Ah wokeness, you faithful alarm clock. Tick-tocking on and on. Keeping track of each minute that passes by. Every moment an opportunity to challenge, speak and protest. Nothing escapes your watchful eye. Gazing. Gazing into the future, pondering the past but always pushing forward. Driven by passion, culture, righteousness and equality. Sleep never dares to threaten you. It never dares to close your eyes. To shut you down, even just for a little bit. But… Should it?
My wife sent me this message from work the other day: “God, it must be so exhausting to be a millennial”. She was chatting to a fresh group of interns who recently shook hands with the guys and girls on Bleeker Street in New York. Yes, you guessed it. Friends. Rachel, Ross, Joey, Chandler, Monica and Phoebe.
Millennials have not properly made their acquaintance with these six characters before. Yes sure, they’ve heard of them through the pop culture ether but they’ve never really had the pleasure of hosting Friends in their living rooms or on their beds while stuffing their faces with copious amounts of cookies and space shuttle sizes of coffee – to replicate the ones in the show.
Millennials, up until now, were far to young for that kind of hangout, until… Netflix. Only thing is, they do not know how to chill… with Friends.
“All the interns in the office have recently started watching Friends because it’s on Netflix now. So they can literally binge on episode after episode. And they are. But they don’t want to”, my wife said.
What? It turns out that Friends is far too anxiety inducing for the woke millennial who I often find has a hard time relaxing anyway. And look, I get it. The show that ran for 10 years and ended in 2004 does (with all its incredibly clever writing) have its problems.
- There is perhaps a problem for example to be found in how everyone is always teasing Chandler about potentially being gay. To Millennials this is homophobic. To me, it was awesome. Wow. The word Gay in a TV show, and yes they’re teasing him but really, that’s all it is. Teasing. Harmless, endearing even and without hate. They basically saying to him that if he were, it would be totally okay.
- Millennials also have a problem with the treatment of Ross’s relationship to his ex-wife because she has fallen in love with a woman and divorced him. This is so relevant in 2018 as well. There is no hate for lesbianism, or love. There is only this gender conforming male who has had his ego bruised and who is trying to come to terms with the fact that his penis has been left for a vagina.
In what world does that still not happen? It was an accurate reflection of a reality that still exists and it was honest. More than that, it was progressive for the time. A lesbian marriage, with a child and shared custody of said child with straight ex-husband? 15 year old me was like: AWESOME.
- Let’s move on to Joey and his catchphrase pick-up line, “How you doin’?” Creepy? Yes. Unacceptable? Totally. Did the writers of Friends turn it into humour? Sure. But also, and this is very important: please do take note Millenials of how none of the other characters condone or try to mirror his behavior (I am referring to specifically the men here). In fact, while it is comedic, because it is a sitcom and not a documentary, they often call him out on it.
- Now let’s move to Rachel and the point Millennials are trying to make about the episode where she hires a young, hot, male assistant… “That is not okay”, they say. “That’s a clear cut case of sexual harassment”. Excuse me? I am going to invite all twenty-somethings to please place their satire hats right next to their political hats and think about how maybe… just maybe, the writers (many of whom were women by the way) were trying to turn a gender confirmative narrative on its head.
“Here men, this is what it looks like when women hire young assistants and do the same thing you do”, they were saying. I found it refreshing and enlightening to be honest. But what does a teenager from the early 2000s know anyway?
- I’ll move to Monica now and the recent #MeToo movement. The woke youth have an issue with the fact that Mon gets into a relationship with her father’s friend who is twenty years older than she is. Please bear in mind that Monica is an adult and he is in fact NOT Harvey Weinstein. He needs nothing from her.
She needs nothing from him. The relationship is totally mutual and treated in the show with a lot of love and respect. I married a man who was twenty years older than me once. It didn’t last. But it was great and it does happen. Wokeys, there’s another word for this issue you’re potentially having. It’s called ageism.
- Lastly, let’s talk about the diversity problem. Yes, there is one. In the entire ten seasons there are only two examples of diversity. One is in Ross’s Japanese girlfriend, and another, later on in the series is in Ross’s black girlfriend – a fellow Doctor in Paleontology. Yes, it is a recognizably white show. But at the same time, there still exists recognizably white shows. Downton Abbey. Girls. I could go on. Super problematic as well. Especially in this day and age.
But honestly, there is nothing worse than tokenism. And here’s the thing. The two diverse characters were not treated in a tokenistic way. It was a natural inclusion – nothing about it seemed forced or to appease. I appreciated that. I also appreciated the fact that Charlie was a black woman with a PhD in paleontology. There was no other show at the time where I saw this kind of success in a woman of colour on TV, and I kind of found it inspirational.
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To conclude: I was not less of a person of colour in my youth. I was not less aware of the world and its problems than the youth of today. I was just as affected and just as “woke” even if the word did not exist at the time.
But to take offense to a show which was written and first aired in the '90s because you feel like it does not measure up to the degree of political correctness and cultural and social awareness we’ve come to expect (rightfully so) in 2018 is a little bit shortsighted. It is also a little bit unfair to steal away from the progressive experience viewers like me had when we initially watched it and accepted it as a soothing balm. An escape. A pleasure.
Perhaps we were living in a bubble, but a lot of these Millennial opinions when it comes to the show kind of exist in a bubble of their own. And this bubble has little to no reflection.
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