September 22, 1994 was broadcast on NBC the first episode of a series that would meet an unparalleled success and mark an entire generation: Friends. This success has never been denied since, and, from replay to replay, the series has become an essential subject of discussion. For all these reasons, Ross Geller and his attitude towards women seem to deserve a more in-depth analysis than what we have been reading so far. In 2018, what does this character teach us about the vision of romance in pop culture?
Friends is a series that we no longer present. It has become the marker of a generation, a reference, which is regularly the subject of new articles, as it has marked the spirit of thirties today. For some time, however, Friends has come under fire from critics for its homophobic, glossophobia, transphobic and racist humor. Criticisms (deserved elsewhere) which are mainly addressed to Chandler. However, another male character often seems to fall between the cracks: Ross.
Why is Ross Geller problematic?
This character is in many ways difficult to bear: he constantly complains, always brings everything to himself, judges the least action of others, and is condescending and unable to accept beliefs that are not his own. But it is especially his latent sexism that makes him an interesting subject of analysis: the way he treats women, and in particular, Rachel – who embodies his love interest throughout the series -, reveals something strong about our western societies. In addition, Friends is part of a very binary and heteronomous vision of romantic relationships, which in itself raises questions about the dynamics of female-male relationships in the series.
The most striking example of his sexism is his way of managing his break up with Rachel: only a few hours after she asked him to take a break from their relationship, he slept with another woman. He is subsequently unable to apologize and to accept his error as a responsible adult, and will use for the seven seasons following the argument ” We were taking a break!”To clear all responsibility. We can also remember his obsessive jealousy: he makes Rachel go through hell because she has a male colleague who he finds too attractive. He goes so far as to embarrass her and risk losing her job, to ensure that she does not cheat on him – even though she has repeatedly told him that this was not the case. In addition, Ross Geller possessive and manipulative: when Rachel’s career begins to progress, Ross Geller blames her by claiming that she devotes more time to her. In the same way, when he goes out with one of his students (which can already be problematic in itself…), he follows her on vacation without asking her opinion, to monitor her among the other students. For Ross, women seem to be interchangeable: he married three times (and divorced as many times) and got the wrong first name at one of his marriages. Finally, Ross Geller asks Rachel to give up her dream – to go to Paris to work in fashion – so that she stays with him, and uses a devious technique to try to conquer it (then to win it back) as if it were a territory to invade: he tries to drive out all the men who interest him and to recover it when she finds herself sad to have been left, by consoling her in his arms.1
Reading these examples, it may seem obvious that Ross is indeed a problematic character. However, for many, he is rather a clumsy man, to whom there are many excuses, and this “awkwardness” is what makes him fun. So why this dichotomy, and how can we excuse a character so obviously sexist?
Nice guy syndrome
One element of the answer is found in what is called “nice guy syndrome”. The technique Ross used to try to get Rachel’s favors is a perfect example. Nice guy, in English, more or less means “nice guy”. This man considers him to be particularly nice and therefore does not understand that not all women systematically want him. He believes, in a way, that if he has been kind to a woman, she owes him something – usually sex or a romantic relationship.
We find one of Ross’ nice guy’s obsessions: building a friendship with a woman and waiting for her to experience a disappointment in love – even if it means creating it herself – to get her grieved in his arms. She then necessarily realizes that he is nice and therefore wants to start a relationship with him. If that doesn’t work, the nice guy doesn’t question this technique, which is sneaky to say the least, and prefers to turn to the age-old argument: ” Anyway, girls don’t like nice boys .” He doesn’t seem to realize that it is not a nice boy to consider that a woman you have been kind to owe you something in return …
The Geek Feminist Wiki site indicates three schools of thought around the concept of the nice guy: 1) they are victims of cruelty and irrationality of women, 2) they do not know how to seduce and need the education of ‘an alpha male, 3) they think that doing something for a woman means that she owes them something. Ross seems to belong to the first and the last. He believes that he is a victim of the cruelty of women, who say they want a nice man but prefer an “alpha male”, and considers himself “friendzoné” by Rachel. We quickly hear about this famous friendzone in Friends (it is this series which popularized the term). From season 1, Joey tells Ross that he has entered the “zone” and that he must leave it. This friendzone is a concept that goes hand in hand with the nice guy syndrome by perpetuating the idea that women should something for men who show kindness and kindness in a relationship, including relationships sexual. In the event of rejection, the latter considers that they have been treated unfairly. These two tropes thus participate in perpetuating the sexism and culture of rape 2.
What are the implications for nice guy syndrome?
The character of Ross has been emulated in pop culture. The nice guy, and more generally the friendzone, are concepts that we find in almost all the comic series of recent years, from The Big Bang Theory to How I Met Your Mother, to name only the most famous.
The problem with portraying these characters on television is that they are never questioned. This behavior – which sometimes goes as far as harassment – is widely accepted and considered romantic. For example, this is the basis of the script for the film Un jour sans fin, when what is presented is actually punishable by law. If Ross does not go as far as harassment, Friends nevertheless presents his behavior as acceptable, and even effective, since in the end, Rachel effectively abandons her dream to join him and live with him.
Representation is a major subject in popular culture: we know that what we watch, listen to and read influences our way of thinking, and more broadly, society. This nice guy syndrome therefore continues to teach boys that being nice to a girl is mainly for getting something out of her (and first, a romantic or sexual relationship), and girls that a nice boy has. something behind the head.
If many women find themselves in abusive relationships – without necessarily blaming it on nice guy syndrome – it is no coincidence. These are the consequences of a social construction rooted in the culture of rape. The nice guy is just one of the many manifestations. Perhaps it is also because we are not taught to recognize disturbing behaviors, often seen as proof of kindness and love. We can notably quote Twilight or Fifty shades of Gray, whose success has something terrifying: how many young girls have learned from these books or films that a man who follows them, enters their home, and goes so far as to put a chip on their phone to find out everything the instant they are, are they actually mad lovers who must be rewarded?
The concept of the nice guy still has a bright future ahead of it, and if it is indicative of the sexism of our patriarchal societies, it nevertheless seems possible to eradicate it once and for all. Let’s claim richer characters, or invent them ourselves! As with all issues of sexism, the only solution is education: let’s teach children that being nice to someone, whatever the context, is to expect nothing in return. Otherwise, it is not kindness, but manipulation. As for Ross Geller, it is high time to put him back in his place: in the dungeons.
Ross Geller is a complex character
perhaps the most elaborate of the six Friends. He is also the most “adult”, since he is married from the first season (then divorced), father (of little Ben), and paleontologist in a museum. But there is still a lot of shyness, especially with Rachel, whom he deeply loves: he spends the entire first season trying to declare his love for him, and it only takes a big blunder from Chandler for that -it understands the feelings that the paleontologist feels towards him. The sequel is known: he goes out with Rachel in the second season to break the next one, following the affair of the “break” and his deception with Chloe, the daughter of the photocopier. He then marries very briefly with Emily(but got the wrong name at the fateful moment, calling Emily “Rachel”), and for the rest knew romantic stories that didn’t really mark him, with young Elizabeth, then Mona, Charlie, and a few other women. But he remains basically obsessed with Rachel, with whom he lives a dotted relationship throughout the series. He gets back very briefly with her when they are at the seaside, and between bickering, provocations and rapprochements go, “on misunderstandings”, to marry him and make him a child (little Emma), before, in the final episode, to get back with it.
On a professional level, Ross has no real problem: he works from the start in a museum , to later become a university professorand finally be established. A linear path, if we except the sabbaticals which are imposed on him, due to his abominable mood, following his second marital failure with Emily. Ross is passionate about what he does. It is not without a certain pride that he recalls his status as a doctor, and it is not his parents, who adore him (much to Monica’s chagrin), who will contradict him. Ross has a very developed scientific spirit: he is meticulous, structured, sometimes pedantic and professorial (a side which particularly beards his friends) and rather serious, reason why the brief cohabitation with Chandler and Joey does not prove a frank success. Lover of Ukrainian films, exhibitions and plays, he is clearly the most cultivated and cerebral character of the band, but he also has an artist side, since he revives with pleasure his “sound”, a somewhat fanciful instrument which allows him to produce music to say the least … personal.
Ross also stands out with a real lack of self-confidence : he often makes his films to impress others, which rarely works (remember “Ross the red”, or the memorable big brother speech he addressed to Chandler). It also stands out, as we said, by its obvious lack of ease with the fairer sex. He always manages in spite of himself so that his drag is not taken as such by the coveted woman. In addition to the entire first season with Rachel, remember the tasty episode where Ross tries to hit on the pizza delivery girl (his training with Phoebe, in the same episode, isn’t bad either). Ross is therefore somewhat of an anti-Joey in this respect. Ross also opposes the latter in his conception of relationships with women. If Joey collects conquests by being, let’s say, not always correct with them,romantic , sentimental and attentive. It is therefore a great shame for him that he does not know how to put himself more in value, especially since, if we are to believe Rachel, our paleontologist is “gifted for the thing”, in addition to kissing well (Joey can moreover confirm this last point).
Ross’ character has evolved a lot. If he is initially only depressed, shy and in love with Rachel, he changes afterward. Its contribution is indeed not the same during the last seasons as during the first. Ross Geller is at the beginning more present on a sentimental level (his relation with Rachel), but is from season 5 more used from a humorous point of view. His relationship with Rachel having passed into the shadow of the Monica-Chandler couple, and the latter himself has become less funny and tidier with Monica, Ross somehow replaced him in the role of the service puppet. With the exception that Ross is involuntary, since the unfortunate always finds himself in impossible situations, with a peak in season 5. So think, among other things, of the leather pants, the tan, “Howard”, with white teeth… In addition, the a purely rational man who he was at the start of the series gradually became crazy and unpredictable, sometimes even hysterical. The numerous references to the famous “rupture” as well as to her triple divorce (with Carol, Emily and Rachel) are also sources of many funny and hard-hitting lines.
Ross Geller is always ready to sacrifice himself for his friends, especially Rachel. He spends an evening with her, for example, to keep her company when he had planned to appear on a TV program. But he also shows himself to be altruistic with others, like his ex-wife Carol, whom he almost reluctantly incites to continue his marriage with Susan, whom he however hates copiously. He is also ready to leave the group for Emily!
But Ross Geller also has faults, among which his stingy side : he stays until the last second in a hotel room and takes everything that is legal (soaps, etc.) to make the cost profitable, reluctant to pay 50 dollars in episode 5.11 and playing the lottery (9.18), initially offers mini-cookies to Gros-Tout-Nu to put it in the pocket (when he covets his apartment), does not want to pay for delivery from the sofa…
He is also someone very jealous , especially with those who revolve around Rachel. Especially towards Paolo (and the fact that Rachel tells him it was with the Italian “sexually animal” does not really help matters), but also with Tommy (Ben Stiller), and even more with Mark, the man who “boosted” Rachel to a place at Bloomingdale’s .
In the end, we hardly see him as a father , since his son Ben is most often looked after by his ex-wife Carol and Susan. We can still see him a little more with Emma, his daughter, but the latter is somewhat monopolized by Rachel.
Ross Geller gets along pretty well with his family. With his parents in particular, who consider him a “wonder of medicine”. He has, however, a sometimes childish behavior towards them (we remember his “I’m going to tell mom”, and the fact that they are still convinced, in the sixth season, that it was Chandler who had taken at the time of marijuana college and not him, since he never dared to admit it to them). Of course he gets along with his sister Monica, with which he maintains very good relations (if we except all the same some small bickering, in particular in season 3). Ross Geller is a very engaging character. His love affair with Rachel is captivating (especially in the first seasons), and the character is funny, even if he sometimes finds himself in ridiculous and a bit heavy situations (leather pants), especially in season 5 , where the writers seem to have been relentless on him. We can also regret its sometimes hysterical side, as in episode 10.2 (“I’m fine”). David Schwimmer is still an excellent actor , probably the best of the six. It is particularly expressive : think of the expressions he takes during his interior dialogues (when he sees Rachel naked in her apartment in the “Vegas” episode or during her tête-à-tête with her cousin). Also think of his mimes when he takes his new apartment (the shark, the robot …). And then there is his way of waiting a short time before releasing a reply . This gives originality to his acting. It should also be noted that Schwimmer is not only an actor: he is also a director. He took care of ten episodes, the vast majority of which were very successful, in particular those who spent their last night (6.6), the one who learned the truth about London (7.16), the one who had a red sweatshirt (8.2 ), The one who hired a stripper (8.8) and the one who met the biological mother (10.9).
What the writers could have improved for him : his relationship with Chandler. Ross and the latter were indeed friends of youth (at the time of college), and that does not feel so much (except in the flashback episodes). We don’t really feel complicity between them, but it’s probably due to the fact that this friendship is stifled by that between Joey and Chandler.
Some of his best replicas:
It is true that Rachel is indeed a good friend, and that I loved her a lot in the past, only today, this girl is no more than my wife. (6.2)
Monica: Do you keep lugging your cover?
Ross: Yes. I discovered that it was an object of conversation, imagine.
Monica: Conversation between you and …?
Ross: Gunther. (7.20)
Rachel: Can you drop by the Central Perk to buy me a muffin too?
Ross: Yes, what do you want it for?
Rachel: Let me think. What do I want? What do I want?
Ross: Go ahead, take your time, it’s an important decision. Nothing to do with marrying someone. There, it is not anything, it is a muffin. (9.2)
Ross: Of course we will find her [the babysitter], I promised you, and then we have others to see. And in the worst case, we could re-consider the candidacy of the first one we received.
Rachel: The blonde who didn’t have a bra?
Ross: Was she blonde? (9.6)
Mike: It seems that marriage is an industry that brings in around $ 40 billion a year.
Ross: Yes, and I must have brought back about half of it. (10.7)