American Pop Culture: The illusion of perfect, unrealistic friendship goals
Have you had a breakup in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon?
Do you have a ten-day long wedding celebration to attend?
Are you feeling randomly low about something completely inane and need someone to smilingly reassure you for the millionth time?
Not to fear. Your TV friend is here!
In the mainstream TV shows, especially sitcoms, a good friend is shown as someone who will either be stuck to you through the day or show up for you at the drop of a hat. But this depiction of a ‘good’ friend might be tad unrealistic.
Let’s break this down!
The first and most important criteria for on-screen friendship is to literally always be there for you.
In season one of ‘Friends’, Monica lets ex-high school bestie Rachel live in her house rent-free, and basically helps her sort her life out despite the fact that Rachel had barely been in touch with her since high school.
The second big criteria for determining who is a good friend is ‘friendship monogamy.’
And that can mean one of two things. One is a set-up where that one friend is the be-all and end-all of your social support system. We see that most often in teen comedies like ‘Wizards of Waverly Place,’ or ‘Hannah Montana’ where the two besties also have their unique code language and quirky friendship hand gesture things that only they understand.
The other is a set-up where a person has one friends group for everything – that group meets all their social needs, and they often end up finding their romantic soulmates and business partners from within the group too.
This has been the go-to trope for countless hit comedy shows over the years, including ‘Friends’, ‘How I Met Your Mother,’ ‘That 70s Show’, ‘The Office’, ‘Community’, and ‘The Big Bang Theory’.
This sort of group friendship monogamy leads to another complication. It results in us pigeonholing complex individuals into tropes they fit within the friends group like the ‘romantic ones’, the ‘funny one’, the ‘punching bag’, or the ‘cleanliness freak.’
In Lena Dunham’s HBO show ‘Girls’, there is even a meta reference to the off-screen impact of these on-screen friends group tropes, where we see super-fan Shoshonna viewing herself and her new-found friends through the lens of ‘Sex and the City’ characters.
The third important quality in a reel bestie is that they have no boundaries. Be it ‘Sex and the City’, or its contemporary Indian counterpart ‘Four More Shots Please’, a good friend will be willing to play any role you ask them to.
From being your date at a fancy cocktail party, to joining you for a last minute rom-com style sleepover. There is no social situation a good friend would avoid if it involves you, and nothing they won’t do if you emotionally blackmail them into believing it would make you happy.
But while this kind of characterization is convenient for writers and producers of a feel-good TV show, it results in us having unrealistic expectations from our real life friendships.
These shows often contribute to our formative ideas of what adult friendships should be like, and as a result, we end up measuring our real life friendships against the impractical and unfair benchmarks these TV shows have set up.
We feel disappointed and dejected when our friends don’t leave up to these expectations.
But the truth is that we all have certain pressures and obligations that keep us from being the perfect friend we see on TV.
While these shows might have been comforting to watch while growing up, may be its time to move past the unrealistic tropes around friendship.
The most moving pieces of pop culture on friendship are actually those that embrace the richness and depth of diverse and messy friendship.
For an instance, the newly released ‘House of the Dragon’ depicts the romantic undertones of a childhood friendship, while also showing up that the events that are not in their control could set two friends against each other. The 2017 TV series ‘Big Little Lies’ explores completely fresh terrain when depicting Celeste and Jane’s friendship, and the challenges of healing from a shared trauma.
And it’s not just newer depictions.
If we look back at the non-mainstream movies and TV shows, we might come across a gem like Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s 2012 film ‘Frances Ha’, that highlights the difficulties of growing apart from a close friend, while also exploring the beauty of finding a way back to that friend in an entirely new capacity.
So let’s move on from glorifying these idealistic tropes around friendship and embrace some of these more nuanced depictions of it, which allows us to accept friendship in all its richness and complexity.
Which TV shows or movies do you think gave unrealistic friendship goals?
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