With the quarantine time kicking in and Netflix being our only hope to survive it, I am sure that a lot of us are binge-watching web series online. It would be safe to say that online content is something which is humanly produced and is also prone to carry certain prejudices and biases with it. A lot of times, the shows we watch have proved to be misogynistic, homophobic, sexist5 or even casteist which we all have conveniently chosen to let go. A close look at all of these pieces of content suggests that the characters which we really like were problematic, to say the least.
Topping the list is the all-time favourite, 25-year-old sitcom, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. I have seriously lost count of how many times a show as popular as this one, has been homophobic, misogynist and sexist. To begin with probably the most sexist episode of the entire series, “The One with the Male Nanny”, which seriously made me question my choices. The episode revolves around Rachel and Ross trying to find a nanny for their newborn. Unable to find the perfect candidate, Rachel loses all the hope in the world until a male candidate comes on their doorstep. Ross is unable to believe the fact that a guy would want to do a job as ‘feminine’ as being a nanny and behaves really weird about it. While Rachel continues to ask him questions related to the job, Ross makes his homophobic nature quite obvious. He makes comments like, “Are you gay?”, “So, you’re just a guy who is a nanny?”, “You gotta be at least bi”. Not to mention the fact that despite the fact Sandy (the male nanny) is qualified and smart, he does not want to hire the guy at all “because it’s weird”. Later in the episode, he himself confesses that Sandy is good with his baby and does not want Sandy to do the job because he’s not comfortable with a guy as sensitive as him. Not just Ross, but other men in the show, particularly Joey also seem to have a problem with Ross and Rachel hiring a male nanny, he says, “Really? Guys do that? That’s weird. That’s like a woman wanting to be a penis model.”
In several other episodes like, “The One with the Metaphorical Tunnel”, the show chose to be very problematic. When Ross’s son, Ben, comes to visit him with his favourite toy being a Barbie, Ross becomes evidently uncomfortable. “Here’s my boy and here’s his Barbie. What’s my boy doing with a Barbie?”. Oh, I’m sorry, why is your boy being raised by a gender-dictating man? Later in the episode, he continuously tries to convince his son to let go of the Barbie and play with other ‘mannish’ toys, like dinosaurs, monster trucks and even a G.I. Joe toy.
The whole fat Monica debacle was only centred around fat-shaming Monica and nothing else! The show has successfully convinced me that there were not one, but Monicas, one who was thin and one who was fat. This is because of how drastically changed her personality is shown when she turns thin. When she is fat, she is all gibberish and not taken seriously, but when she turns slim, she is smart! In the episode, “The One with All the Thanksgivings”, the show describes how Monica turned thin. Because of the comment made by Chandler behind her back while planning a night out with Ross, “I don’t want to be stuck around with your fat sister”. Right, because fat people are so unwanted and how can one even tolerate them? Monica hears the comment made by Chandler and runs from the room upsettingly. While she does that, her mother comes to her and says, “Monica why don’t you finish off these pies. I don’t have any room in the fridge.”
At several other moments, the show was been so problematic that it makes me question how has it even been our favourite in the first place? Ross’s first wife Carol who turns out to be a lesbian after a few years of their marriage, her whole identity is reduced to her sexuality. In one of the episodes, Ross asks Rachel Carol’s last name after she claims that she is her good friend, to which she replies, “Carol Lesbian?”. The show has excessively objectified women which have often turned into harassment, including the episode where Rachel hurts her rib and asks Ross to help her get ready for an event. Rachel asks him to turn around so that she can change into her dress and obviously does not want to let Ross see her naked. To this, Ross replies that he has seen her naked before when they were together and can imagine her naked anytime he wants so it doesn’t matter. Despite Rachel being evidently uncomfortable with Ross’s remarks, he does not stop. Not to forget that all these scenes were shown to be funny with all the background music of the audience laughing.
While we’re at it, lets also not forget Gossip Girl. one of its most beloved character Chuck Bass was a man from whom in real life, women would steer away from in pubs, to whom we would give our fake names to because how uncomfortable his actions were. The show normalised rape and sexual abuse to the extent that when initially Chuck tries to rape both, Serena and Jenny, but still gets away with it and wins over his lady-love because he is a conventionally handsome man. “I feel like Gossip Girl was hugely problematic. From Chuck Bass trying to rape Serena and Jenny, to being painted as a saint by the end of the series, without even realising how wrong his actions were, to teenagers acting like adults doing whatever they please, like manipulation, cheating, committing crimes, without thinking about the consequences. The show couldn’t have survived if it were made in today’s time and age. Moreover, the show seriously lacked in their depiction of diversity”, says Khushboo Verma.
“For YOU, I haven’t seen more than 4-5 episodes. But altogether, I find the very concept problematic. The protagonist is obsessed with this girl. He kills her boyfriend. He stalks her badly. But his character has been portrayed strongly and beautifully that viewers fall in love with him. I mean okay, very good at the part of the writer. But what happens to the audience when they start worshipping such a character. When they start finding it to be okay to do what he does for “love”. Such shows are just generalising stalking and psychotic behaviour for “love”. It is just making its viewers think that it is very okay to do all this. That it is justified”, says Utkarsha Bansal.
I think it is about time that we critically engage with whatever content we consume. Some of these series are very old in today’s time. Yet we consume them passively without considering how problematic some of the things that they portray are. It is our duty, as an audience, to call out what goes wrong and appreciate what should be.
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