Friday, May 7, 2004
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A minor Friends carp
I am glad that Matt LeBlanc will have his own show in the fall -- truth be told, Joey was always my favorite (though as an academic, I did appreciate how adeptly the writers skewered Ross' academic pretensions).
One minor complaint, however -- during the episode, Monica explains that they've named the twins Erika (after the birth mother) and Jack, after Monica's father. Which is great, except for the fact that Monica Geller is Jewish. Jews (well, Ashkenazi Jews at least) do not name their children after living relatives.
Now Friends, like many shows (Mad About You) was always skittish about discussing religion, even though three of the show's characters (Ross, Monica, Rachel) were Jewish. They inevitably celebrated Christmas, for example.
Which is fine -- there are certainly Jews who do this. However, there was no need for the show to have a Jewish character do something that even a non-practicing Jew would never even have considered.
The show's creators, David Crane and Marta Kaufman, are both graduates of Brandeis. They should have known better.posted by Dan on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM
Major Friends carp: show stopped being remotely funny five years ago. I would suspect they fired all their writers and let the actors adlib the shows, except that that would assumedly have at least a glimmer of sponteneity. Is anyone really surprised the show ran from even the tiniest possibility of contraversy regarding the Jewish characters? The characters have grown so thin and predictable it is actually painful to watch. Here's a guarantee for every episode of friends in the last 5 years, from least to most irratating:
Jews do not name their children after living relatives.
Almost true. European Jews generally do not name children after living relatives. Sephardic Jews, on the other hand, use the opposite pattern, consciously naming children to honor living relatives. I was named after my paternal grandfather who was very much alive at the time.posted by: Elias Israel on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
Thank you Daniel!
It is quite a shame to see that paragon of true-to-life sketch comedy, "Friends", suddenly lose their way in regarding to depicting reality faithfully in this show. Friends has always been so good at this!
I admired the depiction of true-to-life beautiful apartments, held by youngish 20 something mall (or coffee) rats. It's nice to know that I can afford those places, if I move to NY!!
I was heartened to learn, that there are places like "Coffee Perk" (or whatever the heck it was called - I'm not a slavish watcher, clearly...) where I can relax, kick back, get a sofa for myself and my friends - I'm thinking of starting my own coffee perk!
But I might have to move to New York - whenever I am in a "nice" coffee shop in my town, all the tables are taken, and there are people sticking out of the rafters. Must be that low population to square ratio in New York City that accounts for it.
This has been drawn out, but of course the point is - to look for accuracy in anything in Friends is to look for snow in Houston, TX during the summer.
Ya ain't gonna find it.
Actually, Dan, I'm curious - why did this particular "inaccuracy" get your goat, as opposed to the million others?
In case it isn't clear from the above, I don't have a problem with Dan having a problem with Friends accuracy - I find it amusing, really - I've had my own version - especially around that fantastic apartment they had. Why the apartment set me off at the time, was because I REALLY wanted a nice place like that for myself, after finishing college.
So, back to the question: Dan, why did this particular inaccuracy set you off?
Elias: Huh -- you learn something new every day. I'd be willing to bet, however, that the show creators are not Sephardic Jews.
JC: At least something approximating an explanation was given for the fantastic apartment -- it was rent-controlled and in Ross and Monica's grandmother's name.
But your larger point is a fair one -- why this point bothered me above all others. I suppose it's because:
a) I'm Jewish;
b) My wife if Jewish, and it bugged her; and
b) I know the show's creators are Jewish as well, so they should have known better.posted by: Dan Drezner on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
I'm not a regular FRIENDS watcher, but where was Ross and Rachel's baby? Wasn't Ross upset at all about Rachel taking their daughter to France? Or was Ross keeping her, in which case wasn't Rachel upset? I guess she's off living with Ross' other kid, Ben, whom you never see anymore.posted by: Ellewiz on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
They actually addressed the issue of Rachel taking the baby in an earlier episode. Ross reluctantly agreed to it, admittedly another plot flaw. Last night, they explained that Rachel wasn't taking the baby on the plane. Rather, Rachle's mother would bring the baby a few days later.posted by: Zwicker on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
(though as an academic, I did appreciate how adeptly the writers skewered Ross' academic pretensions)
As I've said to Dan in person, the problem with this is that Ross' academic pretensions don't even roughly correspond to any real-world academic pretensions. Here at Chicago, the traditional pretension about titles is to make such a big deal about not caring about titles as to go by "Mister" rather than even "Professor." (This is falling by the wayside.) "Doctor," which Ross not only insists upon but wants his sexual partners to call him, is constrained to: southern academic culture and its two closely-related kin, black and military academic culture; some continental Europeans trying to recreate "Herr Doktor Professor;" and people with degrees regarded as fake by the rest of academia, especially Ed.D.s. A native-born American white Jewish professor at Columbia who went by "doctor" would be scorned by his colleagues for it.
Don't even get me started on Ross' big conference lecture...posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
Ah, ok, got it. Thanks for the response.
Since we are on vapid culture here - was anyone a big watcher of Frasier? Since this the last episode will be next week on Thursday.
I really don't watch a lot of tv - I got into a habit of watching Friends for awhile - but I never really caught the Frasier bug, even though people I know said Frasier was better.
Thoughts?posted by: JC on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
Wholeheartedly agree with Jacob Levy's comments on academic culture and calling people "Doctor." It is a constant struggle for me and the other grad students at Cornell from the south (and who went to college in the south) to try to not offend or embarass ourselves by calling professors "Doctor" plus their last names. To their face, most prefer first names, although honestly that makes me feel uncomfortable. "Professor" is usually more acceptable.
When not to their face, such as in email or when talking about them without them present, or when we don't know them well, we tend to revert to "Professor" or "Dr."posted by: John Thacker on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
Just how religious was Monica, anyway?
Heck, in college I was involved with a Jewish girl who was a *skinhead* and had a skinhead boyfriend named *Lars* in Staten Island.
JC writes: "I was heartened to learn, that there are places like "Coffee Perk" (or whatever the heck it was called - I'm not a slavish watcher, clearly...) where I can relax, kick back, get a sofa for myself and my friends - I'm thinking of starting my own coffee perk!"
I hung out at a coupla good, independent coffee shops like that in Chicago (one on Printers Row, one at the north end of Boys' Town across from the Ho Chateau on Broadway), and made a number of friends at each. Such places do exist.
Judging by my home town's Superintendents of schools, quality really went downhill after they started hiring people who called themselves Dr. or attached PhD to their name.
I think one of them got in trouble for swiping election signs off of peoples' lawns.
Jews do not name their children after living relatives.
Jews do anything they want, like most people. Most Jews aren't particularly religious or traditionalist.posted by: Matt Stoller on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
"However, there was no need for the show to have a Jewish character do something that even a non-practicing Jew would never even have considered. "
What evidence do you have for this? It is just not possible that some ashkenazim would not care for that tradition anymore than you do for ( insert mitzvah you don't abide by here )?posted by: Albert Law on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
posted by: Jon H on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
Well, my mother's family is Jewish, and my aunt was named for my grandmother's sister, who was (and is) very much alive. My mother was named for a then living great aunt. My uncle was named for his father...My grandfather's oldest brother was named for their father.
But my family's never been especially religious (and clearly hasn't been going back to the beginning of the 20th century or so - they came over from Germany in the mid 19th century)posted by: John on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
I surely don't know Jewish taboos that well, but I wonder how loyal Jews such as Monica are about such name issues. For instance, I see here that apparently the cultural norm is limited to some degree and exceptions exist. So, it does seem a bit strange to be too concerned about it.
Coffee Perk in fact is based on an actual shop.
Monica got her apt from her grandmother -- it was rent controlled. Chandler shared his, but apparently makes decent money anyway (as did Joey, I'd guess, while on his soap). It has been noted on the show that Monica, Ross, and Chandler have money; an episode made mention of the "poor" vs. "rich" split among the friends. Phoebe (pre-married life) position made her apt less explainable.
I did not catch the last episode -- the show basically "jumped the shark" during the Monica/Chandler proposal, and limped on the last few years. The cast got old, the scripts lame, and it probably should have been cancelled two or three years ago. Few episodes over the last couple years or so were really worth watching. The late '90s was the show's heyday.posted by: Joe on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
There is a fundamental breakdown here in the analysis of what Monica did in light of her non-practicing attitude. There is a flawed assumption that the choice was her's to make. Her parents, especially the overbearing mother, would have raised hell about such a rejection of tradition and Monica would have folded under such pressure (she is a strong willed gal, but we are talking about symbolism and tradition here, middle-aged Jewish mothers take that very seriously even if they are reform).posted by: UofAZGrad on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
It's "Central Perk"posted by: Kirk on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
I'm not a regular FRIENDS watcher, but where was Ross and Rachel's baby?
Here's a fact that's been finessed by Emma's invisiblity: Ross and Rachel don't have a baby. What they have, based on a careful analysis of the calendar, is a two-year-old. A baby can, semi-plausibly, be always napping in the next room, or be passed around from from offscreen character to another like a highly-demanding bad of flour. But a two-year-old child? Forget it; that kid should be running around in our faces all the time.posted by: DonBoy on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
Good eye. Now that I think about it, as soon as they said the baby was named after his Dad, I assumed he was dead. Despite having watched at least a few episodes in the past in which the guy was around and alive. It didn't even occur to me that they could be naming the kid after his living grandfather...posted by: Josh on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
I think Dan's point was that, to the extent you are going to identify characters as being Jewish, you would presumably have them follow Jewish tradition--otherwise, what's the thematic point in having them be Jewish. Otherwise, why identify their religion at all (except, perhaps, to make the point that this is a diverse group of people?) Clearly, in real life many Jews do not observe these various traditions and, as someone said, do what they want. But a lot do follow the traditions. While I am not particularly observant myself, I do get annoyed at depictions of Jews on TV and movies in which the only point seems to be to say we have Jewish characters, but which seems to have no relevance to their lives. That probably reflects Hollywood Jews' attitude toward their Jewishness (which is their own business), but to me it seems like a Phillip Roth-like embarrassment at being Jewish.
As for Frasier, I have not watched it regularly for several years. I'm not sure why exactly (partly because it switched days several times), because it was a very funny show at one time, but I think generally, sitcoms like that get old at some point and start coming up with ridiculous plot devices to keep going. But, as I said, Frasier was a very good show and I look forward to watching it in syndication.posted by: MWS on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
Yes, one would expect Jennifer Aniston's character, "Rachel Green," who, by the way, was engaged to a man named "Barry Farber," to be Jewish. But according to a column posted on Generation J, this may not be true (a point which causes the author of the column a good bit of annoyance).posted by: Eli Feigenbaum on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
Quote:"That probably reflects Hollywood Jews' attitude toward their Jewishness (which is their own business), but to me it seems like a Phillip Roth-like embarrassment at being Jewish."
Or maybe they don't like rules and want to be able to do whatever they want? It seems to me that you're saying they're not real Jews if they don't follow the rules and if they choose to not follow the rules, they must hate themselves.
Have we ever even seen Monica and Ross at a synogogue? I can't see their parents being all fascist about the naming after a living relative issue since they're boomers.posted by: infamouse on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
"Or maybe they don't like rules and want to be able to do whatever they want? It seems to me that you're saying they're not real Jews if they don't follow the rules and if they choose to not follow the rules, they must hate themselves."
I never said that; as far as I'm concerned they can do whatever the hell they want. I couldn't care less what they do and I don't think there are any "rules." But there are traditions and it annoys me when Hollywood Jews try to claim their Jewish identity for their own purposes but ignore the fact that there are traditions that a lot (not all) choose to follow to a greater or lesser degree. I mean the least they could do is acknowledge that the Jewish characters have their own holidays. Otherwise, what's the point of establishing their Jewishness in the first place? It seems to me that when they fail to acknowledge this, they are saying, we want the characters to be Jewish, but not TOO Jewish, i.e., we're embarrassed at some of the wacky things that Jews do and we're too sophisticated to do that. I resent that. I rarely watched Friends, so I have no particular feeling about the show, but this is generally the way Hollywood portrays Jews--except when they have a character they want to be JEWISH---in which case,he usually wears a yamaka and speaks with a Yiddish accent.
MWS writes: "[Hollywood writers and directors] are saying, we want the characters to be Jewish, but not TOO Jewish, i.e., we're embarrassed at some of the wacky things that Jews do and we're too sophisticated to do that. I resent that. I rarely watched Friends, so I have no particular feeling about the show, but this is generally the way Hollywood portrays Jews--except when they have a character they want to be JEWISH---in which case,he usually wears a yamaka and speaks with a Yiddish accent."
I think this is generally true. Many of Judd Hirsch's characters over the years -- on television and film -- provide good examples of the stereotypically bookish, nebbish Jew. But there is at least one prominent example to the contrary: Seinfeld. Of the four main characters, only one -- Jerry -- was identified as Jewish, when at least three of the actors themselves were Jews. And the most "Jewish" character on the show -- George, whose neurotic behavior and pained relationship with his parents (both of whom were played by Jewish actors) was often hilarious but over the top -- was a Roman Catholic.
Re: the toddler: remember the episodes with the nanny-hunt? They ended up hiring a nanny, then, baby taken care of, never mentioned them again.posted by: Adrianne Truett on 05.07.04 at 10:26 AM [permalink]
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