Early in January this year (that’s 2018 for those of you from the future), the good people at Netflix added the American sitcom Friends their streaming service. This momentous event lead to much celebration and happiness from those of a “certain age”.
Stretching from 1994 until 2004, Friends stretched to ten seasons with 236 episodes in total. If you were in your teens or 20’s during its run, Friends will feature on your radar to some degree. Whether it was a staple of your weekly viewing, the bulk of your VHS collection or a confusing enigma you didn’t gel with, it’s likely there somewhere.
For me, it was okay. I watched some of it the first time around. In truth, I probably caught more on reruns in the years following the end of the series. A weekly commitment to a show was just not something I could do, unless there were spaceships. If there were spaceships, then I was likely disappointed that it was only once per week.
Anyway, I digress.
So, Friends returns to screens across the country and, you know what? It’s not aged well. Where once there was good, wholesome humor, now it’s a little… dodgy. The three things I’ve seen most commented on are, in no particular order, jokes regarding “gay” Chandler, “fat” Monica and Ross’s wife leaving him for a woman. When first aired, these jokes were reliable comedy gold, but to today sensibilities they fall flat.
Oh and Joey? Bit creepy now my man, just saying…
In the intervening years, we’ve moved on from the point where it’s okay to laugh at someone being gay or overweight. I think we’ve even moved to the point where losing a partner in a relationship would suck, irrespective of the gender of the person with whom they cheated. Well, some of us have.
Over the years society has progressed with acceptance and understanding of these groups at an all-time high. Though this doesn’t mean that jokes can’t be made about these topics, it does mean that “cheap” jokes are off the menu. Saying that you think someone is gay is no longer the insult which it was widely-perceived to be in my youth.
With Friends widely relying on humor which was widely accepted at the time, hence its popularity, this shift in culture has left Friends behind.
But, does that mean that our work has an expiry date? As a writer, will there be a point where the words which I have written seem quaint, naive or offensive to some future perspective? If I try to write with a deeper meaning, will I, at some point, cease to have relevance? And does this even matter?
Since the noise around the return of Friends, I have been giving this some thought.
For me, the answers come down to a simple statement.
Write and damn the consequences
We can only guess how society and culture will develop in the coming years. It would be insanity to try and write for the ages to come. As writers, we write what we know. So, unless you have a functional crystal ball, write for the world around you.
That doesn’t mean you should avoid the difficult topics. Writers, like all artists, are here to hold a mirror up to the world we live in. Yes, we’re here to entertain and amuse, but if you’ve got something to say, say it.
Gender, race and social politics will change, of that you can be sure. For some of us, that means the world will move on and leave our work behind. But what will it be left as? A reminder. A snapshot of that time and place and how the world was.
In many ways, in the decades to come, Friends will do a similar job to Jane Austin, Shakespeare and Homer. It will give those who didn’t live in an insight into that world. No, not complete. Not wholly accurate. But an insight none-the-less.
And what of Friends? Should we not show it now or strap warnings to the front of each episode? Maybe miss some out if they’re too close to the bone?
No, I don’t think so.
Friends is a glimpse into a ten-year period when life was different. It’s often smart, frequently funny and heartwarming. At its core it’s also incredibly human, if sugary sweet. So, let the show be a reminder that, even though the jokes aren’t funny to us now, they were then and that’s okay. It just shows how far we’ve come in such a short time and how much better off we all are for it.
What are your memories of Friends? Were you a fan or did you miss it first time around? Any plan to revisit the land of Central Perk any time soon?