By Glenn and Jake
Most good debates start out with a shocking proposition to grab the reader's attention and produce enough conflict to sustain a prolonged discussion. This one shall be no different: Friends, during its ten year run, was the best show on television. What made it so good? It was the writing, the set pieces and how much money the actors were paid per episode (which seemed like a lot at the time but wouldn't even cause most financial executives to bat an eye now). The only flaw in the show was the undercurrent of racism that flowed through the streams of the many marriages, crazy situations and season finales of those wonderful ten years. This begs the question of who the most racist character on Friends actually was. The only black character on the show, played by Aisha Tyler, dated both Ross and Joey. This gets them off the hook and leaves a thoughtful discussion to decide amongst Rachel, Monica, Phoebe and Chandler who was the most racist Friend.
Jake: I am not as familiar with this TV program as Glenn, but I have still seen a huge chunk of the episodes, even some toward the end with Paul Rudd. I think it is easy to exclude Joey and Ross, since they both dated Talk Soup's Aisha Tyler. On top of that, Ross also dated an Asian woman, when Rachel was about to tell him she has similar feelings for him at that airport. This leaves Monica, Rachel, Phoebe and Chandler. I would exclude Monica because she was never actively upset while Ross was dating more ethnic people. Now we know who isn't racist, but we are still left to wonder who is the most racist. This is where Glenn's expertise of Friends will trump my lesser knowledge of the show.
Chandler, as far as I know, never actively showed any racism. Yet, he did occasionally come off as homophobic because his father was a transvestite, which left him emotionally scarred. This perhaps opens him up to being a racist, but that's not for me to say. Phoebe and Rachel come from very different backgrounds. Rachel is a rich white woman who left her orthodontist fiance at the alter. Phoebe comes from a more impoverished upbringing and is more of a free spirit than Rachel. I would have to lean toward Rachel being the most racist, yet that is founded with a lack of any evidence. I would have to say, as of this point I am on the line between the two female characters. Let's see what Glenn has to say.
Glenn: The way Jake systematically analyzes the racial progressivity of these characters belies a crucial understanding of these Friends and life in general. Of course it's easy to label Rachel as the most racist and I don't necessarily disagree. After all, she's from the wealthiest background and has never shown any interest in social justice or cultures other than her own. Unlike certain writers on this website, I don't want to draw the conclusion of racism from her lack of black friends. If I were to label Rachel the most racist it would have to be because of the episode where she expresses support for David Duke's 1996 US Senate run in Lousiana - "The One At the Big Easy" - and her aforementioned ignorance on diversity issues. She, after all, hired good looking assistant Tag instead of numerous other qualified minority candidates.
None of this is to say Rachel is clearly the most racist. Jake is right in that Chandler never showed any racism. Why I posit he might be the most racist Friend is something that hits closer to home. Other than Ross's passion for science, evolution and need to be right, I find myself relating to Chandler the most of all the characters. If Chandler is me - MINUS the liberal transformation and sociology background from ages 17-20 - he might also have the complex feelings about race that I once did. I'm not admitting that I ever wrote letters to James Earl Ray in prison, just that once while driving during broad daylight in Harlem, NY with my father he told us all to "lock our doors." This "fear of all blacks" mentality, in someone else's life (ie Chandler's), might just produce some honest to goodness racism.
Jake: One point can be made about Rachel not being racist. She dated the ethnic Paolo in season 1 and in an episode of season 2. No matter how many searches I do on Google I cannot find where Paolo is from, but it's possibly somewhere in South America. In a particularly hard-hitting episode Paolo goes to Phoebe to get a massage. While getting the massage, Paolo got a boner, which is natural even if it was from Lisa Kudrow. Phoebe was absolutely disgusted by Paolo's throbbing member. The question is: was she disgusted because he was having a fling with Rachel or because he is not quite white. I would say it's a combination of the two. No matter how liberal Phoebe seems (even going as far as carrying her brother's babies as a surrogate mother) this simple moment looms over her head like a halo made out of racism. I say that Phoebe is the most racist Friends character.
Glenn: I totally get where Jake is coming from by thinking Phoebe is the most racist character. Think about her biggest interests: massaging, not believing in evolution, psychics and playing the guitar. None of these things have any place in black culture. It can't be a mistake that she decides to devote her life to things that have no relevance to other races. What we've all forgotten about in this debate is Monica! Jake dismissed Monica at the beginning because she was comfortable with Ross dating an Asian and a black woman. This was part of Monica's plan to be considered racially progressive, no doubt. But what of her feeling towards the Palestinians and possibly Arabs in general? Judging by her TV father Elliot Gould and her obsession with money, we can suspect that Monica is probably Jewish. Though she never outright said it, we have to assume that as a Northeastern Jew with little concern for people of other races or ethnicities that she doesn't care about the plight of the Palestinian people. If she indeed supports the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the mass slaughter of innocent civilians in Gaza, Lebanon, et cetera, than she truly is the biggest racist of them all. Once you dehumanize an entire group of people you cease your claim as a moral member of our society.
Jake: I think we can wrap this "debate" up. When we began this, we knew it was going to be different from the previous debates. It really was a discussion more than an argument. Some may argue that we could have easily turned this into an article instead of our weekly featured debate. Those people may just be right. What we can learn from this is that Phoebe is the most racist character on the "must-see" tv show Friends, yet there may be some questions in regard to Monica's racial acceptance. Even with the questions posed by Glenn's last point about Monica, I think we can still agree that Phoebe is more racist than her. I also believe we can all agree that the entire TV show is essentially racist for taking place in New York and not featuring any cast members or reoccurring characters, minus Aisha Tyler, that are not white. Even Martin had White Mike.
Next week we're going to pick a more hot button topic, so if you have any suggestions, make sure to leave a comment. Even if you don't have suggestions leave us a comment and give us some validation. That validation is the only thing keeping the gun out of our mouths.