FRIENDS with No Issues: The Portrayal of White Privilege|Laya Mohan

 FRIENDS is a classic sitcom which takes us through the lives of six adults as they make their way around life in New York City, jobs, relationships and the uncertainty of the future. These six individuals: Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Joey and Phoebe are similar not only in their personalities and their location but also their physical appearance. All of these characters are white, and due to their lack of diversity, do not have any issues that people of color face. This hidden white privilege that the main characters face mirrors the plot line. When situations arise for any of these characters, the outcome is always positive, however if a person of color were to try the same situation, the outcome would more than likely be negative. FRIENDS exhibits the principle of White Privilege as the major characters never face issues in the same way as a person of color would in the same situation.


Clip from FRIENDS, “The One with Joey’s Porsche” (Season 6, Episode 5)

Joey Tribbiani, the funniest and the most innocently childlike character of the show also portrays his privilege. In “The One with Joey’s Porsche” (Season 6, Episode 5), Joey finds a Porsche on the street and he pretends it is his. He washes and poses with the Porsche and get the attention of by passers who commend him for his car. He also gets women to talk to him using the Porsche to grab attention. When the real owner of the Porsche comes back, Joey simply runs away, and no consequence happened to him. Say we change Joey’s race to black: how would this situation be different? Using recent events as plausible scenarios, “black Joey” would have had the cops called on him for just leaning on the car. The by standers would doubt that he owned this car and would think he was trying to steal it. In addition, the women would not believe that “black Joey” would own this car. This is another example of White Privilege in the series. FRIENDS does not explore how these situations would be different if the characters were different. These white characters get away with things that people of color could never get away with.

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4 Responses to FRIENDS with No Issues: The Portrayal of White Privilege|Laya Mohan

  1. mediaphiles says:

    What a great insight into this episode. I think as viewers (and this is especially true for white viewers) we’ve become so used to seeing mainly white characters and their problems portrayed on the screen. It’s so important to note when white privilege is in effect in television shows as we continue to strive to diversify those portrayed on screen. -Valerie Medoff

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I agree with this completely. I think it is interesting that while Friends tends to not address the issues of race, it does make a statement. Within the 10 year airing of the show for example, I can probably count on one hand characters that were not white. What does that say? But it does not mean that we have progressed since then. Think of similar shows that people have compared Friends too like One Tree Hill or Modern Family. Each has people of color, but only few in main roles.-Ally Harper

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I love your perspective on Friends, and I wholly agree with it. On a lot of sitcoms white characters tend to get away with everything and everything resorts back to normal the next episode. I think the dynamics would even if just a few of the characters on Friends were people of color. In light of recent events, I believe it is more necessary than ever to provide an intersectional viewpoint. – Andrew Guido

  4. marymdalton says:

    As the other commenters have pointed out, this is a superb post. You have excellent insights and good analysis here.

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