This Mom Has Gone Viral for Tweeting Her 14-Year-old Daughter's Reaction to 'Friends'—Some Things Don't Age Well
For the last 28 years the iconic sitcom Friends, featuring six young adults living in New York City, has captured the hearts of fans worldwide. The series produced many laughs, memes and unsolved debates—were Ross and Rachel actually on a break?
In light of growing popularity amongst middle schoolers, one mom and author Rebecca Makkai decided to rewatch the series with her 14-year-old daughter. But before they started, Makkai knew she had to tell her daughter that aspects of the show did not age well. In a now viral tweet, Makkai recounts some of these instances, demonstrating that no matter how progressive Friends was for its time, it missed the mark on some of today's social and cultural sensitivities.
Let's start with technology. Friends was the era prior to cell phone usage. In fact, this was the time period of pagers and house phones— remember when no one could use the phone because Chandler was waiting for an urgent phone call? Or you had to call your answering machine to listen to voice messages? Makkai jokes that these instances are more representative of what life was like at the time, no matter how antiquated it may appear to a child now.
Also, adding pictures of missing kids to milk cartons was our best bet for locating them? And, yes, airport security was much different back then.
What's less laughable, though, is the ways in which the show misrepresented race, body image, and LGBTQIA+ community.
For instance, despite being set in Manhattan, a multidimensional, ethnically diverse city, the show only offers a narrow view of New York City. There is no representation or diversity depicted on screen. One fan even counted the number of Black characters in the series (she found only 22). There were even fewer women of color represented throughout the series. This is certainly not the reality of New York.
Another area that did not particularly age well is the ways in which body image is portrayed. Throughout the series we see flashbacks of a heavier Monica experiencing bullying for her size and the lack of romantic attention she received compared to her thinner counterpart Rachel. Fatphobia in the 90s was paramount. Viewers laughed at Monica's expense, but in a world that is increasingly body positive and teaching children to embrace the same, these remarks would not be allowed. Children need to understand the repercussions of bullying and fatphobia and its impact on mental health.
Other not so funny jokes were targeted towards the LGBTQIA+ community. Makkai's daughter, an advocate and ally of LGBTQIA+ rights, intuitively understands that term like "lesbian" is not a punchline to a joke. Makkai used the opportunity to talk to her daughter about all of this.
"She's personally very big on LGBTQ rights and history, and her generation on the whole is much better prepared than mine was to look for systemic racism and sexism and to notice something like the fat-shaming that occurs on the show," explains Makkai. "I can't believe they found that funny," Makkai recalls her daughter commenting.
Queerphobic comments and plot lines though were pretty apparent throughout the series.
Which may explain why Ross' first season arc, where his ex-wife came out as a lesbian, was never funny despite it being a long standing "joke" and later a forgotten plot line. Now, children who rewatch the series not only would be aware of the growing mid-90s gay rights movement, but also recognize how certain words and scenes can be hurtful and damaging to the LGBTQIA+ community. Back then, this level of understanding did not exist.
There will undoubtedly be other instances, especially around dating and relationships, that will warrant questions from children like Makkai's daughter. The important thing, though, is having constructive conversations. And apparently, Friends offered the chance to talk about hickeys, VD, narrated pornos, and "closure."
"This isn't the first show where we've had a lot of opportunities to talk about healthy and unhealthy relationship dynamics... I love that we're able to talk about these things in the abstract, and I love that both my daughters (the younger one is 11) are quick to point out gaslighting, manipulation, and pettiness. It gives me hope regarding who they'll choose to date and how they'll treat a partner," explains Makkai.
Watching a show together is not only a good bonding exercise, but a show like Friends allows for productive—and funny—conversations. Because the idea of having to remember anyone's phone number at this point is laughable.