‘Welcome to the real world. It sucks. You’re gonna love it.’
Last week, once again since 2004 there were rumors about a potential reunion of the characters from the TV show “Friends” to produce a show together. This it seemed more serious than before as it seemed the characters had agreed to be part of such a project. Even the rumor itself excited the fanbase of the series. On social media Jennifer Aniston’s Instagram picture of the six characters together continued this excitement. Of course the realization of such a project is yet to be seen.
Since its last season 25 years ago, “Friends” continues to be one of the most popular series around the world. Its last season 15 years ago did not change much and in addition to a generation of “Friends” lovers around the world who followed the series when it was aired weekly, millennials also learned about this series through DVDs and then on online platforms.
The stories of six attractive characters and their adventures in New York constituted for many the part of the “American Dream” during the 1990s. There was a very convincing upward mobility of all of the characters and career advancement of a chef, a paleontologist, an actor, etc. For many what made the series so popular around the world was its simplicity and its humor and the idealized life of 20-somethings in one of the biggest cities of the world. In the 90s nostalgia of the time for men and women of the world today the period of “Friends” represents a golden age in their lives.
In this increasingly polarized American society and in the midst of debates about isolationism, for American 40-somethings the series might provide something more than a simple lifestyle of six characters with friends. Considering the increasing tendency of isolationism among some segments of the American people, the series may represent something very unique.
Despite living in one of the most international cities around the world and having widespread international audiences in its 10 seasons, the scriptwriters never internationalized the series. It was mostly in New York and almost always in the U.S. Different international cities and countries always represented a separation or departure from the world that the friends used to live in.
The move to a city meant almost a dissolution of the character. Because of that the use of the names of cities and countries took place only when someone was exiting from the scene and paying a farewell, such as Montreal (when Ross falls asleep in the train while going to break up with his girlfriend), Yemen (when Chandler tries to break up with Janice), Minsk (when David and Phoebe break up) and Paris (when Rachel was promoted to a position that could break her apart for good with Ross). There was not much interest for international travel among the six characters either.
A foreign country or a nation was a remote and secluded place on earth. In fact in even one of the pickup lines for the series (backpacking across Europe), it was considered effective because it almost a dreamy, surrealistic and mystical story. Other than Ross’s eventful wedding ceremony with Emily in London, which is the only time that these characters traveled to another country, there was not much international interaction and there was not much interest among the characters about things happening in the world.
In fact, the American dream of “Friends” was very similar to the American dream of the 1920s. There was a belief among the characters that someone can reinvent himself or herself in America, just like in Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby.” But there was something more. It was the fatigue of international involvement and interference, just like the fatigue of the 1920s from the involvement of the U.S. in World War I and the treaties in its aftermath.
Nowadays there is a recurrence of this fatigue from the “long and unending wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan and a willingness to deal with domestic problems.
But what America wants is much more complicated than ever. Sometimes it is called retrenchment or retreat or recline or light footprint. But the common idea is how to stop engaging with every conflict and bearing the responsibility of keeping international order. But while trying to achieve that they also want at the same time not to lose the privileges of being the most powerful nation on earth. Americans are trying to figure out how to build walls and adopt sanctions and tariffs with other nations so that they can keep their country away from the impact of globalization. However again at the same time, they want to sell more American products and increase the volume of trade.
In fact, they like the popularity of “Friends” and they like it when the characters in the series are self-sufficient with not much international interest. However they don’t want to deal with the world when it gets too messy. But this is not really sustainable. Maybe it is time for Americans to understand the real world, recognize the concerns of others and get used to globalization.
We have seen previously that isolationism does not work out well. At this point, Monica’s advice to Rachel seems to be the most realistic sentence about the future of the U.S. “Welcome to the real world. It sucks. You’re gonna love it.”
This article was first published by Daily Sabah on November 24, 2019.