VICE’s recent article in anti-celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Friends‘ debut is an all-out assault on the now classic TV show that, as much as I hate the term, defined a generation. In the campaign against it, Friends is accused of, among other things, having “a negative impact on our generation” and “turning us into wankers” (way to use a British term about a quintessentially American show). The very title of the diatribe, “How ‘Friends’ Created a Generation of Neurotic, Self-Obsessed Idiots,” infers a neurotic self-obsession all its own in that blaming a show for your behavior is somewhat in keeping with the “Twinkie defense.”
“Playing on our desires to be those kinds of people,” Friends is clearly a beacon of evilness that was lying in wait to transform us into assholes who wanted nothing more than to be service industry folk while also juggling the job of being perpetually uncertain about our relationships. At least, this is the logic according to VICE. Other maligning comes in the form of begrudging Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Monica and Joey of being desperately middle-aged because of their taste in pop culture. Bear in mind, this was an NBC show that still had to appeal to a large Midwestern demographic.
So, basically, because Friends doesn’t show people dancing around to Icona Pop, it is deemed a hopelessly irrelevant show out of touch with its own time. In addition to chastising the crew for liking Hootie and the Blowfish, VICE also brings up the age-old hatred of shows that portray New Yorkers living in unrealistic apartment situations–something that both Sex and the City and Girls does without getting half as much flak. Moreover, I think it’s safe to say that anyone who takes the plunge in watching Friends is aware that it’s a Burbankized version of New York City.
Joey’s character is reviled in the article for converting the current generation of males into line-feeding dolts with a desire for nothing but a one-night stand. Unfortunately for VICE, this form of behavior has been going on since the height of the “let’s get married and stay together forever” era (roughly 1920-1970). Blaming Joey Tribbiani for how slick and charming men are one minute and then absent the next would be like blaming Ricky Ricardo for the fact that men in the 50s gave their wives an allowance and controlled them with an iron fist.
Again, VICE is fond of using the word “wanker” for some reason to describe how Friends “birthed the coffee shop wankers.” This, too, is utter bull shit. If anything, coffee shops were better circa this decade because it was pre-Internet, pre-laptop days, thus, people were incapable of staying in a coffee house for longer than an hour. Still, VICE holds Friends personally responsible for the douche bag clientele at your favorite local haunt.
Finally, there is the burning at the stake of Ross and Rachel’s on again, off again relationship. Here, VICE contends that before Friends came along to showcase Ross and Rachel’s faux “bohemian” view of love and Ross’ insistence that he and Rachel “were on a break” when he had sex with another woman, everyone was able to simply classify themselves as either “single, married or divorced.” What VICE seems to be ignoring is that the decade itself spawned a new perspective on relationships, lest we forget about movies like Reality Bites and Empire Records, which showcased similar friend-to-lover complications.
While most of the cast of Friends would move on to other things (namely Lisa Kudrow, who starred in the tragically cancelled The Comeback), this particular show will always be what they’re most known for–even by those who didn’t grow up watching it. And though VICE’s article is a testament to how culturally impactful the saga has remained, it also reveals the backlash of someone looking for an entity to blame for how things turned out, or rather, didn’t turn out. Most people who watched the show probably don’t live a comfortable life in New York (as many don’t) and are no longer pursuing their dreams of becoming a chef or an actor or a fashion mogul or a musician (somehow paleontologist and whatever Chandler’s job is just don’t seem as, what VICE would call, “aspirational” enough to throw in). But the truth is, Friends isn’t responsible for the millennial/hipster/Brooklyn generation. You are (and possibly VICE, too).