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The Sad Legacy of TV’s 'Friends'

In a blog post, author Jonathan Van Maren writes:

It wasn’t until I was doing the research for my book The Culture War that I began to come across analyses highlighting a darker aspect of the TV show Friends legacy that I’d never considered. Ashley McGuire of the Institute for Family Studies wrote, “In reality, Friends was a decade-long Hollywood experiment in testing the moral limits of Americans and desensitizing viewers to harmful sexual behavior … the show made a punch line out of casual sex and hookups and portrayed them as consequence-free. No STDS, no trips to the abortion clinic, no staring at their phones waiting for the one-night stand to call. Just a good laugh over the last condom in the apartment and a porn marathon.”

TV sitcoms tell stories; stories have storytellers. The cast and crew of Friends wanted to push the envelope, knowing that TV is a frequently a feedback loop that not only reflects culture but also drives, shapes, and informs it. Friends was the second show on TV to depict a same-sex wedding, decades before the landmark Supreme Court case of Obergefell v. Hodges and a year before Ellen DeGeneres famously came out. Ross Geller’s wife leaves him for a woman and marries her—he walks her down the aisle after her bigoted and homophobic father declines to do so. NBC was braced for a backlash when the episode aired, expecting thousands of angry phone calls. They got only two.

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