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You know what the problem with the internet is? Well, besides porn viruses, it’s that anyone with a dial-up connection and a basic understanding of the written word can just slam keys and fire off any thought out into the etherwebs. Most of the crap goes unread, but sometimes, someone finds some cockamamy blog post and can’t help but share it only for it to get wayyyyy too much attention.
This is what happened when I stumbled upon a post written on Medium by a man named David Hopkins. It’s called “How a TV Sitcom Triggered the Downfall of Western Civilization,” it’s about Friends, and it’s quite possibly the most idiotic thesis I’ve ever read. It would be a disservice for me to read it and not share it with you, all the while helping to bring this Hopkin guy back down to earth.
I want to discuss a popular TV show my wife and I have been binge-watching on Netflix. It’s 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, lead 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.
Ferocious thesis, right out of the gate. And maybe he’s not wrong about Ross driven to madness, but that’s the problem with binge-watching a TV show developed over a decade: characterization is vastly accelerated when you condense the show down into a month of watching, instead of 10 years of watching like the show was intended, and it’s causing my man Hopkins to read into it too much. Like, writers get swapped in and out each season, story lines need to get spiced up to stay relevant. It’s also a freaking sitcom, so R-E-L-A-X a little with the tragic hero stuff, okay?
You may see it as a comedy, but I cannot laugh with you. To me, Friends signals a harsh embrace of anti-intellectualism in America, where a gifted and intelligent man is persecuted by his idiot compatriots. And even if you see it from my point of view, it doesn’t matter. The constant barrage of laughter from the live studio audience will remind us that our own reactions are unnecessary, redundant.
A.) There’s no way he was binging this show with his wife and not laughing, 2.) Ross was just as idiotic as his pals. I mean, for fuck’s sake, he had like 13 marriages and said the wrong name at the alter and owned a fricking monkey in NYC. And D.) No one was actually making fun of Ross for being smart – they were making fun of him for being a paleontologist and thinking he could call himself “Dr. Ross Geller,” and just generally being a cheeseball.
The theme song itself is filled with foreboding, telling us that life is inherently deceptive, career pursuits are laughable, poverty is right around the corner, and oh yeah, your love life’s D.O.A. But you will always have the company of idiots. They will be there for you. Don’t I feel better?
It’s all been fun and games to this point, but now Hopkins just sounds like a bitter loner who never had a reliable #squad to get Sunday brunch with. Like dude, the whole premise of the show is that friends are priceless and no matter what shit life throws at you, you don’t have to do it alone because the relationships you make can help you get through it. Or did you miss that through all the paleontology jokes?
Maybe I should unpack this, for the uninitiated. If you remember the 1990s and early 2000s, and you lived near a television set, then you remember Friends. Friends was the Thursday night primetime, “must-see-TV” event that featured the most likable ensemble ever assembled by a casting agent: all young, all middle class, all white, all straight, all attractive (but approachable), all morally and politically bland, and all equipped with easily digestible personas. Joey is the goofball. Chandler is the sarcastic one. Monica is obsessive-compulsive. Phoebe is the hippy. Rachel, hell, I don’t know, Rachel likes to shop. Then there was Ross. Ross was the intellectual and the romantic.
The uninitiated? Did anyone over the age of 15 need a character synopsis? I digress. Sure, the show could have stood to have some more diversity, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with characters that neatly fit into certain stereotypes, because after all, it’s a sitcom, not The Wire. Hopkins even says they’re so likable and approachable (sidebar: Monica > Rachel, don’t @ me, #IStandWithWill), so if they’re so likable, why must you hate on their “easily digestible personas.” Sitcoms are for turning off your brain, not constantly struggling with moral ambiguities and politically-charged contentions.
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. Cue the laughter of the live studio audience. This gag went on, pretty much every episode, for 10 seasons. Can you blame Ross for going crazy?
Dude shut upppppp. They were not “pitted against him;” his friends gave him shit for being a goofus. That’s what friends do! Every friend group needs a go-to shit-getter – in my group, it’s generally me actually – but there’s no malicious intent. The gang loves Ross, plain and simple. Nobody is making fun of Ross for being smart, they’re picking on him because he’s a certified goof. A lovable one, though.
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. Why such sympathy for Ross?
Not sure who has more of a black heart, the Grinch or this guy Hopkins. Ross and Rachel is perhaps the greatest love story ever told, and he’s hating on their relationship. What does it matter if the “nerd” ended up with the one who likes to shop? Big deal. That’s a win for the nerds if you ask me. The fact that the show has the smoking hot Rachel end up with the nerdy paleontologist in the end should be celebrated, not hated on.
The show ended in 2004. The same year that Facebook began, the year that George W. Bush was re-elected to a second term, the year that reality television became a dominant force in pop culture, with American Idol starting an eight-year reign of terror as the No. 1 show in the U.S., the same year that Paris Hilton started her own “lifestyle brand” and released an autobiography. And Joey Tribbiani got a spin-off TV show. 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.
Dude what the FUCK are you talking about with this rejection of Ross shit. Yes, all the things you said happened did happen. You know what also happened in ’04? The Red Sox won the World Series. But that doesn’t fit as nicely in your narrative so you didn’t mention it, but I certainly will. Anyway, yes, people’s taste in pop culture shifted a little bit. Big deal. But saying that society embraced idiocy as a rejection of Ross Geller is insanity.
Yes, my theory is that Friends may have triggered the downfall of western civilization. You might think I’m crazy. But to quote Ross: “Oh, am I? Am I? Am I out of my mind? Am I losing my senses?” Did you know the song that originally accompanied the Friends pilot episode was R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know (And I Feel Fine).” A blissful song with an apocalyptic message that goes largely ignored.
Yes, yes, I do think you’re crazy. Fucking Friends triggered the downfall of western civilization? Will people look back in hundreds of years and say David Crane and Mara Kauffman brought an end to western civilization with a story about six pals from Manhattan? I can’t wait to watch the Black Mirror episode about that one. This guy and his lunatic fringe theory about a sitcom is actually the personification of the downfall of western civilization. PC culture and participation trophies, of which I’m sure Hopkins proudly displays over his mantle next to his Encyclopedia Britannica.
Unfortunately for us, Hopkins ends his ranting about Ross and Friends, and then goes into a diatribe about nerds, and how as a society we have completely ruined the future by shunning nerd culture. Hopkins fancies himself a “slayer of bullies and defender of nerds” which is an A+ Twitter bio, but also sounds like the school he was working in was some sitcom caricature of a school, with bullies waiting outside the chess club to shove kids in lockers. That’s basically a verbatim quote from Hopkins.
He then outlines a four-step process on how to make America great again, and I actually really agree with everything he says. He says to 1. read a fucking book (a strong personal opinion of mine as well), 2. learn something 3. stop buying so much shit (unless it’s from Man Outfitters), 4. protect the nerds. And these are great virtues that will hopefully prevent civilization from crumbling down around us. But his insistence that this bears stating because of the way Ross Geller was portrayed on a sitcom in the mid-90s is an F- thesis and we shouldn’t let him off the hook for besmirching the good name of Friends all across the internet.
PS – Would love to get his thoughts on Seinfeld. .
Image via YouTube