Should we feel guilty for laughing at jokes from 90s shows that many find offensive today?
Is it wrong to enjoy a joke from an era that "didn't know any better"?
Back in 1955, hit US TV sit-com The Honeymooners was one of the most loved shows of the day.
However, in nearly every single episode, husband Ralph threatened to punch his wife Alice so hard to she would break Earth's orbit and land on the moon.
Clip via IAintOverYet
A joke about intended domestic violence in a modern sit-com would have viewers practically melting down Twitter in response, but in hindsight, most people can accept it for what it is: a no longer appropriate joke of its time, and not give it a second thought.
In the last few weeks, Friends arrived on Netflix, and for an entire generation of viewers who missed it when it was The Biggest Show On The Planet (TM) back in the day, they found it an eye-opening experience.
It led to a number of think pieces from woke writers who paraded out the show's plot lines which would never make it in today's more open-minded marketplace.
Not sure what we're talking about? Let us count the ways:
- Rachel sexually harassing her under-experienced employee Tag
- The almost complete lack of primary (or even secondary) non-white characters for the majority of the seasons
- Homophobia, both from Ross towards his ex-wife, and any time Chandler and Joey find themselves hugging for too long a time
Rewatching Friends on Netflix and damn! Never realised just how annoying and homophobic Ross was with stuff like this! Did always love Carol and Susan though, should have known 😅🏳️🌈 https://t.co/J3mrO7Uexx
— Amy 🪐 (@Skaikracha) January 7, 2018
- Transphobia, from Chandler towards his father, played by Kathleen Turner
- Fat-shaming, any time Monica wears the fat suit, from "Some fat girl ate Monica!" to "So how many cameras are actually on you?"
- Sexism, when Ross can't accept the new nanny is a man and finds it uncomfortable
- Every single time Joey tries to hit on his female friends
Whether you agree or not on these points being offensive, or people just not having a sense of humour about it and being overly sensitive, the fact remains that these storylines wouldn't make it past a writer's meeting if Friends were to be relaunched today.
Of course, Friends is just the tip of the iceberg.
Just take a look at Sex And The City, considered to be one of the most progressive and forward-thinking shows of all time; looking back at it now, it seems like a time capsule of early 21st century gender politics.
In Season 3 Episode 4 "Boy Girl Boy Girl", Carrie finds herself falling for a handsome dude (played, ironically enough, by the same actor who played Tag in Friends), until she discovers that he is bisexual.
Samantha warns her that all the bisexual men in college went on to turn exclusively gay, while all the bisexual women became straight.
Less than two decades ago, one of the most sexually open-minded shows of all time was a figurehead in bi-erasure.
However, we are being too judgemental on something that cannot change, imposing 2018 standards on shows that are now two decades old and more.
This isn't some racist or sexist or homophobic uncle who refuses to accept the modern world, these are very much shows "of their time", in much the same way The Honeymooners was, so the intense modern backlash is entirely unwarranted.
Which brings us to The Simpsons.
Having been on the air for the guts of three decades, The Simpsons doesn't get the Get Out Of Jail Free Card of no longer being able to change its own narrative.
And while the show has dealt with some fairly progressive storylines over the years, it still contains one major problem: a white man performing an incredibly racist impression of an Indian man.
Again, maybe back in 1990, this was deemed acceptable (or, at least, we weren't in the headspace to deem it unacceptable), but in 2018, it presents such an issue that there is an entire documentary dedicated to it.
Clip via truTV
The documentary's director told IndieWire that, "Loving The Simpsons is like loving America, right? So there’s certain things about it I disagree with, so I protest. It’s like the anthem thing, with [Colin] Kaepernick. I’m not saying this is equivalent to it, but I’m saying it’s that kind of public discussion that we’re having.
"Is it OK to criticise things we hold sacred? Isn’t that what makes us good Americans, good Simpsons fans, thoughtful viewers, thoughtful humans, right? So I think that’s definitely a part of it."
At the very least, it appears that The Simpsons are attempting to deal with the problem now, with the voice actor Hank Azaria telling TMZ that, "I think the documentary did make some really interesting points, and gave us a lot at The Simpsons to think about and we really are thinking about it."
"Definitely anybody that was hurt or offended by any character or vocal performance (makes it) really upsetting that (it) was offensive or hurtful to anybody. I think it’s an important conversation and one definitely worth having. We’re just really thinking about it and it’s a lot to digest."
Whether the writers of the longest-running animated series in TV history take stock and consign such stereotyping to history - something the writers of Friends, Sex And The City or The Honeymooners will never have the chance to do - is the biggest issue of all.