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Lisa Kudrow is right - the Culture Police needs to leave Friends and the past alone

Andrew Dickens
Andrew Dickens

Andrew Dickens is an award-winning writer on culture, society, politics, health and travel for major titles such as the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Daily Mail and Empire.

Andrew Dickens is an award-winning writer on culture, society, politics, health and travel for major titles such as the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Daily Mail and Empire.

Lisa Kudrow is right - the Culture Police needs to leave Friends and the past alone
Friends star Lisa Kudrow has said the show, so often labelled 'problematic', should be seen as a time capsule. She’s right. If revisionist Culture Police delete the past, we’ll never move forward.

Let’s get one thing straight: none of the main characters in Friends was likeable. A bunch of needy, self-centered sexual mercenaries who’d happily ditch their ‘Friends’ if they thought there was half a chance of someone having a fumble in their pants.

While we’re at it, let’s get another thing straight: Phoebe was the least likeable of the lot, spawning a generation of ‘kooks’ and almost certainly causing the ukulele plague of the 2010s. 

However, the actor who played Phoebe, Lisa Kudrow, has said something I do like. Asked about revisionist critiques of the show and its all-white cast, she said, “It should be looked at as a time capsule, not for what they did wrong.”

Friends is popular game for the Culture Police. Recent years have seen article after listicle after tweet skewering one of the most popular sitcoms of all time for its ‘problematic’ nature. Too white, riddled with stereotypes, sizeist. One blog, titled ‘How a TV Sitcom Triggered the Downfall of Western Civilization,’ claimed Friends was symbolic of America’s anti-intellectualism.

I’m not going to argue with any of that. But I am going to argue that the most ‘problematic’ thing is people’s use of the word ‘problematic’, especially when it’s an attempt to censor the past. 

‘Problematic’ is without a doubt the laziest criticism currently being lobbed around the internet. Stick a ‘problematic’ label on something, don’t worry about showing your working out, and walk away having left just enough of a stain to ruin people’s enjoyment of it.

Enjoy Flash Gordon? No mate, racist. Star Wars? You’re having a laugh. Obi-Wan gaslights Stormtroopers. And don’t you dare think about reading anything by those anti-semites Shakespeare or Dickens (the other Dickens, not me – read everything by me). 

Look. By all means, point out that Cultural Work A has racist undertones or that Cultural Work B is misogynistic. But don’t tell people that they shouldn’t be indulging in these works or even enjoying them. They’re almost certainly racist or misogynistic because the society that spawned them was racist or misogynistic – and we should really be aware of that society.

As Kudrow says, were it made today, there’s no way Friends would have an all-white cast. Good. It wouldn’t have the Fat Monica joke, either. Great. But it wasn’t made today and people need to come to terms with the fact that old things reflect history – old things are history – and without history to study, we go backwards.

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Many of the critics are Gen Zs making great sport of watching this ‘old person’s’ show that they’d never seen and picking it apart, which is even more worrying. Older generations have already experienced Friends. But by encouraging younger people to boycott anything that’s culturally dated, they’re gently wiping history. And if you wipe history, what do you learn from?

If you erase or even just censor the past, or shame people into boycotting it, there’s no marker for progress. You delete all of the good things, too. How many sitcoms in the ‘90s had lesbian couples raising a child and getting married like Friends did?

The Culture Police need to close their Cold Case unit, concentrate on current crimes, and let people view the past without a snarky voice in their head souring the popcorn.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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