May 16, 2016

The Homophobic Small-Town Manhattan of "Friends"

Friends (1994-2004) was set in the same intimate, "small town" Manhattan as Seinfeld.  But it lacked the New York color -- it could have been set in any big city -- not to mention the witty dialogue, interesting minor characters, and intricately connected plotlines.

And while Seinfeld was mostly heterosexist, assuming that gay people did not exist (except for a few homophobic episodes), Friends knew about the existence of gay people.  And was scared stiff.

It was about six heterosexual young adults who hung out together to commiserate over their terrible jobs -- though they still managed to afford huge apartments in Manhattan -- and terrible love lives -- though the women still managed to date a never-ending stream of chiseled hunks, including Adam Baldwin, Tom Selleck, and Brad Pitt.

The friends differed in personality, class background, socioeconomic status.

Upper class:
Neurotic, easily-befuddled Chandler (Matthew Perry), who worked as a statistician.
Former spoiled rich kid Rachel (Jennifer Anniston), who lost her silver spoon and worked as a waitress.

Middle class:
Nebbish paleontologist Ross (David Schwimmer, left), who had a crush on Rachel in high school.
His sister Monica (Courtney Cox), formerly fat and unpopular, now a control freak caterer.




Lower class:
Italian-American stereotype Joey (Matt Leblanc, top photo), a muscular but dimwitted aspiring actor.
Ditsy Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), who worked as a masseuse, and had an equally ditsy brother (Giovanni Ribisi).

Eventually they paired off into Chandler-Monica and Rachel-Ross.  Joey and Phoebe stayed unattached.

Gay people intrude in a number of episodes, as problems to be solved:





Chandler is horribly embarrassed by the fact that his Dad is a drag queen.
Ross's ex-wife is "now" a lesbian, and actually intends to "marry" her girlfriend.
Ross is horrified when his male student comes on to him.

But more common, in nearly every episode, is the men's homophobia -- a literal fear of gay people.

Tijara Mamula has uploaded a remix, "Homophobic Friends," with the highlights of the homophobic and transphobic jokes that form a constant undertow to the series.

Turns out that friendship itself is problematic.

If a guy has male friends, people think "he likes guys, he's gay."
If he has female friends, people think "he's like a woman, he's gay."

Chandler, Ross, and Joey are each mistaken for gay at various points in the series.  To gales of audience laughter.  To be thought gay is second worst humiliation possible.

The worst humiliation: to really be gay.  So the guys often criticize each other, and the other male characters, for acting "too gay."  They police the slightest gender-atypical behavior, horrified that signifies some inner gayness that must be stopped before it grows like a malignant tumor and destroys them.

Ross didn't know that his wife was a lesbian!  He must be gay!

Joey and Chandler hug!  They must be gay!

While on a ride-along, Ross refers to himself as the cop's "partner."  He must be gay!

So much for the cozy, small-town Manhattan of Friends.

But it gets worse: An incredibly homophobic joke in the first season turned a million gay fans away from the series forever.

See also: Homophobia on "Friends": This Time It's Serious.; and Giovanni Ribisi