It wasn’t until recently that I realised how relationships are portrayed in the media. It’s clear, even to the youngest of people, that romantic feelings are the #1 device for pushing a plot and stirring things up. In a lot of cases, they’re extremely surrealistic (I’ve been waiting a year for someone to appear outside my window with a boombox). That aside, based off the circumstances, they’re pretty healthy for both (sometimes more) parties involved.
But what about the toxic relationships we see? The ones we don’t even realise are there? You’d be surprised to see how unhealthy some of them are.
One that springs to mind is Ross Geller and Rachel Green, two of the leading characters in everyone’s favourite sitcom (even if they haven’t seen it) - Friends. I say this with caution because it is controversial. At first, I was angered too by people jabs at one of TV’s most iconic couples.
But what about the facts?
Ross has been in love with Rachel since high school. It’s sweet at first; he’s supportive and patient and she’s finally found a guy! Alas, it’s not long before warning bells come. Without explaining 10 seasons worth of happenings, I’ll simplify it. They sabotage each other’s relationships, Ross expresses extreme jealousy to the point where it’s creepy and in the famous season finale, convinces Rachel to drop her dream job in Paris because he’s still in love with her. Even if they weren’t on a break.
You’re probably thinking ‘but it’s just a TV show!’ and ‘stop over analysing the details of my favourite sitcom!’
But, regardless of how loved the show is and how unreal the characters are, millions and millions of people tune in to watch it on TV and on Netflix every month. Toxicity being normalised on TV leads to it being normalised everywhere else. And that influences real life people in real life relationships.
Obviously, I’m not just going to single out Friends. I’ll take a jab at the Big Bang Theory too, just to make this fair.
Leonard and Penny - perhaps the Ross and Rachel of 21st century TV. I’ll admit that I didn’t think anything of this until one of my friends pointed it out. This, again, comes from both parties in the relationship. Penny is okay with drunkenly demanding sex from Leonard, but as soon as he does it, she’s suddenly not okay with it. I don’t think it’s okay in any situation but it’s the hypocrisy here that’s the main focus. Both sides face unhealthy jealousy and insecurity, that then turns into unnecessary guilt on the other person’s part.
And again, this is a well-loved couple in what has become the most matched sitcom of all time. That’s a few million people that might now think these kinds of things are normal, when they are not.
It’s not as though these TV shows don’t have healthy relationships. Monica and Chandler is a good example of a relationship of equals. The same goes for Amy and Sheldon.
But these are secondary storylines. Chandler and Monica don’t come about till season four, whilst Ross and Rachel were fuelled from episode one. It was the same in Big Bang, Leonard and Penny become the main plotline in literally the first five minutes of the series, whilst Amy and Sheldon make a slow start in season three.
It’s the unhealthy relationships that become the backbone of the plotlines and friendship group. It’s the jealousy and the arguments that fuel views and provoke reactions from fans. People will always be more interested in Ross and Rachel’s lack-of-communication break up than Monica and Chandler’s solid relationship.
But is that not Hollywood? Going for the most interesting storyline for views and reactions, regardless of how badly influential it is on the young minds of cinema goers and TV watchers.
And, you can argue that these people aren’t real. Their just characters, right? And yes, they are! They are entirely fictional.
But the problems caused by the normalisation of these character’s unhealthy relationships? Not so much.
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