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Friends and Sexual Harrassment

Interesting thought piece by Johanna Grossman about a sexual harrassment lawsuit in the writers’ room at Friends’ TV show.

Telling the show’s writers that they could not talk about sex would certainly inhibit their ability to invent and draft scripts. But giving them carte blanche to say, draw, and do anything — no matter how offensive or degrading to women — runs the risk of creating an environment in which, potentially, no woman would want to work.

Interestingly, “Sex and the City” — which has prominent female writers — might not create the same kind of hostile environment, however. When women are a large part of the discussion and free to speak their minds — not grossly outnumbered, or simply taking down male writers’ slurs (as Lyle was) — the context may be very different.

One also wonders about the climate for the “Friends” actresses, especially if any of these comments ever got back to them. Of course, it’s hard to see stars with huge paychecks as victims. But shouldn’t a star be able to count on a collegial relationship with the writer — not one in which she is demeaned, objectified, and mocked during writing sessions? Shouldn’t she be entitled to enough respect that her infertility isn’t mocked in the crudest way?

Some personal thoughts: First, you’d be surprised at the number of crude scatalogical things alluded to on Friends without crossing past the boundary of unacceptable prime-time humor. The jokes fly so fast that it’s easy to miss the double-entendre, especially if you are not expecting it. Second, it’s interesting how much a successful show can get away with by virtue of its success. Third, while I like Friends for what it is, the need to invent new plots inevitably causes the writers’s ruminations to devolve into pornography. That said, I don’t think that any writer would feel comfortable making explicit jokes about actresses if they end up seeing them on the set later. It’s somehow more acceptable to write fan fiction about your favorite Buffy character; it’s creepier to make crude remarks about a character if you are intimately involved in what the character will be doing on the show.

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