Friday, April 15, 2016

In Defense of "F.R.I.E.N.D.S."

This article has been making its way around social media, and I, being an avid Friends fan, was very intrigued to read this particular (and rather apocalyptic) interpretation of the show. If you're not interested in reading it, this is an abstract of the article:

Friends, author David Hopkins argues, is a Greek tragedy wherein Ross Gellar, family man, professor of paleontology, and all around decent human being, is doomed to an Oedipal existence in which his closest companions actively seek to thwart his intelligence and eventually create a person as simple as they are. By doing so, the show subliminally encourages us to the do the same.

Where I think Hopkins is hitting the nail on the head: Ross' job is regularly looked down upon. Whenever Ross talks about dinosaurs, his friends pretend to fall asleep, roll their eyes, or groan. The only character who seems to care about Ross' career is his short-lived girlfriend, Mona, who is very interested in his doctoral dissertation. I have often imagined that, if I were friends with them, I would be interested in Ross' career and he and I would talk about literature and science.

Hopkins mentions that the laugh track in the show limits our own ability to determine what's funny. While I agree with this wholeheartedly, Friends was not the first show - nor was it the last - to utilize the canned laughter and choreograph our responses.

Ross certainly does have a tragic hangup on Rachel. The causes are numerous and speculative, as nothing is directly stated, but certainly Rachel represents for him a teenage ambition to be noticed and loved by someone popular; this is perhaps an opposites attract situation; Ross ultimately sees in Rachel something good and worthy to be loved.

Where I think he's missing the point: Ross isn't the only intelligent one, even though he's the only one mentioned to have an advanced degree. Chandler, for example, is incredibly witty and shows
above average grasps of language and language manipulation by virtue of his jokes and sarcastic asides. In fact, Hopkins clearly hasn't made it all the way through the show because he is grossly oversimplifying the characters. He calls Joey "the goofball," Phoebe "the hippy," Monica "obsessive-compulsive," Chandler "sarcastic," and Rachel, "the one who shops." Although none of this is out and out wrong, it is, as I said, too general to be fully accurate.

Joey is the goofball and arguably of the lowest academic intelligence on the show. However, he possesses a more innate interpersonal intelligence and is one of the most loyal characters on the show. Phoebe is sort of a hippy, I would state that she's more a free spirit, equipped with street smarts and strong convictions. Monica is a bit OCD, but she's a very talented chef, a motivated individual, and fiercely competitive. Saying Rachel is "the one who shops" neglects the growth she makes throughout this show. Initially, she is a spoiled, daddy's girl who relies on her parents' money, but - albeit with a lot of luck and help - she climbs the career ladder and becomes a head buyer with a multi-national fashion company. Whether or not we like fashion, it's hard to argue that Rachel didn't grow to do well for herself.

While he doesn't directly assert that Friends is responsible for the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004, Hopkins heavily implies it, as well as implying that the majority of stupid things happening in America now (from social media politics to Donald Trump) are the direct result of Friends having been on the air.

TV shows, by virtue of being TV shows, tend to lack intellectualism. We, the audience, are not forced to think, imagine images, or connect any dots for ourselves. Suggesting that Friends is the reason Kanye West thinks he can run for president when many other shows perpetuate similar stereotypes against intellectual people is unfair, unfounded, and, in my personal opinion, unjust to this show that, at its heart, valued loyalty about all else.

1 comment:

  1. I think that he is most definitely taking things a wee bit too far :)