Friends 1 Mandy Paysse Programming Analysis and Criticism of Television Mr. Whittemore October 13,2001 Review of literature “Friends” 2001 Season Premiere Friends 2 Abstract Default Assumptions are created throughout our everyday lives. In many cases we can relate to the default assumptions that occur on popular sitcoms such as Friends. Through an overview of a chosen episode of the sitcom Friends, this paper reveals the meaning of default assumptions and how they are created. The critical approach strategy is the method that is primarily used in studying the use of default assumptions in this episode of Friends. The behavior, context, and personality of the characters will be examined in defining the use of default assumptions. Friends 3 ThesisMany scholars have acknowledged that the words we use have default assumptions. While we are making these default assumptions, something that does not lie within us as humans shows us that we usually don’t consciously think about the mental jump we are making to create these assumptions. A default assumption is made by assuming that the way we think things should be is the way they actually are. Using a recorded video of “Friends,” and similar sitcoms, I will show how they have incorporated default assumptions throughout their episodes. Usually when a default assumption is made it is falsely assumed throughout an episode and then solved before the episode ends. Sometimes this solution does not occur and the default assumption is never solved. There are several examples of default assumption in the season premiere of “Friends”. Throughout my example episode, it is falsely assumed that Monica (a character of the sitcom that is getting married) is pregnant and that is the reason that she is going through the marriage ceremony. Therefore Phoebe, Ross, and Joey all created a Default Assumption that Monica is the character that is pregnant. The reason this default assumption is maintained throughout Friends 4 the episode is because Rachel (another main character in the sitcom) led them all to believe so by not telling anyone that she was actually the pregnant character. Overview of the EpisodeThe setting of the season premiere episode of Friends is the wedding of Monica and Chandler. It begins with a photo session of the groom and the bridesmaids whom are discussing Monica’s pregnancy. The overall theme of the episode was the resolution of Rachel being the pregnant character and whether or not she truly is. The Review by Richard Keller Simon: Richard Keller Simon compares the popular television sitcom “Friends” to Shakespeare with the exception that one is written in poetry and the other is in the language of everyday life. The core characters, plots, and themes are closely the same in both Shakespeare and Friends. Whether they are written or acted out, most comedies share qualities that are equivalent to one another. He thinks that Friends share more with Shakespeare than the tradition of New Comedy. “In Friends, small groups of unmarried young men and women flirt with each other play a series of tricks on each other, and fall in and out of love. Some characters are apprehensive and fearful about marriage and commitment, others more enthusiastic, but all are torn Friends 5 between the conflicting obligations of love and friendship.” (Simon) He makes a comparison with the relationships between the characters in friends to the characters in Shakespeare. He shows how the characters of Friends become romantically involved only when they learn by accident or unplanned confession how much each loves the other person. Rachel gets hurt by the character Ross and pushes him away to let him suffer the consequences before she allows herself to date him again. He compares Ross and Rachel’s love for each other to Claudio and Hero in Shakespeare’s comedy. (“Much Ado About Nothing”) Although they have feelings for each other, they are contrasted with their opposites. Rachel’s friends are each unique individuals and well as Ross’. As for in Shakespeare, Claudio’s comrades are different as well. “Claudio’s comrades are the sexually active and witty Benedick, and Don Pedro, a man expert at wooing women and eager to help his friends.”(Simon) Therefore he perceives that the four friends in Shakespeare became the six friends of the sitcom “Friends” because the dynamics between the two are so similar. “Chandler is the sitcom’s version of Benedick, the witty, sarcastic bachelor who keep himself from getting attached to women by obsessing over their faults. Benedick Friends 6 finally meets his match in the strong and clever Beatrice, who trades jibes with him and ultimately marries him, just as Chandler finally finds Monica.” (Simon) a character who acts as a fool. Phoebe is just She creates songs that contain total truth, and makes comments that are completely irrelevant. Simon focuses on the literary criticism of the sitcom Friends and compares it to Shakespeare to see the difference in the actions as well as the language. The Review of Bambi Haggins: Haggins thinks that the situations in television shows such as The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Living Single, and Friends, show that the genre remains limited to the stories of the American Dream and the opinion that the failure to achieve it is because of the responsibility of the individual. achieve. All people have a dream that they try to This can compare the Burke’s definition to Man. All people are rotten with perfection. As humans we try to reach perfection even though we know it can not be obtained. By having large dreams we are trying to reach this perfection. Because we are able to create these dreams our own making separates us. Problem StatementThe season premiere of “Friends” will be studied to find the meaning of default assumption and how it is Friends 7 created. The main strategy used will be to examine this by using the critical approach. The critical approach is examining the show by viewing the dialog, the actions of the characters, and how the episode flows. This particular way of viewing is going to help find how the context as well as the behavior of the characters creates default assumptions in sitcoms. This research will show what ways default assumptions are created in sitcoms such as “Friends” by using similar sitcoms as examples. Other sitcoms such as Seinfeld, Will and Grace, and Roseanne also contain default assumptions within their episodes. It is common for default assumptions to be located in sitcoms because the producers want for us as viewers to be able to relate more to the sitcom. We as humans commonly create default assumptions on a daily basis. Default assumptions vary from sitcom to sitcom because producers create the show for a targeted audience, and different groups of people create different types of assumptions. BehaviorBeing uncertain about how you should act is a kind of uncertainty dealing with behavioral questions. In “Friends” Rachel is uncertain how she should act when she discovers she is pregnant. Because the default assumption has been made and people assumed Monica was the one Friends 8 pregnant. Rachel didn’t know how to tell everyone that she was actually pregnant instead of Monica. A second kind of uncertainty is cognitive question. These are aimed at discovering who the other person is as a unique individual. Each of the characters in “Friends” is unique individuals. These types of uncertainties are from Charles Berger’s Uncertainty Reduction Theory. (137, Griffin) Any particular type of uncertainty enables you to have the ability to create default assumptions. If you are not certain about something then you create a meaning to better understand. These meanings can be falsely created, called default assumptions. ContextContext includes the setting, the meaning of the conversation, or dialog of the sitcom. Context is based on what is said, words, communication, and also allows interpretations to be made. Bormann, an interpretive theorist, notes that interpretive theory works best when it suggests universal patterns of symbol using. The interpretive theory is humanistic, much like the critical approach. The context of the message, and the way that the audience interprets it, should be viewed closely by the critic. In the season premiere “Friends” the dialog, or context has default assumptions throughout the episode. If Friends 9 the dialog is not viewed closely to get an interpretation then the default assumptions may be overlooked. Words, or the dialog in the sitcom, take on the meaning of the context in which they are used. According to Cambridge University literary critic, I. A. Richards says, “Words are arbitrary symbols that have no inherent meaning.” (40, Griffin) For Richards, “meanings don’t reside in words or other symbols; meanings reside in people.” (40, Griffin) This is important because it gives people a clearer definition about how default assumptions are made. People, or actors/actresses, create meaning in words, or dialog. Ross asks a guest at the wedding where she is seated in hopes of getting to know her. She flashes her card at him and he assumes that the number he sees is a six. Once he is seated he realizes that the number was actually a nine. When an incorrect meaning is developed, default assumptions arise. PersonalityPersonality plays a role in default assumptions because people make assumptions about a person by the way they act or look whether or not they are true. A person’s personality is a characteristic of a communicator. By viewing a character’s personality and the way that they perceive themselves as their character, you as a viewer Friends 10 make your own assumptions about that person. Taylor compare people to onions. Altman and They think that the personality of a person is multi-layered. There is the surface personality, which is just what you see without hearing the person speak or see the person interact with other people. The inner core personality, which is made up of the persons unresolved conflicts, deeply felt emotions, and self-concept. not personal. to look. The outer personality layer is basic and It is what is accessible to anyone who cares It’s basically what people see on the surface of which they are looking at. The inner core is the part where you tell more about yourself, being personal, and more in depth. The inner core is based on the values and self-concept of that individual. This inner core is unique because it is invisible to the world but still makes up that individual. These layers that make up the personality give people opportunities to draw assumptions. (127, Altman and Taylor) A way to solve these default assumptions and create a correct understanding is through self-disclosure. Sharing personal information of ones self can create a better understanding to correct these default assumptions. Part of Burke’s Definition of Man: The symbol using- we as humans use words to create symbol to be able to identify.(289,Burke) Friends 11 This serves an importance in the season premiere of “Friends” because we created the words to obtain a meaning throughout the episode. For example, we connected a tennis player within Joey because he appeared to look like one. Separated from his own making- Man is separated by his own means. (289, Burke) We use language to separate us and make us as humans unique. As humans we are separated because of language to make us unique. This plays a role in Default Assumptions because we as humans are able to use language to create these incorrect thoughts. Goaded by the spirit of hierarchy- we seek to classify words to have a better understanding. (289,Burke) As humans if we misunderstand something, we are able to seek for a better understanding. This interacts with the episode of Friends because the characters seek for a better understanding on the pregnancy issue seeking through the use of language. Rotten with perfection- as humans we strive to reach perfection even though we know that it can not be obtained.(289,Burke) This definition of Man interacts with the episode Friends because Joey and Ross think that the only way for them to capture the women at the wedding is by trying to be Friends 12 “perfect” in their eyes. Joey tries to impress the women by allowing them to assume that he is a tennis athlete. Ross just tries to impress a lady by allowing her to assume that he is “perfect”, sensitive, and nurturing with children. Critical ApproachCritical approach allows critics to have a broader interpretation of dialog, actions, and the flow of the episodes. The critical approach requires you to have a more abstract thinking that allows more than one interpretation to be made. It allows the critic to interpret the episode by viewing several aspects of the sitcom rather than just a single area. The way that one critic may view the season premiere episode “Friends,” may be completely different than another critic may view it. Therefore it allows more than one interpretation to be made by using the critical approach. The critical approach allows one to use the dialog of the episode along with the actions of it as well, making the interpretation personal. By using the critical approach the default assumptions that are being studied in “Friends,” can be interpreted in a unique personal manner by studying how the assumptions are created throughout an episode. Analysis of Friends: Friends 13 Default assumptions are used frequently in the sitcom “Friends”. After studying how it is used in one particular episode it creates a more applicable awareness of the show and when it is present. The viewers of the show are more aware of when these default assumptions are created rather than the characters in the show itself. This changes our way of seeing because we as viewers know the characters personality and lifestyles more than the one’s creating the default assumptions, therefore we see things differently. For example, in this episode of “Friends”, a guest at the wedding assumes Joey is a tennis player because he is dressed as one. In reality he had rushed to the wedding and that was the only thing the hotel gift shop had available for him to purchase. Everyone who saw him dressed as a tennis player and did not know Joey made the default assumption. Those that do know Joey’s inner core personality, as the social penetration theory states, know that he is not a tennis player and that his wardrobe did not resemble his real personality. Another example of this would be Ross’s way of dealing with the young girls during the dance reception of the wedding. The woman he was trying to impress did not know Ross personally so she falsely assumed that he was sensitive with children, which Friends 14 drew her closer to him. The viewers who know Ross know that that was an incorrect speculation of his lifestyle. Friends 15 Bibliography Auster, Albert. Television Quarterly V. 28. 1996. Television Quarterly. Griffin, E.M. A First Look at Communication Theory. 2000, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Tomashoff, Craig. People Weekly V. 43. 1995, People Weekly.