This week Chanté Joseph, the host of Pop Culture with Chanté, takes over the Guide. Listen to the latest episode on Russell Brand here or wherever you get your podcasts, with new episodes dropping weekly. I’ll be back next Friday. – Gwilym
It’s very unlike me to be late on pop culture, but I’ve only just finished Sex and the City for the first time – terrible, I know. I watched the show taking off my over-analytical lens, and just enjoying it for what it is. Culturally, SATC belonged to a very different time; it could never be made with all of its political incorrectness today, and that’s a good thing. From how it represented trans people to how all black men in the show simply go by “hot black guy”, there are too many cringe-worthy moments.
But I got to thinking, as Carrie Bradshaw would say, about the portrayal of friendship in media, and how it shapes the view of our own relationships. I walked away from the series feeling entertained but sad that nothing in my life resembles the ironclad bond between the four friends in the show.
What About Your Friends is a podcast from the Ringer that dissects the portrayal of friendship in media. They break down their feelings on SATC and the revamped relaunch And Just Like That, and I found their sentiments echoed my own: host Erika Ramirez and guest Chelsea Stark-Jones discussed the shared reality of having several one-on-one relationships, without that one “core group” so often presented on TV.
I am grateful for all my friendships, but I cannot stop dreaming about how easy it must be to have a solid group that you can always count on. Imagine a life where you don’t have to send 12 separate messages to people who don’t really know each other to bring them together for a birthday dinner. I’m jealous of how easy it must be to find a plus-one and not have to check the schedules of an endless catalogue of busy people. For all its wrongs, SATC paints an idyllic picture of friendship and how it can be, and successive shows about female friendships follow the framework they set out.
Watching these shows I project myself on to the main character imagining myself with an enviably solid girl gang that follows me through the chaos of navigating womanhood. Shows like Bad Mothers, The Sex Lives of College Girls, The Bold Type (pictured below), Workin’ Moms, Girlfriends and many more cement this idea of “the group” in my mind. It’s tropes like these that make it difficult to see value beyond a same-sex friendship group. When every outsider is a romantic interest, wise elder or the overdone gay bestie, we subconsciously devalue what everyone else can bring to our lives.
Platonic, on Apple TV+, is a great exploration of male-female friendships that don’t have an underlying sexual tension. Sylvia and Will, played by Rose Byrne and Seth Rogan, are former college friends who rekindle their childlike friendship that fell apart when Will got into a serious relationship. When the two reunite, you can feel the joy and innocence of their relationship. However, much like in real life, you can sense the anxiety from others who can’t wrap their head around two adults pursuing a friendship without an ulterior motive.
Earlier this year, I went on a party holiday with friends I’d met at the same event a year before. People found this story so endearing that I posted the group photos, which feature me as the only girl in a group of guys. And just like that … in came the lurid comments inferring that I simply must be romantically or sexually interested in at least one of them. In moments like that, I appreciate shows like Netflix’s Survival of the Thickest, which debunk the idea that straight men and women can’t be friends.
Gender isn’t the only thing seen as a barrier to friendship on TV. I sometimes feel that being out of school and university environments means I missed the girl gang boat. Many of the shows I’ve discussed deal with friends of the same age who have a long shared history bonding through joint experiences, coming of age and the life moments that happen afterwards. Older characters are either out of touch or the epitome of wisdom. There is rarely an equally beneficial relationship between an older and younger character that doesn’t lean into the stereotypes. Some shows do this dynamic well, like Only Murders in the Building and Younger. And a character like Michael in The Good Place is an example of an older member in a friendship group who is nonetheless considered an equal. More recently, The Last of Us explored the camaraderie that can blossom between an angsty teenager and her post-apocalypse adult carer.
Real friendship knows no limits. If you feel like you’re still hunting for the perfect tribe, perhaps you need to rethink what the ideal friend looks like for you. Don’t focus so much on age, gender or sexuality; think instead about the values you desire and who you imagine being in your life going forward.
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