Every television show has a goal. The purpose of television is simply to provide entertainment for the audience who is viewing. What is it, though, that makes a program entertaining for the people who are watching? Some television shows, such as sitcoms, contain content that is overflowing with modern societal problems and controversial issues, but the content of the issues is often ignored or dismissed temporarily because the viewers are only seeking a mindless, comedic distraction; they are not viewing to critique the many details that have gone into creating the particular show. They are viewing to escape reality for a moment by diving into some of the least realistic portrayals of life. However, that does not mean that there are not viewers who have noticed these problems that are spread out throughout different sitcom series. Some viewers who have noticed the blunt, ignorant, comedic ‘jokes’ displayed on certain shows that are meant for entertaining have felt as if they were personally targeted by what was shown on the screen. The television sitcom series Friends is a perfect example of an incredibly problematic show in the sense that it displays modern day racism, sexism, and stereotyping throughout many of the episodes.
Racism has yet to end in the world. Though it is perhaps not as bad as it was once before, the issue still exists. The issue is lesser in the government than it was, but it is still in society. The most obvious ‘hidden’ forms of racism inside the show Friends is that the cast is predominately white. The show takes place in New York City, a very diverse area, but the characters never really do interact with any other race. With that being said, there are only twenty-two characters throughout Friends with speaking roles who are black (Lewis):
The representation of people of color in the media is neither proportional to the population of people of color in America nor is it accurately portraying people of color on television. The United States census reports 72% of Americans as of 2010 identified as white alone. The other 28% identified as either some other race and/or of mixed race (C.I.).
Not only are there many instances where there is not any diversity in the show Friends, but there are many instances where the show depicts racism by trying to be diverse. Their attempts to add in diverse characters and ideas only create a heavy stereotype that the character plays which makes their attempt at diversity ultimately just racist. In episode 1 of season ten, Monica finds her hair to be incredibly large after getting off of a plane once home. Her solution to her hair problem became problematic because she decided to fix it by getting cornrow braids in her hair which come from African Culture and are an important, beautiful hair style to those who have it in their culture. At one point in the episode, Monica put a rasta hat on and began singing Bob Marley (Lewis). It seems like the idea for that scene meant well, but it came off as appropriation racism to those who have grown up being told that their hair is not beautiful because of how much volume and curls it possesses:
Big hair is very beautiful but in that episode, they were forcefully trying to shove it upon the viewer that it isn't. And then to add insult to injury, Monica gets her hair braided and is further ridiculed. And she herself mocks it as well by behaving like a moron in the episode like getting it stuck in the shower curtain. That hair style is so special and beautiful and they made it into a ridiculous joke. (“Did”)
Another standing example of racism in Friends is the way the writers screen the character Charlie. Charlie is an intellectual, beautiful, black woman on the show who appears in a few episodes. She is often referred to as a “hot giant” by the characters, males specifically, because though she’s intelligent and standardly beautiful, she can’t escape the “ugliness” of her race that the show creates (“Did”). They create a massive stereotype for Charlie as well. She is depicted as a woman who sees many men and only seeks out men who have money to their name.
Racism in sitcoms is not something that is rare. In a similar sitcom to Friends, How I Met Your Mother displays a bit of subtle, but not-so-subtle racism as well. To begin with, the cast of the show is already predominately white like the cast of Friends. Episode nine of season 14 on How I Met Your Mother, was to serve as the latest and greatest installment in the series' ongoing gag about a friendly, humorous, slap to another character (Botleho). However, many Asian-American viewers took major offense to this episode. The plot is that one of the main characters had said that they were getting trained in Kung Fu to slap the other character really greatly. There are two problems within that idea, however. The first is that Kung Fu is a respected and honorable art in many Asian cultures, so to make light of the art in a joke isn’t appropriate. Also, the Kung Fu “masters” on the show were not played by Asian actors, but played by members of the series shown wearing yellow-face.
Sexism is yet another issue that is less prevalent today but it is an issue that certainly still exists. The show Friends has a copious amount of sexism hidden inside each episode. It isn’t uncommon to hear a joke about how Ross’ ex-wife, Carol, left him for a woman in every other episode, at least. Having a lesbian couple on the show is really amazing for the media and the movement for LGBTQ, however, in Friends it is like they use that story only as a way to really get under Ross’ skin (Smith). No man wants to lose his wife to anyone, but when Ross lost his wife to another woman, it followed with endless jokes about Ross’ masculinity from all of his friends, making it seem like he was the reason why she left him for a woman; it made Ross feel like he was lesser of a man. The way the men communicate together in the show displays a lot of sexism point blank. Any time one of the guys expresses an emotion, mentions being single, does anything that is stereotyped as a feminine activity, or gets rejected by a woman, they attack each other’s man hood (Smith). The banter between the men in Friends is so sexist because it is almost as if they are so worried about losing their masculinity that they just try their best to attack each other and any other man they see as a way of defending themselves and commenting on the appearance of other men who do not seem as “manly” as they do. For example, Joey may see a man walking down the street and say “Look, a man with a purse!” followed by seemingly awkward laughter between him, Ross, and Chandler (Smith). The show is also offensive that way because it gives off an impression that any behavior, such as wearing a purse as a man or wearing jewelry as a man, is considered to be not masculine, therefore something to be laughed at. Similarly to the way the men attack Ross for his wife leaving him, the characters in the show often make comments about Chandler’s dad who is a homosexual drag queen who left Chandler and his family for a younger man when Chandler was a child. The other characters make comments about how Chandler is a little bit more feminine and they often make fun of him by assuming that his dad as the reason why. Chandler’s tragic experience as a child and losing a father figure resulted in him becoming anti-gay and even anti-women.
Sex shaming is defined as an act of making any person feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviors or desires (Bronstein). In the show Friends, Monica is often given a remark such as “You’ve slept with how many men?”:
This correlates with the double standard that if a girl sleeps around, she is a s***, but if a guy sleeps around, it is no big deal. It is seen all throughout college that women who sleep with guys are judged more harshly judged. In a study done by the University of Illinois, they found that men express more sexual freedom. They interviewed 51 college students and 25 college alumni who concluded their experiences in college. In another study in the psychology of women quarterly, it explains that mixed messages are sent. Women are encouraged in college to “go have fun,” but then they get judged for it. How is that fair? (Bronstein).
In the show Friends, Monica and Rachel are often given a hard time about their relationship with men, but in almost every episode, everyone just laughs, is interested in, and goes along with Joey and all the women he has been with without a single question, but praise. What makes this double standard scary is that in episode 18 of season two of Friends, Monica’s current romantic relationship was between her and a man named Richard. After finding out all of the people that Monica has been with before him, Richard basically pins her as a s*** and calls her names. Monica, on the other hand, is shocked and vaguely disappointed that he has been with so little females prior to her, she isn’t even extremely worried about what Richard has said about her. The double standard makes women believe that it is normal for men to be with a lot of previous women, but a woman isn’t as valuable if she has been with other men previously. The way that the women are portrayed as s***s so often in this show creates an idea that any female viewing who has had a lot of men in her past are bad people and are a “s***,” but men are praised and respected for being with women. What else is scary about that is that both men and women praise men for multiple partners often, but since sex-shaming has become so relevant, men and women are also sex shaming other women. Neither is okay. It doesn’t help for men to see things like this sometimes too, because if a man calls a woman a s*** there are serious matters of offense and sadness that the women could receive after that.
Friends not only has issues with racism and sexism being hidden in the content, but it also has a really horrible stereotyping problem. In the show, the storyline often goes back in time to when Monica was in her teenage years. Younger Monica was overweight and was not as “datable” as she is now. The show portrays “Fat Monica” as a happy-go-lucky, unpopular, and un-dateable chubby teenage girl. The show used a stereotype that all overweight people hoard boxes of cookies and are genuinely a jolly person (Smith). The characters also are always laughing about Monica’s larger days. That is so problematic because it is putting on television that an overweight person, especially someone who may have the same traits that “Fat Monica” did, is someone to target and laugh at. The show also repeats jokes that regard the fear of the old Monica eating someone:
Only now do we fully appreciate that there's nothing funny about sizeism and fat shaming, particularly from a group of characters who perfectly represent the tyranny of the white cishetriarchy. (Doloncot).
Another stereotype that is used in the show is that when Ross was left by Carol, later after, he stated that he should have known that she was a lesbian because she drank beer out of the can (Lewis). The show uses really generic stereotypes that often times don’t even make any sense and it is very easy for people to get offended by some of the jokes are made.
One of the main purposes of a sitcom is to create an entertaining distraction from everyday life. Many viewers like that there is such a gap between what is realistic and what is shown on television. However, when the false realistic content of the show is problematic and racism, sexism, and stereotypes are shown constantly throughout each episode, it becomes a show that can cause serious damage to people’s feelings and cause them to stop believing in their ideas. Teenagers often watch the show Friends, so that is not the best example of television to watch when the focus now is getting rid of all of these problematic topics and becoming more accepting. Television shows that promote equality and positivity would be a better show to put on air.
Bronstein, Ryan. “Sex Shaming Influences Self-Esteem In Girls.” The Odyssey Online, 27 Aug. 2017.
Botelho, Greg. “Asian-Americans up in Arms over How I Met Your Mother Episode.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 Jan. 2014.
C.I. "Race in the Media: Is Representation a Problem?" Dreams Come True. N.p., 31 Jan. 2013. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
Doloncot, Sam. “Now We Can See How Homophobic, Racist and Misogynist Friends Really Was.” The Daily Banter, 27 Jan. 2015.
Lewis, Harry. “The One Where Everyone's Racist, Sexist & Homophobic.” I Can't Stop Talking., 18 Sept. 2015.
“The One After Joey and Rachel Kiss.” Friends. The Complex Eighth Season, written by Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen, directed by Kevin Bright, Warner Brothers, 2001.
Smith, Lauren. “5 Reasons Why FriendsIs Actually A Super Problematic Show.” Thought Catalog, Thought Catalog, 5 April 2016.