The One with the Male Nanny: The Complicated relationship between Friends and Toxic Masculinity

If you’ve read my previous post on the subject, you’ll remember that while I and many in today’s 2019 society greatly enjoy Friends – it doesn’t mean we’re blind to it’s flaws. Indeed, looking on it with today’s socially conscious mindset it is a piece of art with many flaws. Homophobic, Trans-phobic, Sexist, low-key racist; name a terrible thing to be, and friends probably made that kind of joke. But by far the most interesting flaw to discuss, at least from an intellectual perspective, is the show’s relationship with toxic masculinity. With the other kinds of prejudices on display, the show makes a joke about it – has the nerve to think it’s funny – and moves on to the next mildly to extremely offensive joke. However when it comes to the subject of Toxic Masculinity, the show seems on some level to not only be aware of it, but to condemn it. And yet, we still gotta make those jokes.

What do I mean? Well let’s take a look at one episode in particular, to gain a little better insight into this strange phenomenon – the sixth episode of season 9 : The One with the Male Nanny. First, a brief plot synopsis before we get to the real meat of the episode. After slogging through hordes of disappointing applicants, Rachel finally finds the perfect nanny for her Ross’ daughter Emma – but there’s just one problem, he’s played by Freddie Prinze Jr. That’s the main story anyway, there is the secondary story of the Episode with Chandler being upset that Monica called one of her co-workers ‘the funniest guy she’s ever met’; however since it only briefly crosses narrative streams with the titular plot-line, I won’t be going too deep into that .

Ross takes an immediate dislike to the new Nanny – named Sandy ; mainly because he is performing a role traditionally considered part of the feminine domain, child care. However Sandy is also a very sensitive man, he cries unashamedly when he is happy – as when he is accepted for the position – and sad – as when he is remembering his last charge. He also cooks, plays the recorder, and has the audacity to do all this while still being completely heterosexual. Ross can barely stand to be in the same room as Sandy, and laments long and hard to whoever will listen of the weirdness of having a male nanny – although never within said nanny’s earshot, such is the coward’s nature. This is a pretty standard move when it comes to Ross, he is the guy that made such a fuss when his toddler son started playing with a barbie doll. What is strange about this situation however, is Rachel’s reaction. She loves Sandy and whole heatedly endorses his non-traditional version of masculinity, being a factor in her child’s development. This is a stark removal from the Rachel Green who once dumped a boyfriend for crying too much; or regularly belittles her male friends when they step even the tiniest bit off the narrow heteronormative version of masculinity. I mean she was right there with the rest of them glaring down at Ross and Joey, when they’d fallen asleep together. That’s it, nothing sexual, just took a nap on the same couch.

So, what does this sudden turn around in one of the main characters of the show mean? Well probably many things, not least among which Rachel doesn’t find Sandy attractive – and thus doesn’t require him to live up to her idea of the ideal man. But the notion I’m going to focus on here, is the underlying message of the story-line. Namely that Ross is wrong. He is wrong to hate Sandy and he is wrong to try and encourage that hate in others – in other words he is wrong in his Toxic Masculinity. A fact that is underscored in the episode’s ending, when Ross breaks down in Sandy’s arms after recounting the abuse his father heaped on him, for not living up to the masculine ideal . Now I know what you’re thinking, Wee Lassie I thought Friends had a bad relationship with Toxic Masculinity – this all sounds really good. Ross finally realizes that he’s been continuing the circle of abusive toxic Masculinity began by his awful father – and he can finally break free of it and become a better man, nay a better person all round. Except that’s not what happens, this is Sandy’s last episode and these themes, or Ross’ connection to them, will never be brought up again. So what can we really take away from this episode? Toxin Masculinity is bad, yes absolutely, but does that lesson have any impact on the viewer, if it has none on the rest of the series?

Femininity in men continues to be mocked. Chandler continues to be called gay – with the implication that this is somehow a bad thing – if he expresses so much as the barest interest in culture ; and the men can’t so much as hint at their love for each other, without the women implying that their masculinity is somehow lessened from the action. At the end of the episode, Sandy still looses his job because he is a man working in a non-traditionally male occupation, and that is what the audience must take away from it. The Writers’ intention, either good or ill, means nothing if the product as a whole cannot reflect it. Still, even if it was only for one brief moment, at least they tried.

If you’ve enjoyed this strange analyse of a 90’s flawed tv show, remember to follow the Wee blog if you haven’t already. Also check me out on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads , Instagram, and Tumblr. Also check out the Wee Mailing List for all new rants, photos and more. Until next time my Wee Readers, have a bonny day.

The Power of the Family : or why the heck is Friends still so popular in 2019

Okay, bit of a History lesson here – flick back your clock to a little year called 1994. Tony Blair (the War Criminal) had just been made Labour party leader ; yours truly was taking her first breath in this very strange world of ours, and a little American tv show set in New York, first began airing. Ah Friends, you beautiful…beautiful mess of a pop culture phenomenon. There’s just so much of you that has aged so very badly, such to the extent that each of these poorly aged elements could fill separate blog posts all their own. Shall I list them? Honestly it would be quicker to name the elements that haven’t aged badly but I’ve already planned this post so, onward we go.

There’s the fact that despite living in one of the most diverse cities in America, the friends cast are – baring an occasional recurring or bit character – monolithically white. The sheer amount of gay jokes running throughout many of the episodes of the ten seasoned show is really uncomfortable to watch, particularly on a streaming service like Netflix where you can watch episodes in quick succession…and I’m saying that as a straight woman. The jokes directed at Chandler’s Dad in particular were cringe-worthy at their best. Not to mention t it’s confusing relationship with toxic masculinity – but I’ll get more into that in a later post. Yet, all these terrible things are in no way unique to the show Friends: things like indoctrinated racism; homophobia, Trans-phobia; sexism and encouraging of toxic masculine behaviors were not uncommon in the early 90s to early 2000s – the time in which Friends aired on tv – I’d go even so far as to say they were commonplace. But what is unique to Friends – though please feel free to correct me in the comments if you feel otherwise – is that none of these things seem to have lessened it’s popularity over time. At least not in any significant way. We may no longer laugh at the gay jokes, but a lot of us are still laughing at Friends.

So what we have to ask ourselves is, why? What made Friends so special? Why has it lasted so long while other shows fall by the wayside? Well, honestly there’s probably a plethora of answers to that question, not least being the strong sense of nostalgia present in both Millennials (who grew up with it) and Generation X & Baby Boomers (who were the original target demographic). However, that would be a very different blog post than the one I have planned; so instead we’re getting freaky meta here and looking instead at the underlying theme of the show. *Evil laugh, while lightening crashes in the background.* And there’s no running away, I’ve already locked all the doors.

Okay so, themes. What is the underlying theme of Friends? Could it be the Power of Star Crossed Lovers symbolised by the Ross and Rachel story-line? Nope, by the end everyone but the writers was kind of sick of that. Could it be the power of friendship? After all that is the name of the show. Well, sort of, but I’d like to go one step beyond that in my dissection of it’s theme. Because the “Friends” ironically are not just regular friends, their deep love and affection for one another goes far beyond that. When it really comes down to it Friends isn’t just a show about friendship, but about a group of people that became each other’s family. Thus the Theme is not just the power of friendship or family, but the power of the found family.

We can see this especially clearly when we look at the Series’ Thanksgiving episodes. In the first Thanksgiving episode – season 1’s ” The One where the Underdog Gets Away” – a suspicious amount of coincidences have to line up so that the Friends’ are forced to have Thanksgiving together. Ross and Monica’s parents have to go on holiday, and therefore be unable to host ; Joey has to star in an embarrassing add, and thus have his whole family believe he has a VD; Phoebe’s Grandmother and her boyfriend have to celebrate Thanksgiving in December; and finally most notably, Rachel has to miss her flight so that’s she unable to attend her family’s Thanksgiving Ski trip. However, notice that this is the only episode where these great leaps of coincidences have to happen. Starting from Season 3 onward – since season 2 didn’t really have a proper Thanksgiving episode – it never once occurs to the Friends to eat Thanksgiving Dinner anywhere else. We can see this most distinctly in the Final Thanksgiving Episode – Season 10’s ” The One with the Late Thanksgiving” – where upon hearing that Monica and Chandler just don’t have the energy to host Thanksgiving, Phoebe decides its easier to trick Monica into it, rather than make alternative arrangements for herself. This, despite the fact that she is married to Mike at this point and thus does have someone else to have Thanksgiving Dinner with. A fact that’s even more true for the others, and yet, the possibility is never even once considered.

The affection of the found family over the traditional birth family is repeatedly shown throughout Friends’ 10 season run. A particular notable example being when Joey, and then Chandler, walk Phoebe down the isle – when her step-father is unable to do so. Despite the fact that only Ross and Monica are actually related, these people are each other’s real family. In fact it’s interesting to note that whenever a biological family member does appear on screen, trouble is never far behind. Think Jack and Judy Geller – Ross & Monica’s abusive parents introduced in the episode ‘The One With The Sonogram At The End’ – who always leave to the sound of Monica’s tears, particularly in the earlier episodes. Notably in the episode ‘The One with the Cuffs’ it is Phoebe who comforts and builds Monica back up, after she has yet again been ridiculed and belittled by her own mother. Also consider Rachel’s sisters’ Jill and Amy – who made their debuts in the episodes ‘The One With Rachel’s Sister’ (Jill) and ‘The One With Rachel’s Other Sister’ (Amy) – who give us an insight into how awful Rachel might have become if she had never found her true family . The only time we see Joey’s parents is when his father is cheating on his mother with another woman ; and of course who could forget Ursula, evil twin of our beloved Phoebe. Even Ross and Monica – brother and sister though they may be – were not at all close when they were children. With Monica even claiming that she hated her brother back then; and it wasn’t until they were adults, and away from the toxic influence of their abusive parents, that the two siblings were able to move past that history and find each other again.

I’m not saying that the love and affection these very different people show to one another, which leaves the show with an uplifting warmth not found in every sitcom then or today, excuses all the more unsavory aspects of the show. All I’m saying is it’s one explanation for why we still continue to love this weird show, Twenty Five Years after it’s original airing.

Alright, that’s me done – I’ll unlock the doors now. If you’ve enjoyed this trip down nostalgia lane and haven’t already fled, remember to follow my wee blog, if you haven’t already. Also check me out on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr and now my brand new Goodreads account. Also sign up to the Wee Mailing List for all new photos, rants and more. Until next time my Wee Readers, have a bonny day.