Of all the early American sitcoms, Friends is possibly the best remembered. Launched in September 1994, it aired for ten seasons until May 2004. And although it wasn’t made for my generation, I love it!
Netflix has just released the whole ten seasons, which have attracted a lot of criticism. The net is full of negative comments: about the sexism in the show; the body shaming; the homophobia; and even the transphobia!
I think it’s to be celebrated that we now have a generation that is so aware of social sensibilities that it is willing not only to complain, but also to demonstrate against what it sees as prejudice of any kind. But isn’t it also important that when we criticise we also contextualise? And as a polyamorous, bisexual, feminist woman who does not eat meat, I find Friends amazing!
It’s worth remembering that we are talking about a sitcom that arrived in the 90s. And yet in it we have: a lesbian couple, and a child with two mothers and a father. There’s also a single woman who decides to go to a sperm bank to get pregnant – instead of finding a partner. In another episode two mothers let the son choose the toy he wants to play with, and he picks a Barbie.
We are talking about a show that includes a vegetarian woman who explores fetishes, and a male character who wants to kiss another man just to see how it compares to kissing a woman. This was also a TV show that was responsible enough to promote protected sex. In one episode two of the female housemates have to play rock-paper-scissors to decide who gets the one condom that they have between them, as the winner is the only one who will have sex that night.
Now and then we hear comments that we would never make nowadays, particularly concerning the body shaming of Monica-as-she-once-was. I’m happy that comments like that would not be made today. But this show was made a long time ago, when the social context was different, and in my opinion people need to understand this.
Instead of criticising Friends for the moments when its values seem out of date, we should congratulate it for occasionally being so ahead of its time. Several times while watching it I’ve been surprised to find it addressing issues that are still controversial today.
And importantly it makes me laugh! I also enjoy the way that through watching it I feel a little closer to what television must have been like in the past. And those moments that make me go “ouch” don’t make me want to hit the internet with some self-righteous criticism. They just make me want to stop for a moment and think about the way the world has changed.