by trying to claim she wasn’t that, because she was, she was absolutely all those things. Although I do find it interesting that Haley was absolutely hated for her teenage narcissism, while characters like say Claire Dunphy – which I would argue displayed a much more developed and harmful form of narcissism, were loved. None of the characters of Modern Family are perfect, or even consistently nice people, because let’s face it that would be very boring to watch. We may applaud a consistently moral character’s good point, but more often than not seeing a messier character, overcoming their flawed nature just makes for the better tv.
Which we might say brings us to post-college Haley; after being kicked out of college due to getting busted for underage drinking, Haley Dunphy took tumble from her lofty perch. She was suddenly living back home with a family that weren’t shy about telling her how disappointed they were; and was also stuck doing community service for accidently assaulting a police office. Basically, she was considered the loser of the family. While these new circumstances are awful, they did serve to make her more sympathetic to the viewer, couple that with a new slightly (and I do say slightly) humbler and more hard-working attitude and a new relationship with break out character Andy Bailey and people were starting to warm up to her. She was a character that maybe even someone could look up to.
And then she took a backslide.
I think most fans can agree on that at least, she did regress – what we may disagree on is the when and why she took a backslide. For instance, I can tell you that Haley Dunphy’s character development was stalled very briefly, after the writers made her loose the jo, she’d worked so hard for during her relationship with Andy. And I say ‘the writers made her loose the job’ rather than just ‘she lost the job’ because it was very clear narratively why she lost that job. So that the writers could make jokes about her immaturity; note how unhealthy her phone use was despite the fact that every big job she’s ever had has needed her to be social media savvy. Oh, and most importantly, so Luke could give her a big speech about how the job she had now, working with him at their Grandfather’s club was a real job with a future. None of these plot elements were put there for Haley’s benefit, and thus for a very brief time she regressed to the joke the rest of the Dunphy’s saw her as. Whiney, lazy, and completely incompetent in every aspect of her life. I mean I don’t want to be cruel to someone else’s humour, but some of these jokes didn’t even make sense for pre-college dropout Haley. Like when she gets stuck outside because she forgot/lost her keys, and we hear her whining and crying from the front garden to be let in; which she is not, because the Dunphy Parents have decided to just leave her out there all night. An act that seems heartlessly cruel from whatever angle you approach it; but which fits the joke, that Haley needs to be treated like a baby learning to self sooth, perfectly.
My problem isn’t that this makes Claire and Phil look like terrible people, because that fits with what we’ve seen of their characters. No, my problem is that for no other reason, than to fulfil that punchline would Haley behave like this. She would not have stayed outside all night, she would have snuck in the house, climbed up a drain pipe, through a window and she would have done it all without waking her parents. A character was derailed for a single punchline.
However, I would argue she did bounce back from this characterisation slump – and was able to move on and peruse career opportunities that made sense for her as a person, become attached to new romantic entanglements that fulfilled her on a personal level, and overall, become the rounded, funny character that we all knew she could be. Finally ending her eleven-season character growth in a fulfilling job, a loving relationship and as mother to twins.
However, and I was slightly shocked to find this out – quite a few people disagreed with this particular interpretation. No, you see clearly Haley backslid when she got back together with Dylan for the second time, married him and had his babies. I’d try to explain it further than that but I don’t think I quite follow it. I assume it comes from the idea that a relationship with Andy was a instigation for Haley’s positive character growth; a notion I find slightly absurd because while he did support her (like any good friend/boyfriend should) it was Haley who made the choice to peruse that job, or decide to cut down on the partying, or be a nicer person. All of these were choices Haley made, Andy didn’t change her, she changed herself.
Of course, if you, as a Wee Reader, belive that Dylan was detrimental for Haley’s likeability and growth – and suddenly hate him for that – please tell me why in the comments below, I’d loved to understand this point of view. Given the major, academic sounding rant I’m about to go on, I likely won’t agree with you but it’s good to here and understand other points of view regardless.
Okay on with the rant.
First let’s put aside the fact that implying Haley lost all her character development when she got back together with Dylan is ridiculous – considering just how mean she was in the early seasons. And focus instead on the source of the conflict: Haley’s relationships.
Haley had about four major relationships during the course of Modern Family
- Andy Bailey
- Captain Mal (I’ve forgot his character’s name)
- Alex’s professor (I’ve also forgotten his name)
Five of them if you count her formative relationship with her parents. I’m not going to go over the last two in any detail, mostly because they seemed to be forgotten in the great Dylan vs Andy debate. And since I’m already a thousand words in and just getting to the premise now, we might as well start.
Formative Relationship: Phil and Claire Dunphy
Phil and Claire Dunphy seem to be well liked in the Modern Family fandom – particularly Phil – and I have never entirely understood this. They’re both just awful people, which yes, everyone is on Modern Family, that’s kind of the joke, but we seem as fandom community somewhat more deliberately blind to the faults of these two. Particularly Phil. Something that I’ve always found stranger, because both of the other main couples are more heartfelt in their loving moments, and funnier in their arguments. Phil and Claire are just mean and dumb, but I understand that’s a personal oppion and not completely relevant to my argument.
Rather let’s take a step back and look at the Dunphy’s not as their own characters, but rather how they work as a collective parental unit. For starters, they enforce the belief that their daughter is stupid, having referred to her as their stupidest child – a fact that even in her earlier appearances is shown not to be true. Neither Haley nor her brother Luke are actually as stupid as their father, they just don’t use their intelligence for anything academic.
This attitude becomes particularly interesting in the episode ‘En Garde’ where out of pride for Manny’s fencing, Jay says ‘It’s really great to have a kid that’s the best at something’. And this makes the Dunphy parents self-concise because none of their kids are the best at something.
At home they comfort themselves that Alex is so smart, she’ll find her specialty soon enough, and Haley…award silence…well, Haley’s so beautiful she can marry someone who’s the best at something. And there we have it – Haley’s worth as a person in her parents’ eyes has been innately entangled with what kind of man she ends up.
First Relationship: Dylan, First and Second Time
There’s really not that much to say about Haley and Dylan’s first and second bouts of relationships with each other. They were fine, in fact I’d even say they were better than fine. Dylan was a sweet, kind, incredibly good-looking boy who genuinely loved and treasured Haley. And Haley, didn’t really treat him well…but this was mostly before her character development and she didn’t really treat anyone well.
They broke up and got back to together a lot, but that’s nothing unusual.
What’s more interesting however, is Claire’s reaction to Haley and Dylan’s relationship. At every opportunity, she starts pushing her daughter away from her sweet, musician boyfriend. For instance, when Haley starts cheating on Dylan with her tutor, Claire tells her to break up with Dylan; making it clear that the other boy is superior to Dylan because he is so much smarter. If Haley is too dumb (read not academically inclined) enough to earn her mother’s love than at the very least she can marry a man who is. Sometimes it even feels like she’d prefer Haley to be miserable rather than date Dylan.
Second Relationship: Andy Bailey
I don’t like Andy; we need to get that out of the way. I find him annoying, self-righteous, and (though it’s a personal preference) not that attractive. I also find it more than a little creepy, just how like Phil he actually is. I mean the show implied that Dylan was a bit similar to Phil Dunphy as well, but only in his intelligence and the antagonistic feelings one of his girlfriend’s parents felt towards him. Andy on the other hand, may as well have been a clone of the Dunphy patriarch – as far as personality, moral beliefs, speech and career was concerned.
Also, I do find it a little bizarre that this relationship that everyone touts as the thing that redeemed Haley began as an affair. Not an emotional affair, an actually real, sleeping with someone else affair. Of course, the writers had been sure to show us that Beth was a psycho and therefore, the audience could comfortably ship Haley and Andy without all that pesky guilt for the unwilling member of their threesome. But think about this, yes, the audience and Haley know that Beth is a ‘psycho’, but Andy doesn’t. As far as his character motivation is concerned, he is cheating on his sweet, loving, very faithful fiancé. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, that is the reality he starts sleeping with Hailey in.
That being said, even I can see that for the most part the relationship isn’t awful. They encourage each other, they enjoy each other’s company and had the actor not left to pursue a career in film, ending up as Mrs. Haley Bailey, wouldn’t have been the worst fate.
However, what I find most interesting about the relationship is once again, Claire’s reaction to it. While the idea of Haley and Andy being an item is still a possibility, she seems ambivalent to it, downright disapproving, even before she learns of Beth’s existence. But as soon as Dylan is back in the picture, she starts pushing Haley towards Andy. Never mind that he is engaged now, and even Haley herself had believed that meant nothing could happen between them.
Honestly, I’m going to skip Captain Mal, as not only do I not remember his real character’s name, but other than some brief conflict with Phil there’s nothing much his relationship with Haley adds to my argument.
Fourth Relationship: Alex’s Professor
This relationship is certainly not a bad, or even a mildly unpleasant one – Haley interrupts his class while she’s trying to talk to Alex, and after she talks back to him when he admonishers the sisters, he decides that one day he and Haley are going to marry. They get off to a bit of a rocky start, mostly due to Haley’s own insecurity about her intelligence – bang up job there Phil and Claire. But for the most part their relationship is fine. I’d even go so far to say that it’s fairly loving.
The really interesting bit about this relationship, is once again the reaction of Hailey’s parents – namely they fall over themselves trying to impress him. Trying to say smart and insightful things. Highlight interestingly enough their own insecurities with their intelligence. Because although they’ve spent the majority of the show putting Haley down for her lack of ‘traditional’ intelligence, deep down they know they are the stupid ones.
Perhaps that’s why Claire works so hard to keep Haley with the professor, instead of who she actually belongs with.
Final Relationship: Dylan, for the long time.
“If you’re so busy thinking how lucky you are, then you’re not thinking how happy you are,’ – Dylan
I’ll be honest with you here; Dylan is my favorite character in Modern Family. He’s the kindest out of not only the line-up of Haley’s boyfriends, but the whole cast. And unlike almost every other character in the later seasons, he didn’t turn utterly horrible for shits and giggles. However, my conclusion that he is the best one for Haley, doesn’t come from that – it comes from the fact that number one, he clearly loves her unconditionally, and number two, unlike other supposedly ‘nice’ guys in her life, he’ll never treat her badly, and cover it up with a goofy laugh.
What do I mean?
Well, Modern Family has always been very explicit that Haley’s two major relationships have been with men that resemble her father in some way. Dylan has the same low I.Q. as Phil – though considering he’s very affectively learning to be a nurse; it can’t be quite as low as the show implies. While Andy has his goofiness and old-fashioned sensibilities. However, what Andy also has is Phil’s ability to put his partner down – we don’t see it a lot, but it’s there, and under the pressure of a long-term relationship, raising at least two children and Claire Dunphy as a mother-in-law, I promise you that nasty little side of his would have come out more and more.
Don’t belive me? Remember that little jab in the episode when the family finds out that Haley and Andy were having an affair? You know after Haley expresses her fear about being found out and Andy explains he doesn’t want to be found out either because….
‘I still have their respect.’
Why do people like this guy so much?
Ultimately the fact that Haley ends up not only falling back in love with Dylan at the end of the show, but actively chooses to go back to him over a guy Claire would have preferred – the professor – is evidence that she’s finally grown beyond the narcissistic example that her parents set for her. This notion that academic achievement, or “high” intelligence is the only thing that can make a person worthy, either for love or in other ways, is a childish fantasy we must all grow beyond.
But that’s just what I think, if you see the Dylan and Haley relationship a different way let me know down below in the comments, it’s why I have them in the first place.
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