On Chandler Bing’s Job
September 13, 2019 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Twenty-five years ago, Friends anticipated a time that would both romanticize and mistrust the culture of work. "Chandler Bing entered his profession in that most relatable of ways: He got a job because he had to, and he failed to get a better one, and that failure extended over a period of years, and soon enough, through inertia’s bland inevitabilities, Chandler’s job became his career."
posted by asnider (75 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is...more extremely relatable than anything in the entire series itself.
posted by General Malaise at 1:07 PM on September 13, 2019 [22 favorites]


Related : Frank Grimes and the cult of work.
posted by The Whelk at 1:09 PM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]


oof
posted by Reyturner at 1:10 PM on September 13, 2019


Ms. Chnadler Bong, actually.
posted by nubs at 1:13 PM on September 13, 2019 [16 favorites]


Hear, hear to that quote above.

On a related note: Barney Stinson's job is "please" or "pleas," as it turned out.

I stopped watching Friends before the end, so Chandler became an advertising intern?!
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:15 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]



I stopped watching Friends before the end, so Chandler became an advertising intern?!


I think that's right, but it didn't really matter because Chandler was always failing upward no matter what.
posted by nubs at 1:19 PM on September 13, 2019


I don't disagree that the way Chandler's job is portrayed is that it's extremely unfulfilling, but I've always read that as a failure of imagination on the writers' part - they really can't imagine that any job involving numbers and reports could be interesting, given that it's so far from their experience. But hey, different people like different things - I have what Friends would definitely have portrayed as a soulless corporate job doing statistical analysis - and I really do find the work interesting, hard as that may be to believe.
posted by peacheater at 1:23 PM on September 13, 2019 [38 favorites]


That's one of the things I liked about Tuca and Bertie, Bertie has one of these jobs but the writing shows a real understanding of what the job is and what it's really like to be trying to nurture that particular kind of sapling into a tree. I was struck by how apparent it was that at least someone in that room had such a familiar and common experience that is almost never realistically portrayed.
posted by bleep at 1:31 PM on September 13, 2019 [32 favorites]


I don't think Chandler's job is his problem as much as it is his relationship with it. That he finds meaning in advertising is proof. The writers, and by extension Chandler, having any interest in his job would undermine the joke.
posted by Reyturner at 1:31 PM on September 13, 2019 [8 favorites]


He was a chandler. And then they named a search engine after him.

Failing upward indeed.
posted by chavenet at 1:36 PM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]


As I am now in the 23rd year of my uninspiring career in IT, with the diploma for my master's degree in film mocking me from the wall, I feel like Chandler's job is the only realistic thing about "Friends". I suspect I am not alone.
posted by briank at 1:42 PM on September 13, 2019 [30 favorites]


I didn't watch enough of the show to know if it worked this way, but I always thought of Chandler as the one who had enough money to be hit up when the others couldn't pay for stuff. Certainly he was supporting Joey, right?
posted by emjaybee at 1:45 PM on September 13, 2019 [16 favorites]


There was at least one episode that addressed the financial disparity between the Friends - Joey, Phoebe, and Monica were less financially secure than Ross, Chandler, and Rachel (once she got her fashion job), and it resulted in an argument because the more well-off three always wanted to go do things the other three couldn't afford. There was an offer from the richer group to just pay for the others, which created offense and then ????? happened and everyone was Friends again by the end of the episode.

(my god, how do I remember so much about this show? What is wrong with me?)
posted by nubs at 2:05 PM on September 13, 2019 [16 favorites]


Never really watched the show but I might literally be Chandler right now (I also sort of just flailed my way into a boring data job where I enter numbers that don’t matter just to survive.) Oof.
posted by Young Kullervo at 2:08 PM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]


I feel like it’s pretty normal for some people to find meaning outside work and care about their job mostly for the paycheck? I have friends who have careers and are ambitious about scaling the ladder, friends who have more passionate/artistic careers that require a lot of sacrifice and time, and friends who never mention work and it takes me a year or more to even know what industry they work in. The last category aren’t more miserable than anyone else, they just tend to care more about maximizing their leisure time and put more effort into hobbies and social life. (If anything the ambitious career climbers are the miserable ones. It’s not like Friends had a corporate lawyer trying and failing to make partner for the whole series.)
posted by sallybrown at 2:17 PM on September 13, 2019 [16 favorites]


"and friends who never mention work and it takes me a year or more to even know what industry they work in"

I'd be interested to see the Venn diagram of these people and people who watch Friends.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:20 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]


(my god, how do I remember so much about this show? What is wrong with me?)

You didn't remember as much as you thought since it was Ross, Chandler and Monica who were financially secure, and Joey, Phoebe, and Rachel were the ones who were. Monica was an executive chef and Rachel was still a waitress. It's from the episode, The One with Five Steaks and an Eggplant.
posted by jmauro at 2:22 PM on September 13, 2019 [8 favorites]


"and friends who never mention work and it takes me a year or more to even know what industry they work in"

I work for a major tech company doing finance/development/planning work, and my parents and in-laws always think I work in a store while wearing a uniform and my wife thinks since I work in "IT" I fix computers.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:25 PM on September 13, 2019 [24 favorites]


You didn't remember as much as you thought since it was Ross, Chandler and Monica who were financially secure, and Joey, Phoebe, and Rachel were the ones who were.

Well, that's a relief. Could I be any more wrong?
posted by nubs at 2:27 PM on September 13, 2019 [23 favorites]


I'd be interested to see the Venn diagram of these people and people who watch Friends.

We are all old enough to remember it the first time around!
posted by sallybrown at 2:28 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]


Friends came from a period in the mid-to-late 1990s when a lot of young adults thought the worst thing that could happen to them was to have a steady, non-glamorous white-collar job. See also: The Matrix, Fight Club, Office Space, American Beauty

I kind of miss the naïvete of those days.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:35 PM on September 13, 2019 [109 favorites]


I mostly really liked my job, but didn't like talking about it with casual acquaintances because it would require a lot of background and context and because, while there wasn't a lot of stuff I couldn't talk about but there was enough and I just didn't want to have to worry about that. So, when people asked me about it, I'd just say, "I could tell you, but... then we'd both be bored."
posted by sjswitzer at 2:36 PM on September 13, 2019 [5 favorites]


(my god, how do I remember so much about this show? What is wrong with me?)

1. No worries. Repeatedly watching pieces of better episodes in ubiquitous rerun etches them into our brains. One can become a databank about a show in which one never was interested when new with no effort at all. Ask me about That 70's Show, for instance.
2. The show explicitly dealt with real life socioeconomic strife which is intrinsically memorable to the average bear.
3. Relax, it will fade eventually. Or so I hope.
posted by y2karl at 2:37 PM on September 13, 2019


The cool thing about Friends-related threads is the tremendous satisfaction they bring to people who've seemingly been waiting years to shit on a toothless sitcom.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:59 PM on September 13, 2019 [26 favorites]


I feel like it’s pretty normal for some people to find meaning outside work and care about their job mostly for the paycheck?

I agree that this is normal. I'm one of those people, despite working in a nominally "creative" industry. But, culturally, most people in America (and Canada, and probably much of "the West") have been raised to think that we should look for our dream job. "Find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life" and other such cliches.

To acknowledge that, actually, most of us don't work in our dream job -- and maybe don't even have a "dream job" -- and having a boring job that provides a steady paycheque to do the things that actually give our lives meaning feels almost taboo. Even post-2008, when it's a lot more obvious and acceptable to acknowledge that a lot of people are underemployed and working in low paying jobs they hate, there still seems to be a vague sense that we'd all be happy if only we could get lucky and find our dream job. Having said that, I do think a lot of people, especially millennials, will admit that we'd just be happy to get a job with steady hours and a decent wage, "dream job" be damned.
posted by asnider at 3:01 PM on September 13, 2019 [12 favorites]


I have what Friends would definitely have portrayed as a soulless corporate job doing statistical analysis

You’re a transponster!
posted by billiebee at 3:14 PM on September 13, 2019 [16 favorites]


I mostly really liked my job, but didn't like talking about it with casual acquaintances because it would require a lot of background and context

My brother was/is an accountant (he's actually a VP of Finance, now...) and his standard response to, "What do you do?" is: "Accounting [stoneface]".
posted by The Tensor at 3:16 PM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]


You’re a transponster!


THANK you. Was reading this thread with bated breath waiting for someone to finally say it!

Also:

“Weekly Estimated Net Usage System (or Statistic)”

and

“Annual Net Usage System (or Statistic)”
posted by darkstar at 3:30 PM on September 13, 2019 [14 favorites]


I'm very fortunate to have landed a job I adore, after 20 years of contracting. The work itself isn't terribly exciting - technical support for school finance software - but my teammates and clients are an absolute delight, the company treats me like a human being, and the company's insistence on us having a good work/life balance is quite something.

That said, if I could just fuck around all day with the dogs and not have to be responsible, I wouldn't be upset about that, either.
posted by MissySedai at 3:33 PM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]


I make a point of telling my son that while most of us don't get to make a living doing what we like to do, we can usually find something to like about how we make a living and that can be good enough.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:57 PM on September 13, 2019 [22 favorites]


What are we really talking about though?

A job that slowly kills you? Bruises that won't won't heal?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:20 PM on September 13, 2019 [10 favorites]


lot of young adults thought the worst thing that could happen to them was to have a steady, non-glamorous white-collar job

I have many, many times mulled over the irony of the attitude of the 90s being "oh no, the horror of being forced to settle into a comfortable middle class existence", just before it basically became aspirational to the point where I watch The Walking Dead and think "Sure, zombies, but they seem to have the affordable housing and childcare situations figured out"
posted by Jon Mitchell at 4:33 PM on September 13, 2019 [37 favorites]


The show explicitly dealt with real life socioeconomic strife

It did? How?

I mean, I'm willing to be convinced, but - that one episode aside - it seems an unlikely claim to make for this particular show. Friends was often pretty funny in its first few seasons, but the world it depicted was straight-up TV fantasyland, wasn't it?
posted by Paul Slade at 4:35 PM on September 13, 2019


I don't remember my slacker friends in the 1990s actually believing that the middle-class existence was safe. My parents sure couldn't protect me from knowing that the 1970s stagflation had already undone a lot of the Great Compression. I don't think they felt safe. I'm an oldish X, though, so maybe the hypercolor 1980s were more credible to slightly younger people.

(And I never watched Friends -- all I think I know about it is `unrealistically huge apartments', or is that The Big Chill?)
posted by clew at 4:41 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]


Why is suddenly Friends some kind of media touchstone for deeper meaning about work and culture? I know it's celebrating some kind of anniversary or whatever, but seriously?


Okay. Chandler Bing-a-Ling was adorable.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 4:41 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's a common sitcom trope to keep hinting at some detail that never gets made any clearer. We never see Carlton the doorman on Rhoda. We never see Maris on Frasier. We never learn the last name of the family on Malcolm in the Middle. We never learn what state Springfield is in on the Simpsons. The vagueness about Chandler's job is just part of creating a running gag. It's Sitcom Writing 101.
posted by jonp72 at 5:00 PM on September 13, 2019 [22 favorites]


Also:

“Weekly Estimated Net Usage System (or Statistic)”

and

“Annual Net Usage System (or Statistic)”


"I'm looking at the WENUS, and I'm not happy."
posted by jonp72 at 5:01 PM on September 13, 2019 [6 favorites]


We never see Carlton the doorman on Rhoda.

Some pilots get picked and become television programs. Some don't, become nothing.
posted by thelonius at 5:07 PM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]


The cool thing about Friends-related threads is the tremendous satisfaction they bring to people who've seemingly been waiting years to shit on a toothless sitcom.

They made a sitcom ... without ANY teeth?

What a country.
posted by wildblueyonder at 5:07 PM on September 13, 2019 [5 favorites]


lot of young adults thought the worst thing that could happen to them was to have a steady, non-glamorous white-collar job

See also: Scott Adams, whose sole contribution to humanity was the idea that it's okay to complain about your white-collar job and your co-workers.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:11 PM on September 13, 2019 [8 favorites]


mbrubeck: Friends came from a period in the mid-to-late 1990s when a lot of young adults thought the worst thing that could happen to them was to have a steady, non-glamorous white-collar job. See also: The Matrix, Fight Club, Office Space, American Beauty

I can’t claim to know if that’s what a lot of young adults were afraid of, but I’m not sure if that is what those movies were saying.

The Matrix is about living a lie, or at least having two different identities: a false one and a real one. Thomas Anderson is Thomas Anderson, an cog in the corporate machine, but outside of that he’s Neo, a hacker.
Agent Smith : It seems that you've been living two lives. One life, you're Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a social security number, pay your taxes, and you... help your landlady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers, where you go by the hacker alias "Neo" and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.
This is from the beginning of the movie, before Neo is “woken up”. The movie is also about choice, as the sequels show. Thomas Anderson takes the red pill and wakes up as Neo, perhaps his true “self”.

Fight Club, in my opinion (although all of this is my opinion), is about capitalism’s affect of destroying identity, homogenizing individuals via deterritorialization. In the context of globalization, deterritorialization would imply that it is the removal of a person from their cultural and local constructs. The movie’s beginning is rife with conversations about consumerism and one’s relation with “stuff”, and the dehumanizing aspects of thus.
We're consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don't concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy's name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra.
Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need.
You are not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis.
These guys basically end up forming a fraternal anti-capitalist terrorist organization, with their grand finale being the bombing of credit card companies’ towers, thus eliminating peoples’ debt. On top of that, the narrator is a schizophrenic. I have to bring up Deleuze and Guattari—who have been on my mind a lot lately, see some of my previous comments—and Fredric Jameson. They believe schizophrenia is concurrent with capitalism and that capitalism reinforces these psychotic neuroses. Jameson believes that schizophrenics are totally deterritorialized, they have no abject personal identity, as they are compounded with signifiers so rapidly, much like our capitalist world hits us with so many rapid fire signifiers, and that they become a product of capitalism. Deleuze and Guattari think:
Schizophrenia is the exterior limit of capitalism itself or the conclusion of its deepest tendency, but that capitalism only functions on condition that it inhibit this tendency, or that it push back or displace this limit… Hence schizophrenia is not the identity of capitalism, but on the contrary its difference, its divergence, and its death (246).
Deleuze and Guattari believe that schizophrenics are heroes of anti-capitalism, so it’s interesting that the narrator of Fight Club, a schizophrenic, creates an anti-capitalist terrorist group.

Office Space I haven’t seen in a long time, but from what I remember it’s chiefly concerned with the minutiae and absurdity of corporate life and the fact that even rebelling against it doesn’t necessarily end with one being happy or content. Livingston totally insubordinates his superiors and what do they do? They promote him, almost making him the enemy amongst his comrades, until he and his pals decide to go against the company. He gets a job doing construction, which is fine, but it’s still work. Milton ends up on a beach, but is still unhappy. The two other guys just get jobs with the competitor. No matter what, in this world of absurdity, one still is miserable! Capitalism is rhizomatic! Even after your shitty job burns down, you just go to another one and continue the process of working. There’s no freedom.

American Beauty, which is use to love, is tainted by Spacey and therefor I am not commenting on it.

I am not too sure what the deal with Friends is. It’s ostensibly about a privileged group of friends in New York City going about their lives and there are little themes and story arcs thrown in, just like most sitcoms. They’re friends, they’re able to get through anything as long as they have each other, until they get to a point where life gets in the way and they all have to split up to their conformist lives. Depressing.

How fucking sad is it that most of us have lost our friends just to typical shit that we all take to be “the way things are”? Jobs get in the way, family, money, health problems. Isn’t it sad that we lose our friends? We have such little precious time on this planet and a lot of the time it’s these random people we meet that give us so much joy, yet we’re suppose to fucking work and fuck and have children and then move on and leave those people behind, or they leave us behind. Of course some of us still have our friends, our old friends, our best friends. I happen to have friends I’ve known for half my life, and some I’ve known for a third of my life, but will they be there forever? I’d like them to be! I don’t want to lose my friends, or to have them disappear into mere memories. Why is it that we’ve just accepted the fact that this shit happens? How disgusting it is that jobs get in the way of these people that we love! We’re thrown into this world against our consent, we find people we love who give us happiness, and then we have to go our separate paths, and we’re suppose to just accept this as the way things are. Fuck that, I’m so sick of that bullshit. The ending of Friends is shit. If you wanna go fuck off to the suburbs with your kids that’s fine! Go ahead! What’s infuriating is that it’s societally accepted that this is how it’s suppose to be! It isn’t how it’s suppose to be! Fuckin hell.

Also, Ross sucks.
posted by gucci mane at 5:35 PM on September 13, 2019 [44 favorites]


We never learn the last name of the family on Malcolm in the Middle.

It's Wilkerson.
posted by littlesq at 5:49 PM on September 13, 2019


Or Heisenberg.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:54 PM on September 13, 2019 [9 favorites]


IS THAT A JOKE ABOUT THE UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE MADE BY A SOCKPUPPET-WIELDING BRADY BUNCHER
posted by cgc373 at 5:57 PM on September 13, 2019 [6 favorites]


hi, IRFH!
posted by cgc373 at 5:58 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]


The essay mentions Douglas Coupland's 'Generation X', which was a good description of the Zietgiest which drew the fuzzy line between the ethos of the Baby Boomers and those others who came after, a more cynical and complex attitude about day-jobs and the nature of employment.
posted by ovvl at 6:09 PM on September 13, 2019 [5 favorites]


Why is suddenly Friends some kind of media touchstone for deeper meaning about work and culture? I know it's celebrating some kind of anniversary or whatever, but seriously?

Well, in the UK, everyone who watched it 12-18 hours a day in uni is just turning 30 now and getting those higher profile writing jobs. At least, that was the theory of my London coworkers. This came up when I was out there a couple weeks ago and I asked why it seemed 20% of the tourists near our office in Covent Garden were wearing t shirts with the Friends logo on it.
posted by sideshow at 6:12 PM on September 13, 2019 [6 favorites]


I work in marketing communications and advertising research and accountability.

I have literally told people that I have Chandler's job.


When I try to explain what I do, they usually believe me.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:14 PM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]




Friends came from a period in the mid-to-late 1990s when a lot of young adults thought the worst thing that could happen to them was to have a steady, non-glamorous white-collar job.

I thought this was because Gen X put the baby boomers going from counter-cultural hippies to authoritarian squares down to them settling down and getting a steady job. I don't quite understand what happened in the 70s and 80s that neoliberal conservatism sounded really attractive and not a betrayal of everything the labour movement had been working towards for years, but something happened. It probably wasn't "all the hippies got well-paying jobs", though.
posted by Merus at 6:47 PM on September 13, 2019 [9 favorites]


Bebe Neuwirth played Lilith and appeared in 81 episodes of Cheers and 12 episodes of Fraiser
posted by jordemort at 6:59 PM on September 13, 2019


aaaand I got Maris and Lilith confused and realized outside of the edit window
posted by jordemort at 7:11 PM on September 13, 2019 [4 favorites]


the narrator of Fight Club, a schizophrenic

Schizophrenia is distinct from Dissociative Identity Disorder, which is, I guess, what the narrator suffers from.
Disclaimer: I am not a fictional character psychiatrist; I am not YOUR fictional character psychiatrist.
posted by thelonius at 7:20 PM on September 13, 2019 [9 favorites]


> Friends came from a period in the mid-to-late 1990s when a lot of young adults thought the worst thing that could happen to them was to have a steady, non-glamorous white-collar job. See also: The Matrix, Fight Club, Office Space, American Beauty…

I kind of miss the naïvete of those days.


i mean yes but also if one gets out of the individualist perspective — and i acknowledge that the media of the 90s invites adopting an individualist perspective — one realizes that the horror of the white collar middle management shit job isn’t that it’s boring, but instead that one doing it is at best wasting their life serving people who don’t merit service, or more often are in fact actively making the world a worse place to live. and well by keeping this machinery humming we’re not just keeping the world locked in capitalism, but are in fact baking it to death.

there’s a certain higher naïvety to thinking that the problem with the bad white collar job is that it’s boring. the real horror is that it’s both a waste of a life and also a waste of a planet. the 90s were right to be horrified of the “good jobs” under capitalism — the failure of perspective, if there was a failure of perspective, was the inability to recognize why the allegedly good jobs are in fact bad. it’s not because of the individual effects of working them, it’s because of the cumulative societal effect of all of us working them.

you and i, we’re people from the same milieu, but we’re people who’ve made very different choices in life. i’ve spent the decades since the 90s consistently doing the most absolutely impractical things i can do — and somehow it’s worked out for me. i think maybe the key thing is that i’ve never had children, and so i’ve never been in a situation wherein the well-being of another person has required me to take a bad job. or maybe i’ve just been staggeringly lucky.

one of my least favorite things about capitalism — and as you know well, i’ve got many least favorite things about capitalism — is that it effectively holds the children of the non-rich hostage. “do what i demand,” capital says, “or your child is homeless.”
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 7:28 PM on September 13, 2019 [39 favorites]


I remember one show where Ross pivoted his career to lead furniture mover.
posted by newper at 7:29 PM on September 13, 2019 [4 favorites]


@thelonius: Huh! I’ve always thought he was schizophrenic and there are lots of things online about it, but the Wikipedia page for the narrator does say DID! That blows my whole premise ugh 😤
posted by gucci mane at 9:11 PM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]


I don't quite understand what happened in the 70s and 80s that neoliberal conservatism sounded really attractive and not a betrayal of everything the labour movement had been working towards for years, but something happened. It probably wasn't "all the hippies got well-paying jobs", though.

The Boomers have always been the economic and therefore social and cultural gravity well of their time. As children their shared culture was a global obsession. As young adults they became interested in self expression in the 60's, then hedonistic self gratification in the 70's, and then monetary self fulfillment in the 80's. Their story is of an evolving multi-faceted self infatuation.
posted by xammerboy at 9:12 PM on September 13, 2019 [7 favorites]


clew: "(And I never watched Friends -- all I think I know about it is `unrealistically huge apartments', or is that The Big Chill?)"

Friends did have unrealistically large apartments, although they did make a gesture of an explanation (it was actually Monica's grandmother's rent-controlled place).

Wasn't The Big Chill mostly at that one house? Maybe you're thinking of St. Elmo's Fire.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:18 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]


St. Elmo's Fire is spread across Georgetown and not in just one apartment. From what I remember of the film, none of the apartments seem out of size for the area, but the campus of the University of Maryland-College Park stands in for Georgetown in a number of scenes which is a little jarring.
posted by jmauro at 9:30 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]


Demi Moore's place is quite large, but then she's supposed to be supported by a rich guy.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:51 PM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]


Friends came from a period in the mid-to-late 1990s when a lot of young adults thought the worst thing that could happen to them was to have a steady, non-glamorous white-collar job. See also: The Matrix, Fight Club, Office Space, American Beauty…

Was this a true era? Or did Hollywood create it and try to make it happen as a stigma?
posted by ascrabblecat at 2:34 AM on September 14, 2019


The Matrix is about living a lie, or at least having two different identities: a false one and a real one. Thomas Anderson is Thomas Anderson, an cog in the corporate machine, but outside of that he’s Neo, a hacker.

Agent Smith : It seems that you've been living two lives. One life, you're Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a social security number, pay your taxes, and you... help your landlady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers, where you go by the hacker alias "Neo" and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.

This is from the beginning of the movie, before Neo is “woken up”. The movie is also about choice, as the sequels show. Thomas Anderson takes the red pill and wakes up as Neo, perhaps his true “self”.


And we do ourselves a disservice every time we forget that this movie, with this narrative, was made by two trans women.

And that in the late 90s, hormone replacement therapy generally featured conjugated estrogen in the form of Premarin, which comes as red pills.
posted by kafziel at 4:29 AM on September 14, 2019 [22 favorites]


“If I don’t input those numbers …”—he pauses, considering—“... it doesn’t make much of a difference.”

I had forgotten this but this is, for me, the best line in the entirety of Friends.
posted by pompomtom at 4:43 AM on September 14, 2019 [2 favorites]


And that in the late 90s, hormone replacement therapy generally featured conjugated estrogen in the form of Premarin, which comes as red pills.

And this is what makes the weird incel/MRA/whatever thing about "taking the red pill" that came from this simultaneously infuriating and/or hilarious. Incel/MRA weebs and the pro-Trump alt-right have been non-ironically using this meme for about 4-5 years? More?

This timeline is intensely dumb and lacking self awareness way too often.
posted by loquacious at 6:08 AM on September 14, 2019 [8 favorites]


yeah okay i'm just going to talk about the matrix because i will literally never pass up an opportunity to talk about the matrix: something that is super striking when one rewatches it today is how often neo is referred to by other characters using female names, primarily "alice" and "dorothy."

like, if you list the names that other people use to refer to neo, i'm pretty sure "alice" is used actually more often than "mr. anderson" is used.

and well of course alice and dorothy work as names describing the position of someone who realizes that they're in a fantasy world, but also: wow, the trans narrative is hiding in plain sight, isn't it?
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:27 AM on September 14, 2019 [19 favorites]


I am not too sure what the deal with Friends is. It’s ostensibly about a privileged group of friends in New York City going about their lives and there are little themes and story arcs thrown in, just like most sitcoms. They’re friends, they’re able to get through anything as long as they have each other, until they get to a point where life gets in the way and they all have to split up to their conformist lives. Depressing.

In the early seasons, the main characters are less "privileged" in terms of personal wealth than in terms of the show's total unrealism about what people need to do to make a living. Even back in the day, a lot of the commentary about Friends was about how there was no way the characters could have afforded to live in the apartments they live in. Rachel is financially cut off from her family and starts out the show with virtually no marketable skills. Monica starts out as an executive chef, but goes through a relatively long period of unemployment or underemployment after getting fired from that job. Phoebe lives with her grandmother, but before that, she lived with Monica, but I have no idea how she could have paid for her share of the apartment as a masseuse/street musician. Chandler has a generic white-collar job that explains how he can pay for his apartment, but Joey starts out as a starving actor without a college degree. I even remember fan theories from back in the day about how Monica must have inherited a rent-controlled apartment from her grandmother, because that's the only plausible theory to account for how Monica and Rachel could have paid for where they live.

In addition to the show's sense of unreality about basic economic facts of life, the show also had a sense of unreality as a show that takes place in New York, but with a disproportionately low percentage of nonwhite cast members, even in the smallest roles. I could post some essay about it, but I prefer the hilarious rap of A semi-alphabetical listing of Black actors with speaking roles on Friends.
posted by jonp72 at 11:05 AM on September 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


> Even back in the day, a lot of the commentary about Friends was about how there was no way the characters could have afforded to live in the apartments they live in.

the shit of it is that if friends had happened 25 years previously, if it had been a nostalgia piece set in the early-mid 70s instead of a then-current day piece set in the 90s, it would have been totally plausible to find people with that collection of skillsets and personal histories living in decent-ish nyc apartments.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:30 AM on September 14, 2019 [7 favorites]


"Monica must have inherited a rent-controlled apartment from her grandmother"


They literally explain that in the show. She was illegally subletting her grandma's rent controlled apartment, "and because of rent control, this place was a steal!"
posted by VyanSelei at 11:58 AM on September 14, 2019 [9 favorites]


if it had been a nostalgia piece set in the early-mid 70s instead of a then-current day piece set in the 90s, it would have been totally plausible to find people with that collection of skillsets and personal histories living in decent-ish nyc apartments.

I mean that’s akways the case isn’t it? There’s a 20 year lag between the material conditions people lived in and when they’re old enough and established enough to make a mainstream TV show about it
posted by The Whelk at 12:13 PM on September 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


If your expectations are set by popular media, there are a shocking number of jobs that people think of as boring, soulless number crunching or otherwise tedious and unrewarding that are actually really interesting, offering challenging problems to solve and insight into all kinds of super interesting things if you're at all inquisitive.

Another thing people often fail to understand is that jobs like that often come with a lot of power and influence, provided the occupant of the position chooses to cultivate and eventually make use of it. Modern capitalism in general, and American culture in particular, is so steeped in the "great man/person" mindset that generations of people have been gaslit into believing that only those at the very top have the aptitude, ability, and accumulated power to affect things in any serious way. Sadly, the left's focus on collective action, while laudable, has the unfortunate side effect of maintaining that fiction with the implicit message that only large groups can effectively stand up to power.

In some cases that's down to outdated ideology that treats all levels of management as a single entity despite the vastly different interests different levels have. In a lot of companies, even middle management has interests more closely aligned with labor than the ownership class, and could be very useful (and effective) allies.
posted by wierdo at 12:39 PM on September 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


If your expectations are set by popular media, there are a shocking number of jobs that people think of as boring, soulless number crunching or otherwise tedious and unrewarding that are actually really interesting, offering challenging problems to solve and insight into all kinds of super interesting things if you're at all inquisitive.

Another thing that this whole discourse has made me think about as well as in my own life I am job hunting so I'm thinking a lot about it is that my job is at the same time interesting to me and in theory I managed to find a job that's very well suited to how my mind naturally works it also IS exhausting and soul-crushing to be obligated to spend a lot of time and energy just to commute every day and then be creative under threat of death basically. If I don't commit to showing up at a place it takes me an hour a get to and wring everything out of my mind I possibly can I'll be sleeping on the street and dead before very long. And I'm one of the lucky ones.
posted by bleep at 1:38 PM on September 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


They literally explain that in the show. She was illegally subletting her grandma's rent controlled apartment, "and because of rent control, this place was a steal!"

Maybe my memory of 1990s Web 1.0 is suspect, but I seem to remember seeing fan theories about the rent-controlled apartment on the Internet, before they ever bothered to explain it on the show.
posted by jonp72 at 5:49 PM on September 14, 2019


I don't remember my slacker friends in the 1990s actually believing that the middle-class existence was safe. My parents sure couldn't protect me from knowing that the 1970s stagflation had already undone a lot of the Great Compression. I don't think they felt safe. I'm an oldish X, though, so maybe the hypercolor 1980s were more credible to slightly younger people.


I'm old enough now to see my own time in history reinterpreted and misrepresented daily. What can you do? People always look at the past through the lens of now.

the 90s were right to be horrified of the “good jobs” under capitalism — the failure of perspective, if there was a failure of perspective, was the inability to recognize why the allegedly good jobs are in fact bad. it’s not because of the individual effects of working them, it’s because of the cumulative societal effect of all of us working them.
posted by bongo_x at 2:58 AM on September 15, 2019


I remember well how shocked I was to see Friends when it first aired, with its jaunty disregard for social realism; the bedrock foundation of all TV series up to that point. Luckily though TV shows since then have reverted to the old ways of only capturing reality as it is lived without exaggeration.

Really though the title of the show alone is telling the audience what it is putting a premium on in and sets that value against that which might oppose it. It's a reaction to the excesses of the eighties and "answers" the concerns about jobs, finances, and all the other worrying details of adulthood by saying the value of people close to us is more important than those other things. It isn't a realistic way to live and it isn't really fooling anyone in that regard, though it does or did create the desire for a like shared general attitude towards relationships. The show plays loose with finances because that is part of the hook in the jokes.

Money concerns are mentioned, but able to be set aside because the group is all together and can get through minor hardships. It's a fantasy that came from the dream of improvement during the Clinton era after following the Reagan years. People liked the show because they could indulge in the dream of closeness to others, that people often have in their twenties, and extend that indefinitely and which acts as a buffer to all the other harsher elements of life. It is a bit of an adolescent fantasy in that it comes from the attachments of young adulthood, but it is a hook, like nostalgia, that's really simple, largely uncontroversial in itself, and works on almost a universal level, which is why it keeps showing up over and over again in mass media. (See many of the Marvel Universe films or the Big Bang Theory among many examples, all fit to slightly different models of what drives the conflicts.)

None of that makes Friends good in itself, it just informs the way it is enjoyed and why it could keep going as long as it did. The good or bad of it beyond that is up to taste and how some of the value elements play out for the viewer, judging from now or the memory of the time and whether that memory was a positive or negative one and what it was based on. (Some of the response to really popular works comes from their place in popular culture and having to hear about them as much as the works themselves.)
posted by gusottertrout at 3:53 AM on September 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


RE: socio-economic strife:

I mean, I'm willing to be convinced, but - that one episode aside - it seems an unlikely claim to make for this particular show.

To be clear, that one episode was all I meant to describe.

As for David Schwimmer, I first encountered him in an ad wherein he was trying far too hard to be puppy dog adorable and despised him forever after. Hence, I never watched Friends.

Only after catching Lisa Kudrow in the endless reruns while channel flipping, did I ever watch it. Usually until Ross came on... Flip! I doubt I have watched more than 3 complete episodes.
posted by y2karl at 5:49 PM on September 17, 2019


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