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FIRST-PERSON: The fantasy of ‘Friends’

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–“Friends,” NBC’s wildly popular situation comedy/soap opera, aired its final episode May 6. The network expected the show, which first appeared in 1994, to draw a huge audience for its finale. So large, in fact, that advertising rates for the one-hour program were reported to be $2 million for a 30-second commercial spot. For a reference point, this year’s Super Bowl charged $2.3 million for the same amount of ad time.

For the uninitiated, Friends was described as the quirky adventures of six close-knit friends (three male and three female) who lived in New York. Nothing, it seemed, could diminish the camaraderie of the perky sextet.

Over the years their relationships survived misdeeds, betrayals, deceptions and all manner of sexual liaisons. It seemed no amount of difficulty or disappointment could weaken their intimate bond. Friendship always triumphed in the end.

As the show comes to a close, speculation abounds as to the program’s popularity. The explanation by some is that the show was just plain funny. Others believe the tolerant tone of Friends made it palatable to the masses. Indeed, the program was void of any moral text or subtext. Same-sex “marriage,” surrogate motherhood, adultery and casual sex were all treated with casual acceptance.

Another secret to Friends’ success might be reflected in the results of a survey conducted by Yahoo. The popular website found that 75 percent of respondents wish they had an intimate group of friends like the show’s characters. A “real friend,” it seems, has become someone who will never judge your behavior and, above all, will always make you feel good about yourself.

Regardless of why Friends was popular, in reality it was nothing more than emotional and psychological cotton candy. While it might have “tasted” good, it had no “nutritional” value and too much of it could make you sick.

While I am no Friends scholar, I have read, and seen, just enough to draw some conclusions about the show.

Friends portrayed that the only consequences to immoral behavior are bad feelings. And a “good friend,” then, is one who will make you feel better about yourself no matter how irresponsible your actions.

No matter your behavior, a good friend will support you. According to Friends, a true friend never passes judgment.

Friends also made it appear that contrition is the solution to any and all transgressions. “I’m sorry” are magic words that erase the consequences of all selfish choices.

Friends, like any good fairy tale, ends with everyone living happily every after. Ten years of mostly irresponsible behavior concluded with everyone enjoying sitcom bliss. One show insider said, “People would be really angry if the end of the show was not satisfying.”

Contrary to the world according to Friends, immoral sexual behavior carries with it the possibility of a myriad of consequences. Sexually transmitted disease, broken homes and damaged emotions are but a few of the byproducts of unmarried and/or adulterous sex.

Most situations that arise from irresponsible living are not instantly cured by saying, “I’m sorry.” An apology is a good place to start; however, time and consistent effort are needed to overcome many bad choices.

Perhaps the most glaring weakness of Friends was its portrayal of friendship. A true friend will not ignore bad behavior.

If I am about to plunge off a moral cliff as a result of irresponsible choices, I want a friend to warn me and not simply hug me after I have crashed and burned. “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed,” Solomon wrote.

A true friend will care enough to confront immoral behavior. While a real friend will love without condition, he or she also will point out the possible pitfalls of selfish behavior.

In telling the truth, a real friend helps to make you a better person, rather than simply making you feel better about the person you are. We are told in the Bible that “iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” A real friend will strengthen your character.

In short, the most important aspect missing from the relationships portrayed in Friends is accountability. A friend who ignores irresponsible and immoral behavior, under the misguided notion that in doing so somehow conveys unconditional love, is in the end no friend at all.
Kelly Boggs’ column appears each Friday in Baptist Press. He is pastor of the Portland-area Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville.

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  • Kelly Boggs