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I n an episode in the fourth season of FriendsMonica, Rachel, Chandler, and Joey find themselves engaged in an argument: Chandler and Joey, they claim, know Chandler at women for sex joes and Rachel much better than the women know them. Before long, the debate devolves into a game-show-style quiz. The host: Ross, who delights in the job. The stakes which have become, through a series of predictably zany events, incredibly high : If the women lose the game, they have agreed, they will trade apartments with Chandler and Joey.
His name was …? His profession was …? Her actual favorite movie is …? The women freeze, dumbfounded. Rachel notes that Chandler carries a briefcase. This clue does not help. They look at each other, panicking. That, Monica squeals in agony, is not even a word. Monica and Rachel lose the game—and with it, their beloved apartment.
No one knows how Chandler Bing makes his living. That includes, quite often, Chandler himself. E ach episode of Friends engages in a cheerful act of bait and switch. Inin particular, those lines suggested that Friends might be a comedic rendering of Reality Bitesthe Generation X touchstone that had premiered earlier that year—a story about young people attempting to eke some purpose out of a world that has given them none.
Friends was too enamored of its premises—New York and youth and all the magic that might be found in the mingling of the two—to deliver on its own implied pessimisms. The show emphasized the giddy possibilities of the stage of life that, when Friends premiered, was about to be given its own deation: emerging adulthood. And so Friendsa family sitcom that celebrated the family you choosewas built not of betrayals, but of accommodations. That optimism was evident from the very beginning in the array of professions that Friends allotted to its core characters.
Friends cared deeply, in its earnestly sardonic way, about the careers it had bequeathed to its protagonists. This was one of the fantasies Friends was selling: The show created a world whose denizens were able to take advantage of their work, rather than the other way around.
Except, that is, when it came to Chandler. Maybe he is a transponster. Does it matter? Could he be less passionate about it? His work is simply there, looming, draining, tautological. His laconic resentments of it invoke the precise strain of Gen Xed ennui the novelist Douglas Coupland had described earlier in the decade: the mistrust of institutions, the mistrust of professions, the mistrust of meaning itself.
That the path in question was one he had so explicitly not chosen for himself allows Chandler to operate, in Friendsas the character whose job earns him the most and gains him the least. The other friends get frustrated with their work, definitely. Romance, any rom-com will tell you, is made more fulfilling by the challenges to it that arise along the way.
It finds Rachel coughing her way through a fictional nicotine addiction to get face time with her smoker boss. These are dues the friends happily pay, though, because their professions give them so much in return. Monica, Ross, Phoebe, Joey, and Rachel are thus happy to be defined by their work. They have the luxury of answering the many What do you do? Take Rachel. My pony was sick! And then Rachel gets a job whose main benefit is its geographical convenience: She becomes a waitress at Central Perk. I wiped tables for it!
I steamed milk for it! This is classic Friends. Here is the show nodding dutifully to the notion of financial struggle while cleansing its world of the inconvenient anxieties of true financial need. Her very disappointment at the meager is played for woozy romance: It represents the path through which Rachel Green, princess no longer, will eventually find her professional calling. It represents freedom.
It represents the fantasy. In that pilot episode, the friends cheer, spectators in an extremely specific sporting event, as, one by one, Rachel cuts the credit cards that had enabled her prior complacencies. He called this phenomenon—both an economic premise and a psychic mode—workism. It believed in the spiritual possibilities of labor. It treated career trajectories as love stories.
It aired within a culture that was rightfully suspicious of the casual promises that had been lobbed in its direction. And so Friends tried to have it both ways. It calibrated its optimisms. It insisted that its fantasies were grounded in reality. It talked about jobs that were jokes; it talked about being broke. It offered throwaway lines about FICA. It considered, on multiple occasions, all that can go wrong when people with soft bodies navigate hard lives without the protections of health insurance. But Friends also made a more sweeping capitulation to the world that surrounded it: It sacrificed Chandler to the demands of reality.
It saddled one of its six beloved characters with Chandler at women for sex joes job that held him captive, essentially, to capitalism itself. Through Chandler, Friends questioned its own premises, or claimed to. Through him, it acknowledged. Through him, it commiserated. He is put down so that the others might rise. Things devolve to the point that Chandler falls asleep during a meeting, awakening to realize that he has somehow agreed to relocate to Oklahoma.
Indolence can plague even the arcs that move forward. He has no other lined up. What he has had, though, is a belated epiphany: Chandler Bing wants to work in advertising. He has dreams, too, it turns out; to follow them, he announces, he is willing to start over as an intern, trading one kind of security for another. And with that, Friendshaving at that point no more capitulations to give, embraced its own soft romance. Its fantasy had come for Chandler.
Popular Latest. The Atlantic Crossword. In Subscribe. Friends made one sweeping capitulation to the world that surrounded it: It sacrificed Chandler to the demands of reality.Chandler at women for sex joes
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On Chandler Bing’s Job