I’ll Be There For You (But Not in A Gay Way): Homophobic Friends
Video editor Tijana Mamula has watched all ten seasons of Friends (and not in rerun-form over the course of years). Why? The gay jokes. The many, many gay jokes. After observing a drawn-out, homophobic conversation between Joey and Ross, Mamula began noticing the underlying homophobia of the show constantly. Surprised to find no one had made a project from it already, she set to work on an intense video endeavor. Mamula wanted to go beyond showcasing the show's homophobic jokes. "The whole point of this project is to show the very extent to which homophobia pervades the show, and how it changes over the years. It only makes sense to do this if you can give an idea of the scope of the issue. Otherwise it would have been like, 'Oh look, there's twelve homophobic jokes in Friends.'"
There is, in fact, ninety minutes'—a whole movie!—worth of homophobic jokes in Friends, as she found. But with some guidelines, and editing with a sitcom-narrative in mind, Mamula cut it down to forty-five. The result was Homophobic Friends, which is not embeddable, but you can find it on Youtube.
Mamula's montage doesn't just treat you to an onslaught of eye-searing '90s fashion. There's Ross berating his ex-wife's new girlfriend (at one point Susan literally saying "We're getting married" cues the laugh track), Steve Zahn's character "coming out" as straight (clearly hilarious because things are hard for teh straightz), and approximately one gazillion "no homo" moments between Chandler and Joey. And it's not just homophobia, there's the transphobia played for laughs when Chandler learns his father has been living as a woman for some time, and lots of gender policing—often from Ross. "I'm just not that comfortable with a guy as sensitive as you," Ross says to Sandy, a straight male nanny (played by Freddie Prinze Jr.), firing him for basically threatening Ross's masculinity. "That's fair," responds Sandy, a typical response from the queer, or perceived-as-queer characters of Friends, who are written to rarely react defiantly, or insulted, or taken aback at the blatant ignorance hurled their way.
"Why is my boy playing with a Barbie?" #shitRossGellarSays
And that's the thing—Mamula's aim wasn't to bring attention to Friends' wealth of lazy jokes, but their sheer pervasiveness of the show's epic run. "Homophobic Friends [is not an] attempt to ridicule the underlying homophobia, but rather strives to bring this attitude to the viewer's attention in all of its apparent normality."
Mamula found that the homophobic and transphobic jokes in Friends tend "to avoid provoking either aversion or anger, and instead prompts the viewer to be swept away by the hilarity of the situations." Seeing theses moments altogether, one after another, you can see how the audience was presumed to just chuckle and move on. (I couldn't help but be reminded of the site Microaggressions, which documents the little, caustic everyday incidents that add up to much more).
And wait, there's more! "I noticed all sorts of other problematic content, some of which I found even more upsetting, like the place of women and foreigners…You could do a whole series of videos, like Misogynistic Friends and Xenophobic Friends." (See also: this zany montage of the few black characters that have appeared in the show. The overwhelmingly white cast—including the extras, despite the show taking place in New York City—has often been pointed at as one of the show's shortcomings.)
Video remix projects like Mamula's are important to help raise awareness of the pervasive problematic content of both current and past pop culture phenomena. Friends won a total 63 Emmys, and was one of the most highly-ranked shows on television (no sitcom has held the #1 ranked television spot since it went off the air). Homophobic Friends shows an alternative narrative. "The whole thing was a useful exercise in terms of training me to pay more attention to the subtexts of these mainstream shows. That is, this vague feeling of discomfort and hostility that I'd always had watching Friends (or other like-minded shows) crystallized into something that was analyzable."
Thanks Tijana for talking with me and to Jonathan at Political Video Remix for the heads up!
And for more on queer sexuality and homophobia in media, make sure you're reading Garland Grey's series, Sexual Inadequacy!
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