It’s 1998, it’s Friday night, it’s 9pm. You’re sitting at home on your own watching tv. You turn to Channel4 to watch Friends as you do every friday night. It’s the highlight of your week. It highlights the emptiness of your life.
Friends for those of you from another planet, or too young to remember, was a sitcom based on the friendships of 6 adults, living in apartments far nicer than their wage brackets allow, in New York City. It was a feelgood show where each character reminded us of someone we knew. It showed the highs and lows of the lives of these 6 friends. We laughed together, we cried together… we grew up together.
I hated Friends. I neither laughed nor cried with them. I didn’t grow up with any of the characters. I didn’t recognise any of the characters in my social circle. I certainly didn’t recognise the seemingly co-dependent group relationship structures.
But let’s not just focus on Friends, there are multiple other tv shows airing on our screens that tell us if you’re not part of some team of 6 or so best friends who eat, sleep and shit together, then you’re nobody. How I Met Your Mother is the latest 5 friends who do everything together show to grace our screens. It tugs at our heartstrings, it shows the joys of friendships and the fallibility of human beings. It highlights how having our friends around us will make everything ok. When we have a group of good friends watching our back, we can be king of the world.
This social safety net isn’t restricted to the hip and happening of New York, oh no, even the Geeks need their cliques to survive on this harsh televisual planet. The west coast of America hosts Big Bang Theory, a programme whose success has been due to the anti-hero characters, social outcasts who can only be found in comic stores, academia or world of warcraft. Yet even here, there is a core character set of at least 5 good friends who all work together, eat together and play together. Their co-dependent friendship is the common theme.
And even children aren’t exempt from these themes. Every childs tv show beamed into our homes highlights the importance of friends. From programmes for the very youngest to nearly adults, they sing songs about being best friends, how you cannot do anything without friends, how lonely life is without friends, how you need friends, that regardless of how badly you behave you’re friends will always be there. The character of ridicule in tween-teen tv shows is often the loner with no mates, who it is entirely acceptable to pick on because (s)he has no friends. It is a beautiful utopia for a child, with pressure on girls especially, to have many best friends from a very young age.
What TV has spent decades telling us, is that without friends you are to be ridiculed. It is acceptable to pick on loners. You’re a nobody without a group of 5 or 6 good friends with whom you spend your every waking moment. How realistic is this? How does it make those who don’t conform to these ideals feel?
I grew up with one friend at a time, if i had more they never usually got on with each other so had to be kept separate. They weren’t people I trusted with my every secret and they werent people i spent every moment of the day with. As i grew up and socialised more and worked, I met thousands of people. I know many of them still. I wouldn’t consider many, if any true friends. Acquaintances yes, people i like a lot and have a lot of time for but not people I would want to spend every waking moment with, not people I’d want to phone as soon as I’d returned from meeting, and certainly not people who make me want to burst into song whenever I think about them and how important to me they are. I have no idea if I’m abnormal in that respect. I mean, who really has the time for all that socialising after everyday responsibilities are met?
I hated the tv show Friends and the likes because they made me out to be the loner, the saddo no mates, the one it was acceptable for society not to like. Sayings such as “judge a man by his friends” have made me wonder what society must think of someone like me who knows thousands but are friends with none.
The pressure on children and teens to have hollywood style best friends in the multiple, to me as an adult, seems immensely unrealistic. The whole scenario that dramas and sitcoms portray is entirely unrealistic and there must be hundreds of thousands if not millions of people being made to feel lonely for not conforming to the hollywood ideal of friendship.
Now it’s really quite hard to start a conversation with anyone on the state of their frienships. Noone wants to seem like a nobby no mates or linda loser by admitting the Friends scenario is as alien to them as a large open plan warehouse flat in new york is for a jobbing chef and mostly unemployed fashionista. While tv is meant to take us into a fantasy world and evoke emotions, and while most people can distinguish between the fantasy of Friends and reality, is this really what we want to be spoonfed? Social inadequcy?
So I ask you to think, and please feel free to comment below (sometimes I even remember to moderate them) about friendship. Do you live the Friends lifestyle, are you nobby no mates or somewhere in the middle? Regardless of whichever group you belong, are you happy there?