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3:37 pm - Posted by Gregg

Lately, a new favorite pastime of certain organizations, groups, and vocal critics seems to be directing their vitriol at the TV show Friends. And yet repeats of the show have never been more popular—even creating demand for a cast reunion special in 2021 and a current national touring exhibit of popular Friends sets, including Central Perk and Monica’s and Rachel’s apartment.

I acknowledge that during the show’s run from September 22, 1994, to May 6, 2004 (during which it eclipsed any kind of ratings that could be had today via streaming outlets), the series had some very vocal—and somewhat deserved—criticism. Just as most forms of art do. Whether today’s loudest critics want to admit it or not, the TV show Friends is a form of art. Actors. Writers. Directors. Costumers. Set decorators. Crew members. A group of creative people came together to produce (say it aloud with me) entertainment.

As a very overweight, closeted young gay man in the 90s, I sometimes bristled at fat jokes made at the expense of morbidly obese Monica during the show’s flashback sequences. Just as I would cower when seeing scenes depicting characters Joey and Ross losing their minds over being perceived as “gay” after mistakenly falling asleep next to one another.

But you know what? Even through my winces, I was laughing. Because I was seeing aspects of myself on screen. Whether anyone today wants to admit it or not, Ross being married to a lesbian (a storyline played out over the course of the series) was groundbreaking in those days and can even be credited with making the entertainment climate more receptive to shows like Will & Grace and others.

Was Friends’ depiction of certain ideas or situations perfect? No. Could the show have had more regular cast members of different ethnicities and identities? Definitely. But for the time frame, the show ran during, the creatives behind the series were likely doing the best they knew how to.

While it can be helpful, moving forward, to look back and find ways to evolve in all aspects of society, to lay criticism on artists and fans as if we should have been culturally aware of the standards in 2023 during the 1990s is not helpful. Aren’t we all doing the best we know how to—then and now? Instead of lambasting me and other devout fans of Friends or other shows, why not create something yourselves? Something we can love and applaud along with you.

No one has a time machine (trust me, I’d have used it several times by now for all sorts of reasons). We can’t go back and change anything. So to humiliate people for loving something from their past, something that might have given them solace and hope (say, for instance, someone like me—again, a very overweight, closeted young gay man who was told I could not “come out” at work unless I wanted to be fired, and that I would never find romance because of my size) doesn’t manifest positive change. It often creates an atmosphere of guilt, shame, and toxicity.

Friends wasn’t perfect. No form of entertainment is (don’t get me started on the last few seasons of Game of Thrones). But we can celebrate effort. We can celebrate laughter. We can celebrate a weekly experience millions of people share on Thursday evenings. And yes, we can even celebrate creative missteps that might have been made now that we know better. But please, don’t shoot the messengers (in this case, the artists). Or the watchers (in this case, the fans). Your ideas about how things should have been (or, even more ideal, how things can be) might be better served by creating your own forms of art.

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12:23 pm - Posted by Gregg

Whenever Halloween rolls around, I’m reminded of a time in my life when I managed to find some joy — despite weighing nearly 450 pounds. This was a period during which I was pretty miserable. In fact, I was a virtual recluse. Were it not for having to go out to get food from time to time (since not everything I craved could be delivered), I had no life at all. I was sad. I was lonely. And I blamed everyone but myself for my being depressed. Besides bingeing on unhealthy foods, the only thing I lived for was that far away day when I could finally say that I lost all of my excess weight.

Simply put, I was stuck in “Before” and focusing only on the elusive “After.”

Then came one fateful Halloween when my friends Cheryl and Elizabeth insisted that I go out with them to celebrate. They both knew this was a challenge, since they seldom saw me socially (much less saw me outside of my apartment). But these two gals weren’t taking “No” for an answer. Besides knowing that I had a zany side (when I’d allow myself to indulge in it), they also knew I had a pretty strong creative streak — and they were determined to win a costume contest that was being held at the establishment they wanted to spend Halloween at.

Despite my telling them “I didn’t feel like it,” several times in a row, Cheryl and Elizabeth weren’t going to allow me to miss out on this occasion. I protested in every way I knew how to. My biggest argument being that with a size 60-inch waist, there was no way that I was going to find a costume that would fit me. Much less one that I could wear in tandem with their costumes (they were determined to coordinate dressing up in order to arrive wearing a group costume).

Finally, I sarcastically asked, “Well, why don’t I just save us some time and I’ll dress up as (recalling the old TV show) The Love Boat?”

What I thought would shut my friends up (and convince them that I was right in not wanting to celebrate Halloween with them), turned out to thrill and inspire them. “That’s perfect,” they responded with excitement.

I was shocked. Stunned. And (surprisingly!) a little excited myself.

Thus, we went to the nearest craft store so I could whip up my boat-of-a-costume. I also got supplies (and assigned the girls a “Get these things” list) so that Cheryl could dress up as Julie McCoy (The Love Boat’s cruise director, to those in the know) and Elizabeth could dress up as perennial Love Boat guest star, Charo (complete with a circular life preserver around her head that announced her guest appearance). We even hid a small speaker in the “boat” that played The Love Boat theme music. Before long, we had assembled our group costume and were ready to hit the town.

Suddenly I was embracing life and not simply living for the day when I would finally lose all of my excess weight — thinking up to this particular Halloween that only after accomplishing that weight loss goal would life be really worth living.

As people with a dieter’s mentality, we often get too wrapped up in the “After” — thinking that we’re not allowed to be happy, feel love, have fun or even have the occasional cookie until we lose all of the excess weight we want to get rid of. But the fact is, we actually can lose weight faster — and ironically, in a happier fashion — when we embrace today and live life to the fullest.

Life doesn’t have to stop because we’re eating more carrots than chocolate or because we’re not pleased with our current waist size. Living in the now can show us that life is worth living — and even that goals are worth reaching. It then becomes less about “Before” or “After,” and more about “During,” which for us dieter types, can lead to a very good mental mindset to be in: loving ourselves in the moment.

To this day I’m grateful that my friends pushed me into participating in their Halloween plans. It’s with little modesty that I admit we were the hit of the party. We were greeted by laughter and applause by almost everyone we met that night. And lots of strangers wanted pictures of us. Although sadly, we only came in second in the costume contest. That costume standby, “Head on a Platter,” came in first.

But needless to say, I was the one who felt like the real winner that night. And I’m sure that this occasion helped me to gain the necessary self-esteem to eventually win my battle with my bulge (I not only lost over 250 excess pounds, but have kept it off for more than a decade).

Follow my lead, won’t you? I’m giving you permission to feel like a winner, too (no matter what goal you’ve yet to accomplish — and no matter what you’re dressing up as this Halloween). A winner now. In this moment. And always.

Perhaps the lyrics to The Love Boat theme song say it best: “Come aboard. We’re expecting you.”

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