Friends is Pretty Problematic—What Should We Do About It?
Who doesn’t love unwinding with a glass of wine and a few episodes of Friends? I sure do. Hell, if I’m being honest, my relationship with the sitcom goes much deeper than casual viewing. One might say I’m quoting-every-line, saying-the-punchline-along-with-the-character, fall-asleep-to-it-every-night obsessed.
But my obsession doesn’t spare me from the cringe-worthy moments that riddle the show.
Friends has A LOT of issues.
The One Where Monica is Fat Shamed
One of the biggest running jokes in Friends is fat shaming Monica. Yes, she was overweight when she was younger, but that doesn’t make all the relentless and offensive punchlines okay. And it definitely doesn’t make the “Fat Monica dancing” clips funny.
The One Where the Guys are Teased for Being “Feminine”
There are entire episodes dedicated to teasing the guys for being too “girly” or liking “feminine things.” Joey’s shoulder bag? Opens him up to vicious teasing. Chandler’s eyebrow plucking skill? Something to be ashamed of. Ross’s moisturizing face mask? So feminine it needs to be hidden. The show even has a plot line in which Ross tries to stop his young son from playing with a Barbie doll. What’s so wrong with men wearing purses, putting on makeup, or playing with dolls?
The One Where Chandler Interacts with His Dad
There’s an underlying homophobic and transphobic tone throughout the entire show, but it’s never more evident than when Chandler talks about or interacts with his dad, a transgender Vegas drag queen. He makes it very clear that he’s horrified and deeply ashamed of his dad with constant mocking jokes. The rest of the gang isn’t much better either, treating her as a punchline and never using her preferred pronouns.
The One Where Being Gay is a Bad Thing
Friends has many episodes where the men are terrified of being perceived as gay. There are even a few where the ladies work hard to distance themselves from being lesbian. The show makes being gay out to be a terrible, shameful thing that’s to be avoided at all costs.
The One Where There Were Only Two People of Color
There was practically no diversity in Friends. There were only two supporting characters of color in the show’s ten year run – Julie, Ross’s Asian girlfriend, and Dr. Charlie Wheeler, a black paleontologist. I’ll say it again, two people of color in 10 years.
What do we do about it?
Disown the show forever? Burn our DVD box sets? Shut down our fan pages? Cancel the themed trivia nights?!
Some might say yes. But I’m not so sure.
Friends wasn’t made in our modern woke world. It started almost 25 years ago when things were suuuuper different. It’s not productive to hold any art from a past era to modern standards. Frankly, it’s hypocritical to reprimand the show for failing to adhere to norms and expectations that literally didn’t exist when it was made.
We could even view the show’s problems as positives because they start conversations, teach lessons, and inspire us to be better. Friends can make issues from body shaming to diversity approachable, opening doors for people to learn from the gang’s mistakes and work towards a better world.
Instead of cancelling Friends, let it serve as an example: Don’t body shame. Let people express themselves however they wish. Be inclusive of all gender and sexual identities. Celebrate and promote diversity.
We can enjoy the show while recognizing and celebrating it as an example of how far we’ve come and how much further we can go.