TV sitcom Friends (1994-2004): Powerful subversion against family

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Approximate reading time: 26 min.
 
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Review of the sitcom Friends (1994–2004) of the project What is good.

Sitcom “Friends” is acknowledged to be the best American comedy series in the entire history of American television. It received viewers’ great love, numerous awards and had a huge influence on people and culture all over the world, thanks to charismatic and talented actors, good jokes and stylish film set interior.

However, if we soberly assess the ideas and subtext, promoted by the series, quite a different picture will emerge before us: a shameless propaganda of immoral behavior, imposition of a tolerant attitude towards perversions, exaltation of selfishness and folly, belittling of family values and distortion of social roles of men and women.

The Plot

The sitcom is dedicated to life of six friends, living in New York.

Rachel is a spoiled girl from a wealthy family. In the first episode she runs away from her wedding and moves in with her school friend Monica in order to start leading an independent life. She gets a job as a waitress, but afterwards makes a career in the fashion world. Rachel changes many partners, but one of the main storylines is her relationship with Ross of whom she gives birth to a daughter in season eight.

Ross is Monica’s older brother. He’s been in love with Rachel since high school. In season one his wife leaves him for another woman. Ross was divorced three times; he has two children – with his first wife and with Rachel. He is a respected paleontologist, later he becomes a professor at the university.

Monica is Ross’s younger sister. She works as a chef. Monica was very fat in her childhood, and as an adult, she has lots of obsessions – from striving to be the best always and everywhere to a thing about cleanliness and order. In season seven she marries Chandler.

Chandler has been Ross’s friend since his student days. He’s got an inferiority complex but conceals it under the mask of a joker. His relationships with women are occasional and fleeting except for those with Monica. Chandler makes a successful career in an analytical company, but eventually he quits his job and starts from scratch in advertising.

Phoebe is a strange girl with a complicated family story. For some time she has lived on the street and been engaged in theft. Phoebe works as a masseuse and moonlights by playing the guitar. She used to be Monica’s neighbor.

Joey is Chandler’s roommate. He is a perpetually unemployed actor, poorly educated, just plain stupid. Joey is successful with women, changing them as often as he changes his ties. He also loves to eat.

friends 1 TV sitcom Friends (1994 2004): Powerful subversion against family

Positive messages in the sitcom “Friends”

For objectivity let’s first examine some positive points in this series that attract viewers:

  • Mutual assistance

The sitcom characters often help each other in difficult situations. For instance, Phoebe lends money to an unemployed Monica, so that she could execute the order on organization of a banquet and earn some extra money. When Joey is again out of cash, Chandler gets him a job in his company. Friends support Phoebe, when her grandma died and so on. Despite all the quarrels and fights in their childhood, Ross and Monica, having become adults, have warm and close relationship; they take care of each other. Ross doesn’t like that his parents made him their favourite to the detriment of Monica, so he tries to support her and protect from nagging parents.

  • Desire for independence

Example: Rachel refused a marriage of convenience and her parents’ money so that to start living independently and to achieve something in this life through her own effort. As a result, Rachel’s parents began to respect her and be proud of her. This action is a good example to follow.

  • Sense of purpose

Monica is a vivid example of being a purposeful person. She is a chef; she really loves her profession, strives to be the best in it and dreams of opening her own restaurant. Eventually, she succeeds in reaching her goal.

  • Desire to marry for love, not out of convenience

While Rachel ran away from her unloved but rich fiancé, Monica refused to date Pete, the famous billionaire, since she had no feelings for him. She agreed to become his girlfriend only when she’d felt for him something more than just sympathy.

After introduction to “an attractive wrapper”, let’s move to examining the main meaningful filling of the series.

Belittling and ridiculing of family and motherhood values

Let’s consider how things work in the family of every main character of the sitcom.

Rachel’s parents never loved each other: her mother married her father wishing to secure a comfortable future for herself. They’ve been living in different parts of the house, had little interest in each other, and finally – got divorced. Rachel’s parents insisted that she should repeat their scenario: get married to the best paid doctor, having no concern for love.

Rachel and Ross break up at one moment and get back together at the next throughout all 10 seasons. While drunk, they got married in Las Vegas, then divorced and later, after casual sex, their daughter was born. They decide to live together, but not to be together, and date other people. At the very end of the series, they determine to get back together permanently.

Ross and Monica’s parents gave a strong preference for Ross – their favorite and firstborn. Even in her adult life, Monica has to put up with constant fault-finding from her mother, while all Ross’s failings are being overlooked. For this reason Monica used to be very fat in her school days (replacing lack of love with food), and afterwards – she has acquired lots of things, such as a maniac desire for cleanliness.

In one of the episodes it turns out that Joey’s father has been cheating on his mother for many years. An outraged Joey makes his father break up with the lover, but he faces his mother’s discontent, since she used to manipulate her husband’s sense of guilt. Ultimately, Joey’s father restores relationships with his lover, and Joey accepts this situation the way it is.

Chandler’s parents split up after his mother had explained to her eight-year-old son at the family dinner that his father prefers to have sex with their butler. Chandler’s mother is a writer of erotic novels and she shares the explicit details of her intimate sexual life with the readers. Her behavior and manner of dress embarrass Chandler, but not his friends who admire her. Eventually Chandler accepts his mother’s demeanor and ceases to be embarrassed about her. Chandler’s father is a homosexual transvestite; he makes his living staging a gay-show in Las Vegas. Finally Chandler, at the urging of his fiancée Monica, restores relationships with his father, accepting him “as he is”. At Chandler and Monica’s wedding we can witness an incredible “idyll” – Chandler’s mother is arguing with her ex-husband, who came in the guise of a woman. Later, because of barrenness, Monica and Chandler adopt twins.

friends 2 TV sitcom Friends (1994 2004): Powerful subversion against family

Chandler’s parents at his wedding

Phoebe’s life story is not inferior to all previous ones: her mother committed suicide when Phoebe and her sister Ursula were teenagers. Their father abandoned them since infancy, escaping from unbearable burden of responsibility. Phoebe’s stepfather was imprisoned, and she ended up on the streets, engaging in theft. All of this is a reason for series of never-ending jokes; Phoebe also constantly uses her tragic story in order to play on sympathy and gain an advantage for herself. Later it turns out that Phoebe’s mother isn’t her birth mother, and her birth mother, her father and the woman, she regarded as her mother, were friends in high school and used to engage in group sex regularly.

Phoebe’s relationship with her sister is quite strained, besides Ursula makes her living acting in porn films and she uses her sister’s name as an alias. Phoebe manages to track down her younger stepbrother, who later married his housekeeping teacher twice his age. Because of problems relating to age, the newlyweds ask Phoebe to be a surrogate mother for their children, and she agrees to it.

Conclusion: There’s not one character in the sitcom who would have a normal family.

Since all the examples mentioned above are presented under the guise of humor and careless foolery, the series transmits the following messages: parents always cause emotional pain to their children, injuring their psyche by the selfish behavior (parents = evil); adultery within marriage is possible and even inevitable; surrogate motherhood is as equivalent method to have a baby as traditional one; twisted and traumatic relationships within a family are not only normal, but also provide a great opportunity for jokes; bearing children outside of marriage and their parents’ promiscuous sexual life are acceptable; if the relationship with a husband doesn’t work out, it’s possible simply to get divorced and find a new partner.

Propaganda of a tolerant attitude towards perversions

Propaganda of any perversion and fostering a tolerant attitude towards it primarily occurs in this series according to the following two schemes.

The first scheme: the main character doesn’t like any particular perversion, it makes him feel uneasy, but all the rest don’t share such feelings. His embarrassment and discomfort are ridiculed, and eventually, he accepts this perversion and begins to tolerate it. Thus, two methods of manipulating human behavior are at work here – derision and gregarious instinct (public opinion).

Examples:

  1. Ross’s first wife leaves him for another woman. His friends sympathize and even banter with him, yet no one’s judging his wife for that – neither for desertion nor for homosexuality. This woman herself also doesn’t feel guilty about Ross, though she understands how badly she hurt him. Supposedly, if she had left him for a man, he would have had every right to be angry, but since she left him for a woman, he should treat this with understanding.
  2. His wife learns that she’s pregnant and tells Ross about her desire to raise the child together with her girlfriend, offering him also to be involved in upbringing. Ross is offended by the presence of this lover in his life and he’s mad, because there’s nothing he can do about it. His feelings in this situation are derided; he himself and his response to this situation are the main humorous components. Again, no one, not even Ross, says a word against raising a child by a gay couple.
  3. When the child has grown up, Ross started to worry that his son’s favourite toy was a Barbie doll. But that troubles only Ross, all the rest feel comfortable with that. This is followed by several comedy scenes, where Ross is trying to get the doll away from his son and make him play with toys for boys. The lesbian couple and Ross’s sister take it aggressively, blaming him for fears that the boy might grow up gay because he has two mothers. Ross immediately makes excuses, abandons his attempt to give the boy another toy, and accepts the fact that his son plays with Barbie.

friends 6 TV sitcom Friends (1994 2004): Powerful subversion against family

The second scheme: the main character doesn’t like some perversion; he tries to stop a person, who practices it. But seeing that this person feels sad because he can’t practice his perversion any longer, or because nobody wants to put up with it, the main character feels deep remorse and gives the go-ahead to continue that perversion.

Examples:

  1. Phoebe finds out that her younger stepbrother is planning to marry a woman twice his age, and who by the way is his school teacher. Phoebe tries to persuade this woman to renounce that relationship. When her brother falls into depression after the breakup, Phoebe regrets hurting him and contributes to the couple’s reunion, thus giving them her blessing.
  2. Chandler doesn’t like that his father is a transvestite, that’s why he ends the relationship with him and doesn’t want to see again. But Monica convinces Chandler that his father, despite his perversions, loves him, and he is hurt that they can’t communicate any more. Chandler feels guilty, restores the relationship with his father and even invites him to the wedding.

Apart from these schemes specific to this series, other tactics are used to promote tolerance for perversions, such as:

  1. Constant hints about homosexual relations between the main characters: jokes concerning Chandler’s homosexuality, since he ostensibly looks a bit gay; the male characters’ fantasies about lesbian sex between the female characters; the character’s positive response, if he finds out he is attractive to members of his own sex; jokes, like “If you were homosexual, which of your friends would you prefer to date?” and so on.
  2. Demonstration of comedy episodes with incestic implication: in one of the scenes Ross learns that he kissed Monica at the party by mistake; Rachel used to date a guy, who was inappropriately close with his sister, and so on.
  3. Demonstration of viewing porn films and reading erotic literature as the norm: Chandler’s mother writes erotic novels; Rachel reads erotic novels; Joey and Chandler found a free porn channel and watched it day and night; Monica gave her husband a lesbian porn film as a present for their anniversary.

Propaganda of sex, immoral behavior and open relationships values

Like in any other American sitcom, there is a character in Friends, who isn’t interested in anything but sex – it’s Joey. In order to highlight the domination of his animal nature, the scriptwriters imparted to Joey passion for consuming a huge amount of food, laziness and a low level of intelligence. Interesting that Joey had real feelings for some women, but these relationships ended quickly, often at the initiative of these women. So it’s like the viewers are given to understand that it’s not even worth trying to get into serious relationships with such a “male”.

friends 3 TV sitcom Friends (1994 2004): Powerful subversion against family

Though if we look at the other main characters, they are not so different from Joey: all of them have changed a huge number of sexual partners (including each other), with whom they had largely fleeting affairs. When it comes to sex, the main characters can’t be restrained by any moral standards. Here are some examples:

  • Monica used to date her parents’ friend of similar age as they, and then she kissed his son.
  • Rachel had an affair with her assistant, who was much younger than she.
  • Ross used to date his student, who wasn’t even twenty years old.
  • Rachel used to date the father of that student, Ross once went out with.
  • Ross was dating his ex-girlfriend’s sister.
  • Chandler stole Joey’s girlfriend, while he was cheating on her.
  • Joey began dating Rachel, though she had already borne Ross’s child.
  • Phoebe stole her sister’s boyfriend.

Unfortunately, this list goes on and on.

Distortion of social roles of men and women

Superiority of women over men

It is repeatedly shown superiority of women over spineless male characters. Examples:

  1. Monica, despite her small size and thinness, is capable of beating a man at arm wrestling or her brother in a fight.
  2. Monica’s always pushing her husband Chandler around, who seldom dares to confront her.
  3. Women are artificially shown as those having a higher social status, unlike their partners in relationships: Chandler is very grateful that a woman like Monica agreed to go out with him; Ross is also delighted that Rachel condescended to date him; Rachel had an affair with her assistant.
  4. It was Monica who proposed to Chandler, having even got down on one knee.
friends 7 TV sitcom Friends (1994 2004): Powerful subversion against family

Monica and her husband, whom she dressed up in a pink bunny suit

Effeminate men

None of the main male characters can be called truly manly.

Chandler has got lots of complexes, quite low self-esteem; he’s afraid of serious relationships. He tried to run away, having realized the seriousness of his wedding with Monica. Chandler always does exactly what his wife says and usually crawls to his boss.

Ross also doesn’t have much confidence in himself; he is jealous, sensitive, childish, and often capricious; he can tell of his problems for weeks. He quickly cracks under pressure.

Joey is the one, whom the screenwriters tried to present as the most masculine of all male characters, but of masculinity he’s got only a sexual desire, passion for food and self-confidence without any foundation. He is doing nothing for success in his career, hoping that a major role to just fall down from the sky. He is not able to provide for himself. Joey, in fact, lives off Chandler’s money. He is childish, capricious and often behaves selfishly.

On the other hand, there are many examples of feminine demeanor of the male characters.

friends 4 TV sitcom Friends (1994 2004): Powerful subversion against family friends 5 TV sitcom Friends (1994 2004): Powerful subversion against family

Propaganda of selfishness

Though the title of the sitcom is “Friends”, the main characters often show questionable friendliness to each other: oftentimes they make fun of each other, demonstrate disrespect and pursue only their own personal interests. Let’s consider a few illustrative examples.

  1. Ross was taken to the hospital, and his son is left in Joey and Chandler’s care. They take the child for a walk, meet girls in the bus, get off after the girls to hit on them, but it turns out that they left the child in the bus.
  2. Rachel lives in Monica’s apartment, yet she never does any household chores.
  3. Joey lives financially dependent on Chandler, but he shows no gratitude to his friend for that. Moreover, Joey often makes fun of Chandler because women pay no attention to him. He also regularly steals small bills from Chandler’s trouser pockets.
  4. Phoebe wants to celebrate her wedding in a modest manner and give all the money saved to charity, since she herself used to live on the streets. But in the end, she changes her mind and takes the money back to indulge herself.

This list also can go on and on.

Let’s summarize

This series under the guise of humor and exaltation of the value of friendship promotes to the masses detrimental ideas, which are destructive to human society: tolerance to sexual perversions, promiscuous and selfish behavior, disregard for family and marriage values, distortion of social roles of men and women.

It is important to analyze serials like Friends, since they have an enormous influence on the mentality of young generation: high quality picture, talented, attractive actors and sparkling humor, unfortunately, conceal the disintegration of moral and ethical standards, rejection of centuries-old values and propaganda of sexual promiscuity. It’s hard to find a person, who hasn’t at least heard of this series. Many techniques, plot lines and characters’ personalities have been borrowed by other sitcoms.

Drugs

The characters regularly consume alcohol: an evening with friends often involves drinking beer and other alcoholic beverages. Of all the characters, only Chandler smokes, and his friends urge him to quit this harmful habit, but he, alas, returns to it from time to time.

Sex

This theme is one of the central in the series. The characters constantly change their sexual partners. There’s a positive attitude to various kinds of perversions in this sitcom – from viewing porn films to same-sex relationships and transvestites.

Violence

Absent.

Moral

The sitcom aims to discredit traditional family values, to promote promiscuity and to indulge primitive needs.


Olga Melichova

Translated by Yuliya Kislaya

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