7 Times Sexual Abuse Was Played For Laughs On 'Friends'
Remember Joey Tribbiani, everyone's favorite dimwitted lothario from Friends? Much of the comedy surrounding his character relies on his unstoppable abilities with women, and it's one of his defining personality traits from the beginning of the series until the end. But what if I told you that prolonged childhood abuse caused Joey to become a sex-addict-turned-predator, and that the other friends even know it? Not so funny anymore, right? Okay, hear me out.
When We Meet Joey, He's Promiscuous But Hopes For Eventual Monogamy
Remember the episode in which Joey finds out that his father is having an affair? ("The One with the Boobies") He confides in Chandler his fears about his problems committing to one woman. "You know how I'm always seeing girls on top of girls ... I always figured when the right one comes along, I'd be able to be a standup guy and go the distance. Now I'm lookin' at my dad, thinkin' ..." and he trails off, worried that he's going to follow in his father's unfaithful footsteps. (Don't you go forgetting about his father. It comes up as an important point later!)
There, now just try to forget him.
In season one, Joey still has aspirations for a long-term relationship. He starts dating Phoebe's sister Ursula, and thinks it could be something that lasts. He even pursues her after sleeping with her, which is unusual for Joey. Ursula ends up dumping Joey, so it doesn't work out. But in season one, it is definitely fair to say that Joey earnestly wants commitment, despite his pathological banging.
And here's where shit gets dark ...
Joey's History Of Childhood Sex Abuse Is Revealed In An Arc That Is Played For Laughs
In an utterly bizarre choice, the writers of the show decided to devote the first episode of season two to jokes about a tailor who molested Joey as a youngster. Joey sends Chandler to the tailor, saying that his family has been using his services since "forever," and that the tailor did Joey's first suit when he was just 15 years old. When Chandler returns, he's outraged that the tailor made some "definite cupping" maneuvers during the fitting, to which Joey scoffs, "That's how they do pants!"
Think about this for a second. Joey's tailor has been fondling his genitals for 12 years, since he was a minor. This isn't a sitcom; this is a goddamn episode of Law & Order: SVU. Incidentally, this is not the only time that Friends made the sexual abuse of a child into a punchline. In season eight (episode 12), for example, Chandler argues that by the age of seven, most kids have seen orgies, before realizing, "Oh, was that just me?!" Children watching orgies -- hilarious!
The Revelation Of His Own Sexual Abuse Makes Joey Question Everything
When Ross confirms that, indeed, fondling is not part of how they "do pants," Joey is in shock, leaning over Monica's table and exclaiming, "Oh my God!" He begins to question all sorts of touches in his past, asking Chandler, "When the doctor does that hernia test?" which Chandler assures him is okay.
We also see him on the phone to his father, arguing, "Pop! I swear to God! That's not how they do pants!" Remember how the Tribbiani family has been using the tailor since ages ago, and Joey's father is having the affair? Issues with sex and monogamy become a familial trait when we realize that Tribbiani Sr. underwent the same fondling by the tailor. You don't need to be Freud to see a connection between childhood sexual abuse and later problems with interpersonal relationships, but if you want peer-reviewed evidence, head here.
Becoming Cognizant Of The Abuse, Joey Veers Toward Compulsive Sexual Behavior
After season two, Joey's one-night stands and promiscuity become a much more consistent joke. Now, I know what you're thinking: What about Kathy (season four) and Janine (season six), two of Joey's major "relationships" on the series? Let's start with Kathy. Although she is indeed referred to as Joey's "girlfriend" during her arc, Joey makes no pretenses of monogamy when he chooses to ask out another girl, Casey. "What's the big deal? It's not like we're exclusive," he gripes. Maybe so, but when Kathy kisses Chandler around the same time as the Casey date, it's considered cheating. Joey's relationship rules aren't exactly a two-way street.
As for Janine? Her entire romance with Joey is based on the premise that he can't control himself around her. In the season six Thanksgiving episode, we learn that he's keeping the temperature of the apartment at around 100 degrees to try to make Janine walk around in her underwear. When the other friends caution Joey that starting something with his new roommate will be too complicated, he says, "It's hard for me to be around an attractive woman and not flirt." Janine exists as a character only to further convince us that Joey is a sex-crazed maniac.
One Episode Categorically Proves That Joey Is A Sex Addict, And The Other Friends Even Agree
In the early part of season five, Chandler and Monica begin a secret romance, and Joey is the only one in the loop. Crazy shenanigans ensue when Joey has to cover for the couple whenever their sexcapades are nearly discovered. To save face, Chandler tells the group that Joey's a sex addict. Now, this is ostensibly the only rationalization for all the hijinks -- men's underwear in Monica's apartment, setting up a video camera to record sex with a date, and getting caught with the naked photo of Monica. First of all, Rachel calls him a "sick, sick, sicko" with a secret peephole, and Phoebe yells at him to explain why he's "such a big pervert!"
They seem less concerned about the disgusting way he eats chicken.
It's because they don't know about what's going on with Monica and Chandler, right? Well, no. Because all three of those things (undies, video, peeping) are actually committed by Joey elsewhere in the series.
An episode in season seven shows Joey sleeping with his co-star, who meets Rachel in the morning. Joey mentions that Rachel is his roommate, and the co-star says, "Oh, that explains the women's underwear." Joey goes "Sure!" as though he's glad for the excuse, implying to the audience that the underwear isn't actually Rachel's, but rather kept by Joey after getting women in the sack, like trophies. In "The One With The Videotape" (season eight), Ross gets in hot water for accidentally filming a sexual liaison with Rachel. "You've gotta tell the girl before you videotape her," Joey laughs. "Such a rookie mistake." So Joey's essentially admitting to at one point filming women without their consent (which is assault, by the way).
Last is the accusation of the peephole. While he doesn't exactly have a telescope and a box of donuts, he does manipulate his environment to see women naked. In addition to the apartment heat mentioned above, he disables the bathroom lock when Rachel moves in, according to season seven, and also removes the shower curtain for less privacy, as shown in season six. So all the hallmarks of supposed sex addiction when Joey covers for his friends' secret relationship are behaviors that Joey actually displays. They have every right to assume he was creeping on Monica ... like, felony-level creeping.
Joey Isn't Just Sex-Crazed -- He's Downright Predatory
It's too reductive to say that childhood abuse causes future sex crimes, but here are some studies which suggest that it may be a risk factor. And Joey does indeed show totally fucked-up tactics in pursuit of relationships. Filming women without their consent and peeping are both predatory behaviors, but the writers even imply that Joey is a notorious date rapist. In "The One Where They All Turn Thirty" (season seven), Monica shows up drunk to her surprise party. Chandler asks Rachel to help Monica get changed, and Rachel says, "Okay, but taking care of a drunk naked woman sounds like a job for Joey!" Then there's a bit of physical comedy wherein Joey lunges like he's going in for the task. Chandler holds him back with an exasperated look.
How funny, right? Joey has a reputation for undressing and bedding women too drunk to consent to sex! Cue the laugh track!
Toward The End Of The Series, Joey's Pursuit Of Rachel Makes Him Confront His Intimacy Issues
During "The One In Barbados" (season nine), Joey asks Rachel why he keeps going after all the wrong girls. In frustration, he asks, "What the hell is my problem?" Later, they kiss, sparking a romance which begins in the final season of the series. In "The One Where Ross Is Fine," Ross asks Joey what's really going on. "Well, you know me!" Joey jokes, brushing off his emotions. When pressed, though, he confesses: "I'm crazy about her."
But when the time comes to do the deed, Joey can't perform. His unsurpassed skills with the ladyfolk completely fall apart. Rachel asks him, "Do you think, on some level, you don't want to take off my bra?" Joey balks, saying "Nah, I don't have another level!" Sound like disavowing trauma, perhaps? He's never able to consummate his relationship with Rachel. He's also the only friend who ends the series single, as he was never able to connect sex, friendship, intimacy, and monogamy.
At least they didn't have him fall in love with one of those babies.
If all of this isn't creepy and dark enough for you, remember he once played Freud in an episode. Obviously, the writers of Friends were incredibly adept at the subtleties of symbolism, and they never underestimated the audience's intelligence. Either that, or they were all ex-cons.
Follow Kelly on Twitter (@kellllybeth) for more of her insanely pessimistic readings of all your favorite television shows.
Learn how all of the "Friends" are sex fiends in 6 Mind-Blowing Pop Culture Questions Answered By Super Fans and 7 "Friends" Moments That Have Become Horrifying With Age.
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Check out Robert Evans' A Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization, a celebration of the brave, drunken pioneers who built our civilization one seemingly bad decision at a time.