Drunk on truth to stupid baby power.

“Should I Be Waiting?” Ross and Rachel and Everything Else

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I’ve been watching a lot of Friends on Netflix lately. I’m shocked at how well I remember some of the episodes—like, specific jokes, like Monica coming back from catering a funeral and happily announcing she’s also catering the funeral of the dead guy’s pal the next day, referring to herself as “the official caterer of this accident.” All these plot points from the show have apparently lurked in my mind for the last 20 years as well, big stuff like Ross / Rachel will they / won’t they, but also minor stuff—Chandler and Joey getting a duck and a chicken as pets, Rachel’s dad being a dick. Bringing back a lot of memories about myself, too, like riding the school bus circa season 1 of the show, discussing Ross and Rachel with the subject of my top secret unrequited adolescent ardor, talking about how frustrating it was to watch Rachel look for love when Ross, her obvious soul mate, was right under her nose, and didn’t that seem tragic, and did she, this girl, know of any real world situations that bore a similarity, like maybe she had someone in her life she thought of as a friend but who actually had the potential to be… more?

I thought this girl was my soul mate at the time, although in retrospect I think what I felt for her had less to do with pure and passionate love and more to do with finding a use for the constant non-stop painful boner I had all through ninth grade.

Anyway. Yesterday I read this article about the show on Slate, this woman talking about how poorly the show’s aged in respect, specifically, to Chandler Bing. How Chandler’s neuroses, misogyny, discomfort with homosexuality (his father being gay, his paranoia about people mistaking him for gay) and ironic detachment make him a drag to spend time with in 2015.

I’ve been thinking about this, a lot. Thinking, okay, this Slate article takes Chandler to task for being uncomfortable with his father identifying as female, and how I think it’d be a bit much to expect even the most incredibly open minded 21st century denizen to not at least blink when their father, their primal masculine ideal, reveals something like that about themselves, and also that show Transparent, which everyone can’t stop raving about, seems to be concerned with the very same conflict.

I don’t know, maybe if I’d paid better attention in college I’d have a more fully formed opinion on how relevant it is to judge a piece of art or entertainment from the past by modern standards. It makes me a little uncomfortable, though, in this case. The author of that Slate article seems so disgusted with Chandler, when really he’s not so bad—you’d think there was an episode where he celebrated Matthew Shepard’s death, reading this thing—by what the early 90’s baseline for acceptance and understanding of the LGBTQ community was. That doesn’t make him a fucking hero, either, of course.

God, it’s nice how far we’ve come.

And also, you’re going to get all worked up about Chandler when Ross, that fucking dweeb, that condescending jerk, is walking around treating everyone who doesn’t think dinosaurs are the most interesting thing ever like a dipshit?

Thinking about this stuff, wondering if maybe my problem with the article isn’t really akin to what most people are currently experiencing RE: Bill Cosby. By which I mean, I like this guy, have fond memories of this guy, this guy makes me laugh, therefore the bad things you are saying about him can’t be true because then that means I like and laugh at a bad person, which makes me a bad person, and I’m not one.

And then I read this other article slamming that Slate article, denigrating the author as a Social Justice Warrior (and isn’t it nuts that SJW is a term used to denigrate people? What a country!) and including a short paragraph which reads: “In their zeal to despise all things American, progressives spend their days creating struggles and seeing oppression in places like sitcoms, where most people see an easy laugh.”

Holy shit, right? This doofus is suggesting that art and entertainment have nothing to say or reflect about important cultural matters but don’t you get the feeling he’d blow a fucking gasket if Big Bang Theory did an episode where Sheldon insulted Ronald Reagan? And don’t you know, if you scan the website this thing appeared on, there’s multiple articles about how not liking American Sniper makes you an elitist at best and also possibly a traitor.

The nice thing about reading this second article is that it snapped my problem with the first one into perspective. It’s not really about how I feel about Chandler, or Friends, or culture in context. I’m just super fucking tired of reading shit where people are telling me what to think or feel.

I typed that last part and thought, Am I writing a think-piece about think-piece fatigue? Hasn’t that been done? Is there a way to write a think-piece about think-piece fatigue fatigue? How would that go? I’m tired of people telling me they’re tired of me telling them how to think and feel?

Hold on, my nose is bleeding.

I read this Martin Amis quote the other day– he said, “I think all writers are Martians. They come and say, You haven’t been seeing this place right.” I like the quote, and I think it’s a noble endeavor if you stop where Amis does. But so much writing, especially online, adds an extra sentence so it goes something like “I think all writers are Martians. They come and say, You haven’t been seeing this place right. Here, I’ll show you how you should see it, I’m really smart and have the right idea. 

Everyone’s so hung up on being right, on having the right idea. I get it, the world’s a real raw, fucked-up, crazy mess, so the urge to have a defined take on every dumb thing is extra strong. Here’s how you should feel about Friends, Here’s how you should feel about American Sniper, Here’s why what you feel about American Sniper is wrong, Here’s why Deflategate is the most important or least important event in the history of organized competitive behavior, here’s why everything everyone believes about climate change regardless of if they think it’s real or not is complete baloney etc., etc., blah, blah, blah.

Everyone’s got to be right, everyone’s got to be the smartest person in the room, everyone’s wating for James Cromwell to appear in his costume from Babe and pat them on the head and say, “That’ll do, pig,” so they can finally relax.

Not much out there seems to take into account that what’s really interesting isn’t what’s right or wrong when it comes to thoughts and feelings but the divide between the two. Right? Like, you can make an argument as to what a person should think and maybe change their mind, but can you really change the way a person feels? What about that weird divide that forms when you have an opinion that makes you feel bad, or a feeling that bothers you intellectually? Por ejemplo, I feel like tossing a little Spanish on the page is fun and looks neat, but think it’s a lame affectation.

Or more seriously, a guy who thought I was gay asked me out recently. Simple misunderstanding, no problem. I brooded about it all damn day.

This is how it went in my head that day, back and forth. I’ll illustrate it with feeling in italics, intellect in bold.

What seems gay about me?

 Who cares? You some kind of bigot?

Is it my walk?

It doesn’t matter, you fucking monster.

Was it something I said?

You piece of shit, you deserve no happiness in this life.

What if the perception that I’m gay is rampant, what if there are women I’m interested in who think I’m gay, and as such aren’t interested in me?

How did I end up with the brain of an asshole like you?

I could analyze this and say that maybe what I’m really upset about is that I’m being perceived all wrong, that it has less to do with gay/straight as it does deeper kind of ego issues. Maybe it’s that. Maybe it’s more complicated than that. I don’t know. There are all kinds of other examples. I think a lot of Christian dogma boils down to being a really good way to get peasants and slaves to till the fucking fields without rebelling but feel like there’s a God. I think a woman should have control over her body and that abortion is a reasonable option people should definitely have access to and feel like it’s… not murder… I don’t know what the word is. Wrong. I feel like beating this guy sitting to my left at this Starbucks right now within an inch of his life for the way he’s talking to his wife and think maybe there’s at least a chance that he’s just having an off day, he’s crabby, he’s usually very pleasant.

Some of that stuff is scary to share. The bit about viciously assaulting a stranger is the thing I’m most comfortable sharing… maybe I’ll put off examining that for a while. That gap is not a comfortable place to live but I think I’d rather live there than not. I think that gap is where, I don’t know, magic? Poetry? Real meaning? comes from.

Still, balance is important. Don’t want one side winning out over the other.

Duh.

Certainty seems boring as hell, though. Maybe it’s great, maybe people who are certain about things are really happy. But it doesn’t seem interesting, it doesn’t seem useful. There’s a song on the pretty good new album from The Decemberists, I have no idea what it’s about because I don’t have the dual PhD’s in Civil War history and Old Timey English Balladry you need to understand a Decemberists song, but there’s a lyric, a couple lines, that go: And I am waiting, should I be waiting? / And I am wanting, should I be wanting?

Love it. Floors me. The album came out last week, and strikes me at the right moment as I’ve been watching Friends, reliving the stuff that I’m willing to bet most people remember best about the show, all that Ross and Rachel back and forth. All that will they / won’t they, these two characters who spend 10 seasons of 20-plus episodes each caught between what they instinctually want and what they think is best. Like I said up above, somewhere, though–Ross is a real drag, most of the time. He’s a sad sack, a neurotic know-it-all. He’s the patron saint of internet culture, basically. He’s only really interesting when it comes to Rachel, when he’s waiting and wanting and wondering if he should be. Think about all the shows that have played with that dynamic… Cheers, Moonlighting, The Office… I think there’s a reason the will they / won’t they hooks people. I think it’s because beyond our need to be right and certain and justified there’s knowledge that the times we’re caught between intellect and intuition can be paralyzing and stressful, all this “Is it okay to feel this way? Am I on the right track? Do I make sense?” but also, enduring that, exploring that space, might be the only way in this long weird life to experience anything like grace.

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