Pop Culture Rewind: Friends

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Words || Ky Stewart

I am just going to say it. I have never been a Friends fan. I know it is probably shocking to you and the rest of the modern world and trust me, I have received enough criticism to understand how deeply loved this show is. But alas, here I am making my distaste of Friends public. 

My surface level issues with Friends are that I never understood the humour, and nothing about it really appealed to me. I was also raised on Seinfeld, which definitely has its own issues. I was always shocked at how many people scoffed at me or looked at me wide-eyed when I told them I don’t like Friends and that I have watched a grand total of 5 episodes. I started to think I was the one with the problem and I should give the show a chance. 

So, I gave it a chance. I watched all of Friends. It was no easy task so I will hold for applause. Thank you, it was really hard for me and may I say, I’m glad I was never a fan. 

If I were an impressionable youngster watching this show I would think that having a different body shape was unattractive, that toxic masculinity was a viable excuse for poor behaviour, having a parental figure be part of the LGBTQ+ community is something to be ashamed of, and that the world around me consists of only white people (bar two side characters). But I am not an impressionable youngster and I am mature enough to understand the deeply problematic nature of Friends and pull it into question. 

Let’s start with the rampant homophobia and transphobia present in the show shall we? Friends could have broken ground in being a positive LGBTQ+ show that challenges the opinions of the day and been one of the first mainstream TV shows to accurately portray people from the queer community properly. Instead they resorted to cheap gay panic jokes and constantly having gay, lesbian and transgender people be the butt-end of comedy. 

Throughout the show’s seasons, there is a consistent theme of homophobia mixing with toxic masculinity which we all know is a dangerous cocktail. Having Chandler’s father Charles be a beautiful drag queen could have allowed the show to embrace different gender identities and expressions. The writers instead chose to have other characters poke at the fact that Chandler’s father is a drag queen and is probably a gay or bisexual person. Chandler’s own internal homophobia radiates after learning about his father because he fears that people will now think he is gay, which makes absolutely no sense at all. 

They also take cheap shots at Ross’ ex-wife who is lesbian while Ross is thrown into a head spin after seeing his son playing with a Barbie doll. The possibility of the fact that maybe Ben just wants to play with a Barbie doll is so abhorrent to Ross that he conjures the idea that it is the fault of his lesbian ex-wife and her partner, which again, makes no sense at all. 

The problems don’t stop there but I really wish they did. On top of the explicit homophobia and transphobia, the cast is completely white. Like, not one of the main characters is of colour. In fact, there are only two notable non-white characters on the show, one being Ross’ girlfriend Julie and Dr Charlie. This is highly damaging as not only does it prevent non-white people from seeing themselves in the show, but it also perpetuates the notion that the world is white focused. 

Saying that Friends was just a product of its time is incredibly problematic as most of our generation and the one above us religiously watched Friends and so these dominant themes and ideas are woven into the fabric of our already ignorant society. Having such a popular show be filled with so many insensitive and damaging themes and jokes is not going to cut it anymore. It is 2020, maybe it is time to leave Friends in 2004.