The One Where Six Cis, Able-Bodied, Straight, White People Drink Coffee... Again
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The One Where Six Cis, Able-Bodied, Straight, White People Drink Coffee... Again

Is Friends really as problematic as people say it is?

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The One Where Six Cis, Able-Bodied, Straight, White People Drink Coffee... Again

Before I try and argue the impossible, I want to make my bias clear. I grew up watching friends and I didn't have a full awareness of nuanced problems like racism, sexism, and homophobia. So, I missed a lot of the problems that were in the 90's sitcom the first time I watched it. Plus, it's incredibly nostalgic to me, which makes me more inclined to forgive their sins. However, all of this being said, I really believe Friends gets a worse rep than it deserves.

But before we get into that, let me make one other thing clear. It is problematic at times, and we won't be excusing some of the decisions that the creators and writers made. For instance, Chandler does not respect his father's identity as a trans woman, and there is ample transphobic humor, as well as a mixup between the cis drag community and the trans community. None of that is acceptable and I won't be excusing it.

Alright, let's get into it.

1. Lack of representation.

This is true. The main characters are all white, just like many of its other cohorts of that era. Considering that I am an Asian actress, representation in Hollywood is very important to me and it really sucks that it's only beginning to be addressed. However, although Friends settled for what was the norm of the time in this aspect, they did take some bigger steps in the casting of secondary characters.

The two I want to touch on specifically are the Asian and black love interests. During this time, Asians were often being fetishized and treated as exotic, both of which are still true. The show actively avoided both of these stereotypes. There is nothing "foreign" or "exotic" about Ross's girlfriend Julie. In fact, the show even makes a joke about people who assume Asian people are all foreign and Julie gets to speak back as the American that she is and completely embarrasses Rachel. In terms of black love interests, we weren't seeing a lot of those during this time. Black women were being either overly sexualized or completely ignored and off of the top of my head, I know Friends gave us at least two that defied these stereotypes. One of which had a black actress standing up Ross and Joey and walk away as an independent woman. The other had a black actress as an incredibly intelligent professor that Ross and Joey were pining after.

Nowadays, this is what is expected. Women of color are independent, strong, sexy, and intelligent and should be represented as such. We don't want to see stereotypes - we want to see people of color being fleshed out and DEFYING these stereotypes. But back then, besides the FEW shows that were KILLING IT and were primarily people of color, it wasn't really being addressed. So, yes. Friends kept actors of color in secondary roles, which is terrible. But in these roles, they were cast OFTEN and every time, their ethnicity was never awkwardly pointed out nor were they stereotypes or the butt of the joke. And that's something shows 20 years later can't even get right.

2. Ross Geller in his entirety.

Everybody hates Ross. He's a walking image of toxic masculinity and misogyny. AND Joey and Chandler often make fun of him whenever he shows these signs of "weakness", which just bolsters the toxic masculinity even more. Definitely not great. But at the same time, much of his toxic behavior is addressed by the women in the cast. His behavior is also described by the characters as annoying and isn't glamorized. For instance, there's a whole plot line dedicated to Monica and Rachel getting mad at him for not wanting his son to play with a doll. And when Ross suggests that Rachel can't have a baby on her own, she is quick to snap back and correct him.

Ross can also be quite jealous - not a great character trait. However, I actually enjoyed seeing the "man" on the show displaying the characteristics that are often used as stereotypes against women. Rachel got to be career focused and Ross had to be the one portrayed as jealous and obsessive. I quite liked the role reversal.

3. Rachel "gives up her career" for Ross.

I know we don't love Ross. But I don't think she's giving up her whole career for him. First off, them getting together is inevitable. It's the on again off again relationship in the sitcom that finally gets it right in the finale. It's the plot of COUNTLESS shows. Friends is no different.

Plus, Rachel is BOTH a determined, capable woman AND a romantic. Throughout the ten seasons, she pursues her work and her love life with an extreme passion - even if she can't guarantee a good outcome. She makes rash decisions to follow her heart in both avenues. So when she decided to get off the plane, yes I saw it coming, but it also didn't seem out of character. I can easily see her continuing on her path of pursuing everything she loves with her idealistic spirit and her ambition backing her up.

4. Homophobia.

This one's hard. There is quite a bit of homophobia in this show ranging from transphobia with Chandler's dad and the constant jokes about Chandler potentially being gay. And I'm not going to make any excuses for it.

I just want to point out the importance of Carol and Susan's relationship. It was an incredibly important relationship in pop culture for seeing a gay relationship on screen in a non-tragic and mostly non-sexual way. Yes, it made Ross uncomfortable, but we've already talked about how Ross's behavior is often called out by the other characters. And yes, there were unfortunate comments that sexualized their relationship, which was not okay in the slightest. But that was a very small percentage of this relationship. The vast majority of what we saw were two women openly and deeply in love, with a strong commitment to becoming and raising a family. Again, it doesn't excuse the rest of the show, but in 1994 that relationship was a big deal and it mattered.

So I think Friends was both. I think it was problematic and an unfortunate product of the times and we should be addressing all of those things. But I also think it went against the grain in important ways. It worked against stereotypes about race and sexuality and really showed women as being strong and empowered. And honestly, I enjoy watching it because it reminds me of my childhood and makes me really happy. And that's okay too.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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