As humans, we are inherently vulnerable, some more so than others. This vulnerability manifests itself through our ability to absorb rhetoric, mannerisms and ideas from our environments and the people whom we surround ourselves with. We are easily influenced by multiple agencies, and this can prove to be problematic.
The media is arguably the biggest influence when it comes to the human condition. Social media itself is powerful in the sense that we ourselves create a discourse that is moulded to reflect our own mentalities. There is no regard for other perspectives and this allows for us to further explore ourselves as individuals and our place in the world. Yet, there is a fine line here which borders on toxicity and ignorance. We become conditioned to accept preconceived notions that are nurtured by popular culture. This point is better explained through infamous television series, Friends (1994-2004).
Now, Friends is a sitcom centered on a close-knit group of friends going through the trials and tribulations that come along with life in your twenties. Culturally, this show is of mass significance, with cult followings that go back to the airing of the first episode. Superficially, the show seems harmless, with one-liners and lovable characters leaving you yearning for a pure and affectionate friendship, like Joey and Phoebe. Memes and forum discussions on social media platforms (Tumblr, Twitter, etc) have allowed for fans to connect with each other and share their mutual love for the show. This has created a culture that has placed the show on a pedestal.
However, we must look beyond the subtle innuendos and Rachel’s phenomenal fashion sense, to expose a toxic culture riddled with prejudice and ignorance. For years, I myself had passively consumed Friends, reveling in the humour with my friends. But, growing as a person and revisiting the show recently had me questioning many things. Friends is not a just show about some good old mates. It’s a Western-centric show that easily dismissed minority groups, only bringing them to attention for pure ridicule. Toxic transphobia and homophobia were integral to Chandler’s humour, which he disguised as a coping mechanism in response to ‘childhood trauma’. Ross himself was a misogynist, embodied by his possessive relationship with Rachel. Monica evidently had OCD, yet it was treated as a joke rather than the debilitating illness we know it to be.
Friends was created in a time that had yet to acknowledge the seriousness of numerous social issues, and thus is a product of its time. However, the success of the show sees it transgressing its original context, and along with it the toxic values of the past. In respect to this, existing as a passive consumer of media today is dangerous. To absorb rhetoric and beliefs from what we see and not question it not only affects us but also society. We need to be vigilant in challenging the media we engaged with, rather than being submissive. Only then can start to break free from the media and regain some semblance of control.
Affinity Magazine. 2016. 3 Reasons “Friends” Was Actually Very Problematic. [ONLINE] Available at: http://affinitymagazine.us/2016/11/01/3-reasons-friends-was-actually-very-problematic/. [Accessed 2 April 2017]