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editorial

Sofia Vergara’s meta joke unmasks a real issue

Actress Sophia Vergara at the Emmys on Monday.

Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Actress Sophia Vergara at the Emmys on Monday.

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Sofia Vergara’s role in an odd sketch at the Emmys Monday invited many interpretations — the most charitable of which is that the TV industry understands how much it still relies on stereotypes and sexist jokes. During the awards show, the “Modern Family” star came onstage with Television Academy chairman Bruce Rosenblum, who guided her to a pedestal as he launched into a boilerplate speech. “Our academy is more diverse than ever before,” he intoned, “both in front of and behind the camera, resulting in a greater diversity of storytelling.” All the while, the pedestal rotated with Vergara’s curvy body, in form-fitting gown, on full display. The message that viewers might draw — what entertainment executives say about diversity is not what they do — was all the more striking because of who Vergara is: a Colombian-born actress portraying a saucy, proudly voluptuous Latina second wife on TV. But many viewers took the skit as straight-up misogyny, and questioned whether Vergara was cluelessly letting herself be used. At the very least, the fierce reaction showed that laughing about a problem isn’t the same as solving it. Making layered, self-referential jokes about an issue is easy — especially for TV writers. Presenting the country’s diversity in a humanizing way is a lot harder.

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