Why ‘Friends’ is Problematic

Friends: arguably the most popular American sitcom in the late 90’s and early 2000’s before it got cancelled in 2004. Many people all over the world have many fond memories following and growing up with the six characters in New York City, Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Joey, and Ross, as they indulge in adventures which make their lives both troubling and happening. The show is so popular that there is even a Central Perk in Singapore, the main coffee shop setting which the friends regularly hang out at in the show. In recent years, people have rewatched the show and has been mostly well-received in the 21st century, however, there are some people who didn’t have many good things to say about the show. 

Times have changed quite drastically since the show first aired and attitudes towards certain social issues today have, consequently, changed as well. In this article, I will be addressing specific issues I personally found with the show.

The One Fat Shaming Monica

“[The show was] entertaining but I feel bad enjoying it when it uses…overweight people for laughs.”

Anonymous

The classic sitcom has all the stereotypical characters, and Friends is the perfect subject for these characters: the wisecracker (Chandler), the charmer (Joey), the dork (Ross), and many others that have constantly been reused over the years. If you have watched the show you may have noticed right off the bat that Monica is the Type A control freak. She is known by the other characters as competitive, bossy and having an unhealthy obsession with cleanliness and orderliness: all of her characteristics gradually inflate as the show goes on. Along with her being the representative archetype of the neat freak, she is also the representative of the fat person in the show as well.

Depiction of ‘Fat Monica’

If you have not watched Friends, the show occasionally flashes back to high school Monica, which depicts her as obese. The show severely digs into the fact that she is overweight and consequently a ‘loser’ because of it. Throughout the show, she is seen licking powdered sugar off her fingers, stuffing her face with chocolate, and generally portrayed as being socially awkward (i.e. when talking to men).

Her character’s seemingly only purpose on the show is to be used as comic relief for the audience laugh at instead of with. The friends constantly make fun of her past, never letting her forget that she used to be ‘Fat Monica’. There are many instances during the show when her older brother Ross recounts childhood memories for the sole purpose to make fun of her along with the others.

In one episode, “The One With All the Thanksgivings,” college-aged Chandler meets Monica for the first time. As Monica starts to develop a crush on him, she overhears Chandler making fun of her and being disgusted by her weight. As a result of this, she decides to take ‘revenge’ on him by losing her weight by the following year, and suddenly, the veil had been lifted! Chandler finally saw her as just ‘Monica’ and not a fat child.

This show sends the message to young girls and women who watch the show that you can only discover or have self-worth once you fit society’s ideal vision of what a woman should look like.

The One With Inappropriate Behavior

Image result for joey
Joey and Phoebe in episode, The One with the Two Parts

Many aspects of society’s social norms have drastically changed in recent years concerning gender norms, the Me Too movement, and personal identity. Society today is far more open-minded than ever before. Because of this, media has drastically changed as well. As a result of this, some media in the past has grown outdated and, frankly, inappropriate in the eyes of the public. I asked fellow students at SAS their opinion on the show and what their biggest problems with it were. Most of the people that responded had many issues with the use of “gay, trans, and overweight people,” for comical value.

The numerous jokes about Ross’ ex-wife’s lesbian relationship, Chandler’s [transgender father], and Joey’s constant inappropriate behavior with many of the women in the show have been very off-putting to most people who watch the show today.

All The Ones With Ross

Ross Geller in an episode of Friends

Ross. There is no other character in television history that gets on so many people’s nerves than Ross. There are an endless list of things not to like about Ross: he is homophobic, uncomfortable in his own masculinity, possessive, manipulative, and has numerous other negative qualities that force many critics to deem him the worst thing that ever happened to Friends.

Many of his qualities that I previously listed have been represented throughout the duration of his romantic relationship with one of the leading female characters, Rachel Green.

In the many episodes taking place during Ross and Rachel’s relationship, he is very ‘overprotective’ of Rachel, to the point of controlling. Their relationship over the show serves as a model for how relationships shouldn’t be, and most of the issues with their relationship stems from Ross.

In the show, he often trivialized her passions and made their relationship so much more complicated than it needed to be in general by fighting, jealousy, possessiveness, and drama.

The One With the Conclusion

With the fairly recent news of a Friends reunion show with the original cast, many fans of the show have been rewatching it. However, it is likely that they will find issues with the show that had previously gone unnoticed the first time they watched it.

There are many issues with the show, however, we must all consider the circumstances and the time this show was filmed. During the mid 90’s to early 2000’s, there was a very different perception and attitude towards the issues that I had previously mentioned. For instance, transgender people; in the 90’s transgender people were widely discriminated everywhere whether it be at a music festival or within their own families. Although discrimination against transgender people is still present today, it is not as widely broadcasted and used as comedy.

If you haven’t watched the show and have read this article but intend on watching Friends, I advise you to watch it with the understanding that this show was filmed in a very different time and to take some things in the show with a grain of salt.

Author: Natacia Roach

Natacia is currently a sophomore, and this is her first year as a reporter for The Eye. She is from the U.S. and Malaysia, but has lived in Singapore for almost 13 years. When Natacia isn't stressing about homework she forgot to do, she can be found watching food videos and old barbie movies (usually Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus). Even though she takes naps five times a day, she can be contacted at roach49367@sas.edu.sg

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