The Power of Friends: Political and Cultural Currency


Like every other Game of Thrones viewer, I somewhat shamefully use a friend’s HBO GO password (equivalent to using someones Viki account) So along with getting my weekly dosage of swords, fantastical political hypocrisy, and the occasional dragon, I am also privy all of HBO’s content, which is their original programming plus movie library. Though I’m not really interested in watching last summer’s explody hollywood hits (sorry eleventy billion superhero films, apocalypse zombie flicks, and gigantic version of rock em sock robots, I’m just not that into you) I am a fan of political discourse in the form of rick rolling laughter and biting satire all of which shows real life political hypocrisy. Which is why I am such a huge fan of VEEP and John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight.

In short, Veep is an account of a fictional Vice President and her quest for power. Through the creative cursing and mile a minute dialogue, it basically tells the story of why American politicians and its Government can’t seem to get anything done and have lost all sense of soap_in_mouth_270integrity. A true testament to the show is when I watched with a couple friends, all of us dying from laughter, and in agreement with the shows take on the political machine. And yet, all us had differing political ideologies. So that’s my quick plug for that show, though if you do watch, have Dove soap* at the ready, because you will feel the need to put those bars in everyone’s mouths.

*Yeah I’m totally pimping out Dove like a drama does PPL for coffee shop XYZ. If only they would pay me. (wink wink) Plus, wouldn’t that be an awesome ad campaign – Dove, washing sailor mouths since 1925.

Speaking of friends and the not so friendly, the non-fictional comedic news program Last Week Tonight did a segment on the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests and how the Chinese govt. is flexing their censorship muscle. And boy are they putting alotta muscle on it, like literally trying to scrub the day from history. Anyways watch as host John Oliver has an interesting method to get the message across for China’s youth. (Hint. it involves 90’s NYC sit-coms)

As someone who is not a huge fan of censorship and may have memorized that original Friends scene in its entirety (episode: The One with the Embryos) you could say I loved this. But after the belly laughs subsided, I thought a lot about this clip. For one, it’s obviously sad when your freedoms are hindered in such a way, and is a reminder to the lack of freedom and rights that is happening all over the globe.
And not to deviate from such a heavy topic as human rights, but I began to look into something I know a bit more about (but I swear if I figure out the key to world peace, y’all be the first to know). Namely the power of pop-culture.
I could write a second book on this topic, so instead I’m gonna focus on what was already given, namely Friends. 20 years after it’s début and 10 years since its last episode, it cultural relevance is still being felt, and the funny thing is it’s happening abroad moreso than domestically. Not to bring up my sole international experience/study abroad trip again, but besides talking soccer with any willing locals, another question I would ask was why and how they learned English (Because if anything, I need to keep up the ignorant American stereotype) The answers became somewhat predictable, and one commonality (and ya know I love those) was watching shows to learn English, and far and away the most popular was Friends. Fast forward 3 years later and I have some thoughts. For one, I feel quite the idiot for not having mastered the Korean language by now, because it seems my Friends and Phoebe loving, English-speaking Belgians/Germans/Italians conquered the language by the time (beware of spoiler so old it belongs in the public domain) Monica and Chandler got engaged. All the while, if I was suddenly apparated to Seoul, the only communication I could attempt to sputter out would either be telling them some freaked out kind of love declaration, or that they are all bastards, which should sufficiently freak out the Korean populace either way.
Really I want to understand the power of a show that quite possibly become the most watched program around the world. I have few numbers to back this up, but even just knowing the number of countries its been syndicated to, I believe that for a certain generation, Friends has become common cultural currency world-wide.

No idea what thunder friends mean, but thank you internet!

No idea what thunder friends is, but thank you internet!

So if Americans who grew up with the show are more sarcastic and have better comic timing as this article suggests, then what about internationally? In China it was suggested that its casual treatment of sex may be a draw, but more importantly because of its simple premise of ya know having close friends (and being free from parental rule) is its true appeal.
Take that same reasoning world-wide that people of a certain age can all relate to – having friends/allies.  And not just friends, but an outlet from an older generation.  Put simply, its the new world vs the slightly older world, post internet vs. pre internet, slang vernacular vs full proper sentences, could I be anymore off the mark vs. sarcastic-less. Historically, (and at various time periods world-wide of course) children usually learned everything from their parents,which is why you often had the same ideals as mom and dad, which would continually be passed down.

More and more, I feel you become a product of your environment, like your school’s culture, the media you consume, and yes the friends you pal around with.  Friends may have been before  web 2.0 but it still highlights those ideals todays younger people are dealing with.  And now in this digital age its only become more apparent – information is readily available for those fortunate enough with access, and with all that information comes a kind of freedom – freedom from the old ways, and possibly more flexible, less structured outlook.  While yet another book could be written in how this can be problematic (especially in the loss of cultural identity), but if it can lead to a future where todays’ Mandarin dubbed friends fans and Facebook friending youth will be tomorrows leaders, the world could get pretty interesting.  Perhaps everyone will have more in common with each other, leading to less division and more open dialogue… And a tip for the future most powerful people on earth, when you need an icebreaker before you dip into international diplomacy, how about starting with the scientific merit of peeing on a jellyfish sting, because much like the Thriller album,  Shakespeare, and folk tales before it, Friends seems like something everyone can relate to.

Here are a couple more resources dealing with the Friends Legacy

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