Friends is an American situational comedy about a group of friends living and working in Manhattan, New York City. The program aired since its inception in 1994 to 2004 with a total of 236 episodes. The creators of the show were Marta Kauffman and David Crane, and the producers were, The Friends Corporation LLC, Warner Bros. Television, and Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions. Throughout its airing on the NBC corporate network, the show attracted a significant number of viewers with its last episode of the final season reaching to an average of 52.5 million viewers in America. The show was even nominated for 63 Emmy Awards and often featured in listings like The best television show of all times (Erickson). However, was the show as good to attract all these views. This paper looks to critically analyze an episode of season three of Friends, “The one with the metaphorical tunnel” and determine some of the issues relating to sex, gender, and sexuality.
The episode starts with everyone at Monica and Rachel’s watching an infomercial starring Joey then Ross and Chandler make light jokes on him about it. It is then revealed that Phoebe forgot to inform Joey of an audition he had been called. To make things right, Phoebe offers to be a fake agent to get Joey the audition which turns out to be good, and Joey asks Phoebe to continue being his agent but this don’t end up in the best way. Phoebe tells him truths about why he is not getting hired. The revelations turn out to be something he cannot handle therefore he goes back to his real agent Estelle. Janice, on the other hand, breaks up with her boyfriend Chandler because according to her the relationship is going very first. The breakup was triggered by the fact that Chandler had decided to commit to the relationship, “going through the tunnel” (Junge). In other events when Ross’ child by Carol is brought to visit him he spots that the boy, Ben is holding a Barbie doll which to him is for girls and throughout the entire episode, we see him trying to convince his son to play with masculine toys like the G.I Joe (Junge).
There were various issue arises from this episode, issues related to gender on masculine and femininity stereotype, and heteronormativity. Human sexuality is highly based on biology, a complex interaction of hormones genes and their environment of growing up, gender which is a legal definition of one’s identity and a social status. As Julia Serrano would say, gender is a socially constructed idea of what it means to be a male or a female being. The society has contracted these ideas which have become stereotypical such that if you go against them, you are considered an outlaw where you are discriminated and judged for being different. These ideas are enforced on people beginning from their childhood which is seen in the episode. Ross tries to push what he preserves masculine on his son upon discovering that the child prefers a Barbie doll instead of a “masculine toy” like G.I Joe. Ross takes away the child’s choice of choosing what he wants as his mother Carol allowed. Even if he is a little child of between three and four years of age, Ross is trying to shape the child’s personality to fit the hyper-masculinity which is stereotypical and always enforced by society ("Cultural Hegemony In Friends"). This stereotypical masculinity promotes violence and emotional hardheartedness where he tries to explain to the child about the toy protecting the country “Look Ben, it's a toy that protects U.S. oil interests overseas!” (Junge).
Closely related to social gender construction is gender polarization which refers to all the means of which sexual differences are culturally linked to diverse aspects of human experience. All this begin when the child is born where if it’s a boy they are wrapped in blue and girls in pink blankets to identify them. These stereotypical societal norms minimize one’s ability and the choices one has too. According to Dr. Anne Fausto Sterling, this conception of gender reduces the possibility while promoting gender inequality. The inequality is seen where in the episode the lesbian couple that is Carol and Susan are only seen bringing the child and picking him up. The lesbian community is treated unequally in this episode because they are not given a fair chance to appear in as many scenes as the heterosexual couples. The show presents a form of discrimination that is based on sexual orientation and even as they appear, there is a certain judgmental attitude where even Carol makes it clear by telling Ross, “This doesn't have anything to do with the fact that he is being raised by two women, does it?” (Junge). The tone in Ross’ voice makes the judgment on this issue clear ("Cultural Hegemony In Friends").
Apart from societal norms, the media is another contributor to gender-based stereotypical norms. Body modification is one of these aspects perpetrated by media. An example of body medication is the diet restriction and also breast modifications. The culture dictates that if a woman is big in terms of being plump, they are not beautiful enough, so the solution to this is to cut on diet and watch what they are eating. In the episode, Monica is portrayed as having a fake chest which only means one thing and that is she had a modification done on her chest. The episode also seems to portray Chandler getting lost in thoughts any time he looks at Monica’s chest which means that he is attracted, and the fake chest had a particular effect on him. In the same episode, Rachel and Monica are portrayed to be eating unpleasant ice cream that is low in fat for them to avoid getting plump. This is the ice cream they offer Chandler as he is dealing with the breakup. A poor way of portraying women’s way of dealing with stressful situations (Erickson).
After reviewing the episode, it is clear that even though Friends was an incredible, heartwarming and funny show, it clearly promoted some negative, stereotypical and toxic elements of the culture which in some way affected people's thinking over the time it was airing.
Erickson, Nicole. "Friends: Representations Of Race, Class, Gender And Sexuality: Gender
Representation". Friendstvrepresentation.blogspot.co.ke. N.p., 2014. Web. 5 Sept. 2016.
Junge, Alexa. "The One With The Metaphorical Tunnel". Home.versatel.nl. Web. 5 Sept. 2016.
"Cultural Hegemony In Friends". Gender Studies Blog. N.p., 2014. Web. 5 Sept. 2016.
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