Posts Tagged ‘wokeness’

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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