I recently finished watching the TV show Friends. It is a binge-worthy TV show, especially in the middle of a raging pandemic. The TV show offered me a fresh outlook about life.
Life is not about personal achievement or fulfilment alone. You need caring friends who accept your flaws and encourage you in your personal and professional journey. Every character in the show celebrates victories of individuals within the tribe and supports them when things don’t go well. The TV show manages to carry its vibe till the very last episode.
You might ask why I had not watched this show in my college days. Of course, I stumbled upon it and watched a couple of seasons while I was college student. But there were many better options.
That’s a subjective remark. Please control the urge to pounce on me.
I preferred something more exciting and intense. DC++ network in the hostel had spoilt me with too many choices. I might have finished watching the show much earlier. But something discouraged me from doing so.
After I graduated, I read a viral article about the cultural impact of Friends on Medium (How a TV Sitcom Triggered the Downfall of Western Civilization). It sorta convinced me that the show was not worth watching at all. It also created a prejudice against Friends fans as well. The article is quite popular on the internet.
The article convinced me that the show was somehow responsible for the general attitude against intellectuals in the world. Prior biases in my mind made its argument more palatable to me. I have to admit that my general awareness about American politics or social behaviour was very poor when I read the article.
So, I revisited the article after I finished watching all seasons of Friends. I felt that the contents of the article was mostly crap. Let me elaborate.
The author describes the show as : ‘..the story of a family man, a man of science, a genius who fell in with the wrong crowd. He slowly descends into madness and desperation, led by his own egotism. With one mishap after another, he becomes a monster. I’m talking, of course, about Friends and its tragic hero, Ross Geller’.
This is totally wrong. Friends is not the story of a genius who fell in the wrong crowd. It is the story of a diverse crowd of quirky characters. Sure, Ross was the brightest among the lot. But his problems are not caused by other members in ‘the crowd’.
His poor emotional quotient and poor social skills pushed him into a tumultuous relationship drama with Rachel. No sane guy would enter his girlfriend’s office to set up an ‘anniversary dinner’ and embarrass her in front of her colleagues.
The article says many more absurd things. It says: ‘Eventually, the Friends audience — roughly 52.5 million people — turned on Ross. But the characters of the show were pitted against him from the beginning (consider episode 1, when Joey says of Ross: “This guy says hello, I wanna kill myself.”) In fact, any time Ross would say anything — about his interests, his studies, his ideas — whenever he was mid-sentence, one of his “friends” was sure to groan and say how boring Ross was, how stupid it is to be smart, and that nobody cares‘.
Why do I call this absurd? Well, the population of nerds or ‘genius’ kids is always a minuscule percentage of the general population. These genius kids, who stood out from the crowd were being bullied even before the show was aired. People who haven’t seen Friends often indulge in bullying nerds in their classroom or social circle.
Also, the show does not target all its jokes against Ross. Everybody gets mocked for their quirks. Joey is often mocked for being dumb. That doesn’t motivate us to call Friends a show against dyslexic kids.
The author twists Ross’ relationship drama to suit his narrative. He says, ‘And like a Greek tragedy, our hero is caught in a prophecy that cannot be avoided. The show’s producers, akin to the immutable voice of the gods, declared that Ross must end up with Rachel, the one who shops. Honestly, I think he could’ve done better‘.
Of course, everyone in the world can do better. Obama could have married another Nobel Laureate. But love doesn’t work according to an algorithm. It’s quite random and blind to qualifications. So, it’s idiotic to extrapolate your personal judgement into as evidence for a vague theory.
The author of the article claims that 2004 (the year Friends aired its last season) was the beginning of the end. He says : ‘The year 2004 was when we completely gave up and embraced stupidity as a value. Just ask Green Day; their album American Idiot was released in 2004, and it won the Grammy for Best Rock Album. You can’t get more timely. The rejection of Ross marked the moment when much of America groaned, mid-sentence, at the voice of reason‘.
This conclusion is not backed by facts. Why did USA have slavery in 1800s? Why did large section of white population oppose civil rights in 1960s? Was Southern Bible belt of USA so perceptive to science and reason before Friends aired? Obviously no!
Much of the stupidity that was offline came online, thanks to the spread of internet. None of the developments cited by the article were related to the TV show Friends. Who knows? Western civilisation was probably messed up since its inception. The world did not know its idiotic side.
P.S. This post is not meant to convince the world that Friends is an awesome show. It is part of the process to clear out some wrong thoughts that had seeped into my psyche. If someone has prejudices that I have, they would probably stumble upon this post and find an alternative perspective.