by Jess Howard
As a nineties baby, I grew up with Friends. There’s seldom a day where I make it through a 24 hour period without adding in a few quotes from it, be it “PIVOT” or “WE WERE ON A BREAK”, and any show that involves a cameo from Bruce Willis is fine by me. This show was my life.
But lately I’ve been thinking about how it applies to my life today as a pansexual woman. Does this nineties/noughties classic represent an accepting attitude towards homosexuality at the turn of the century? Or does it contain strident homophobia disguised as a casual joke?
On the one hand, the series opens with Ross lamenting his failed marriage, pained over his wife coming out of the closet, leaving him for another woman and thus inevitably ending their relationship. Progressive for the nineties some may argue, but his attitudes towards Susan are far from accepting.
But does her homosexuality really need to be such a sticking point?
Don’t get me wrong, I can fully understand his animosity towards the woman his wife left him for. It is more than understandable that his attitudes towards the person his wife cheated on him may not be the most accepting. But does her homosexuality really need to be such a sticking point? Susan’s sarcastic attitude towards Ross’ comments and opinions towards their relationship are some that even I use today. And on more than one occasion I’ve repeated her deadpan line “You have to take a course”.
The episode in which Susan and Carol marry is titled The One with the Lesbian Wedding instead of simply The One with the Wedding, arguably a claim that a marriage between two women is somehow different to a heterosexual wedding, and yet Susan is considered one of Ross and Carol’s biological son Ben’s parents, thus showing that she is considered a valid and equal member of his immediate family. The show’s depiction of their relationship can be considered contradictory at best.
Then we have Freddie Prinze Jr’s role as a male nanny, and Ross’ complete disbelief that the character identifies as heterosexual. A man whose career involves caring for children? SHOCK HORROR, despite the rather important role that men play in both the conception and care of their offspring. ‘You’ve got to be at least bi’, Ross quips, baffled by the concept of a man not adhering to stereotypical gender norms.
Finally we come to what is arguably the most strident homophobic example of the entire series, during which Rachel laughs at the use of the term ‘homo’ whilst Ross delivers a speech at a palaeontology convention. It both baffles and horrifies me that script writers thought it in any way acceptable to use the term as a catalyst for a cheap joke, and to giggle at such a term only represents the strident homophobia that can sadly still be witnessed in popular culture today.
on closer inspection, it’s clear to see that popular culture and television shows aired during this time was also childishly homophobic.
I can’t exactly remember the last time someone laughed at the term ‘hetero’, can you?
Off-hand, sitcoms released at the turn of the century could be seen to be a fun and progressive example of how the media finally became more accepting of the varying levels of sexual orientation that exist in the world today – with Will & Grace containing not one but two homosexual protagonists for example – but on closer inspection, it’s clear to see that popular culture and television shows aired during this time was also childishly homophobic.
Now if you don’t mind, I’m off to celebrate lesbian lover day, as the script writers definitely got that one right. I completely agree with Ross in the episode in which Carol gives birth to their son Ben: Every day really is lesbian lover day.
Featured image © Warner Bros. Television
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