Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The One About Joey, Chandler, Ross, Phoebe, Rachel, Monica and Lakbima

I like Lakbima News. It's taken me some months to accept this but I feel it's for my own good. Accept it, embrace it and move on.

Despite the past, despite the spurious and well documented practices of publishing many of us Sri Lankan bloggers' scribblings without seeking permission nor giving credit, I actually do like a glance through Lakbima News, at least the online edition, most weeks. It's a nice light read and gives a cross section of bits and pieces to peruse. I must add that I in no way condone what did happen in the past, of which I was a "victim" too.

It certainly would appear that all is under control now. Tempting fate? Time will tell.

But, I read this article the other week and it sat in my mind and stewed for some days. Why? I don't know, but it has. Now I don't know the technical qualifications that are needed to make a good writer, in the same way that I don't know if a painter is technically good but I know if I like their work, particularly if they can do walls and ceilings without dripping emulsion everywhere.

I do know that I quite like Ms Algama's writing, wherever I've come across it. I think she writes with a certain feeling of freshness and a spring to her words. I also know that her and a certain Missingsandwich are hardly bosom buddies and that she has rubbed a few people up the wrong way.

The thing is, it may well be the case that her content is questionable at times but I do like her style of writing. It's clear that in Ms Algama is a person who loves to write and that she does it very well. It's also clear, in certain videos, that at certain times in Pamela Anderson there's a drummer. That's another matter though.

When I read this piece about everyone's favourite New Yorkers I thought that she's lost the plot. Let me start, or middle, by saying that I love Friends. I know I'm a man but I still feel something for the six of them. Here in England we can turn on a TV, about the only thing I can turn on these days, and pretty much guarantee to find an episode of Friends somewhere. There was one series that I didn't like as much as the others, I can't recall which, but I still laugh at every episode regardless of the fact that I usually know what's coming.

Friends is / was brilliant. From the way we got to know the characters and really felt as if they were our best buddies to the way that we sang along to Smelly Cat and so understood Ross's position about being "on a break", unless you're a girl of course.

But let's face it, Friends was the most unrealistic thing to have ever hit the small screen, even if you include Tom and Jerry and the Sri Lankan News in the equation.

To start with six people that good looking and trendy just wouldn't exist as a group in real life, unless they were a bunch of sitcom actors on a shoot or something. Then, a masseuse, an out of work actor, a chef, a paleontologist (which just got through my spellcheck at the first attempt!), a Chandler and a Rachel would never be able to afford the lifestyles depicted in the programme.

One of the things that captures us in Friends is that we all think we're a bit of each character don't we? In my head I'm a man with the looks and sex appeal of Joey, the wit of Chandler and the brains of Ross. Reality is very different. I'm aware that I tend to have the Tribbiani brains, the Bing way with women and the sex appeal of the Dr. On reflection I don't even think I do have Ross's sex appeal.

Women probably go through life thinking that they have Rachel's looks, Phoebe's eccentricity and Monica's organisational skills. Girls take it from me, you don't. Unless you surname is Aniston and your first name rhymes with Zennifer. I think I might have a cousin with that first name actually.

Central Perk is surely a masterpiece of scriptwriting too. What a superb way of creating a regular place for all the characters to get together without making them live in the same place. Can you imagine how the characters' breath must stink from all that coffee. Chee, is all I can say.

And they always get that settee, except for the episode in which Ross and Chandler got "bullied". If I go into a coffee shop I usually struggle to get a seat, then end up sharing with people I don't know. Then if I even think about putting my feet up on the settee I get stared at and made to feel bad.

Whenever we see Ross lecturing to undergraduates he's talking about things in such simplistic terms that even I can understand it. It's dinosaur knowledge for twelve year olds, which is nice but wholly unrealistic. Whenever I've spent time with academics they talk in words and phrases that make my head hurt and I have to narrow my eyes to concentrate. I don't know why I do the eye squint thing but it does work.

I could go on, I could make this a slightly bitchy post about why Friends is crap, because it's so unrealistic. But it's not.

It's brilliant, it's funny and I think it will be watched by students of the Arts, not Paleontology, in years to come as an example of great TV humour.

Which is why, when I read Ms Algama's article, in which she says that the programme is "White supremacist", I laughed and shook my head. And I meant it to hurt and to patronise.

It may well be my favourite comedy of all time, it may be yours, but it's hardly going to win awards for its accurate portrayal of real life is it?

Totally unrealistic, each episode crammed full of more good looking people than most of us see in a lifetime? Yes.

Wholly unbelievable with situations and characters that just wouldn't happen in real life? Yes.

White supremacist? No.

Rather excellent?

Too bloody right.


Sean said...

I loved 'Friends' too; but you've got to admit that it was a rather 'white' show for a sitcom set in multi-cultural NY.

That being said, I don't think TV shows, movies, books or any other form of media can be racist/homophobic/xenophobic (or any other 'phobic) by exclusion. The fact the writers/creators don't go out of their way to include a minority character does not make a show racist.

TV is a form of pop art and the artist who creates it does not have a moral obligation to ensure that every possible minority group is fairly represented in a positive light.

themissingsandwich said...

About them not on the couch in Central Perk, there's one more reference - the opening of the 3rd season I think. They were ousted by another group of friends.

I agree with your sentiments, on the absolutely unrealistic aspect of it that actually gave the show its appeal. And I'm not saying this to piss off Ms. Algama. Been a fan of Friends for yonks. And I have all 10 seasons on DVD at home. But you may have opened up a can of worms here... he he ;-)

Anonymous said...

I agree with you RD. Friends is one of my favourite TV programmes too, though it got a bit soppy towards the end. But the nice thing about it was that it was laugh-out-loud funny in a way that was an escape from reality.
It's a comedy, and obviously not some form of art to highlight or change some problem in society. I'm surprised she read so much into something so lighthearted.

Tanya J.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Sean - Yes I agree. My point is that it's not supposed to be a portrayal of real life for a bunch of twenty somethings in NY.

TMS - Now you mention it I vaguely recollect that, will have to check it out again. No worms yet!

TanyaJ - Yes, I was surprised too.

N said...

Ummm...hasn't this issue been around for awhile? I remember hearing about the whole too white issue back when Friends had only gone through about 5 seasons....it looks like Lakbima is just rehashing an old (very old) issue?

Scrumpulicious said...

It's a bit lame after nearly 5 years that she's trying to bring out the race card. Let's face it - just because NY is a multi cultural city - that does not mean that the producers/scriptwriters had to involve other races. The whole reason that Friends suceeded is because it never made an issue about the race issue - it just did what it was tehre for. To make people laugh!

I'm from London and most of my friends are predominantly Asian. For no other reason other than the fact we get on! Does that make me an Asian supremacist?! Come on!

Savi said...

oh what absolute rubbish!! Friends is brilliant but its a sitcom and it should be taken at that value, without adding unnecessary analysis into it!