Past pop culture: should we be reprimanding past actions instead of looking forward?

Just because you called out a commonly perceived TV classic doesn’t mean you’re ‘woke’. It’s extremely easy to comb through old TV shows and movies in order to prove to everyone how enlightened you are. In reality, this says very little about how progressive you truly are. Unfortunately, mainstream media seem to encourage the practice.

‘10 Times Friends Was Incredibly Problematic’ writes the Independent. ‘21 Times Friends Was Actually Really Problematic’ says Buzzfeed. Let’s inspect a little more closely one of these times: the episode in which Ross projects his idea of masculinity onto his son when Ben plays with a Barbie.

Firstly, Ross was the punchline of that entire episode anyway. In fact, in most instances, gay, trans and traditional gender stereotypes are brought up in Friends only to be deconstructed. And if you criticise that the deconstruction does not include the nuance we expect in 2018, well, that’s because Friends was released 24 years ago. It’s not clever to lecture people for not having already been what they would eventually become.

The reason a joke was funny 24 years ago was because it reflected the context in which it was made, including all of that context’s assumptions and prejudices. Comedy operates by working with the social facts it is surrounded by.
To damn those that made a now dated joke before it was dated is to deny the fact that society evolves. In another 24 years I’m sure there will be many behaviours you once endorsed or tolerated that you will look back on in embarrassment.

Friends in particular has stood the test of time because many of the social facts it worked with still, for good or for bad, exist today. In one episode Rachel hires Tag as her assistant because he is attractive. Yes, that is unethical, perhaps even bordering on ‘harassment’ as the Independent claims, but the basis of relatable humour is that it reflects how the world around it operates including all of its flaws.

Rather than an issue of being woke or not, it is one of being able to separate what we don’t like about something from what we do.

Bradley Young

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