Now that Friends is on Netflix, let’s all take a moment to hate Ross Geller
Full disclosure: I don’t have a lot to say about Ross in general that Ana Mardoll hasn’t already covered in her Ross-related Friends deconstruction posts over at Ana Mardoll’s Rambling. So, I recommend you go check those out.
And Mardoll is not the only person to have pointed out what a horrible, horrible Nice Guy (TM) Ross is. (Though honestly, a quick Google search for “Ross Geller nice guy tm” yields fewer immediate results than I would have expected.) That being said, I think there’s still plenty of room in this world for more hatred of the fictional character Ross Geller. And I’d like to contribute some of my own hate to that hatred pool.
Content Note for: rude gestures, cursing, vitriolic hatred of a fictional character, discussion of unwanted touching in a fictional scene
Mac and I frequently eat meals together at home, and when we do, we like to watch TV. Right now, we’re alternating between Friends and Syfy’s special effects makeup elimination show, Face Off. (OMG, y’all. We are such huge fans of Face Off it’s not even funny. Go Team Laura!) We started at Friends episode 1 and we’re now in season 3. And we really like it! It’s cute, it’s frequently funny, and I even like the cheesy theme song. (It also has a host of flaws — like presenting a weirdly whitewashed New York — that I’m not going to go into right now, as this post is devoted to hating Ross.) So, Mac and I are eating, and we’re watching, and I eat pretty slowly (a holdover from a former eating disorder). And I had never seen Friends before. OK, that’s a lie, because I grew up with television in the 90s, but I had never seen the show in order before. And sometimes I would want to say something to Mac about my feelings on the show, but I would be busy enjoying my food and wouldn’t find actual talking worth the effort. Also, what I wanted to say about Ross (or to or at Ross, as it were, when the character was on screen) tended not to vary very much.
. . . which is what led to the middle finger on my left hand being dubbed “the Ross Finger.” (Which sounds way dirtier than it is, but being that it’s a rude gesture, is still actually pretty dirty?) Because sometimes you just have to flip a fictional character off.
Because Ross is terrible. Just so, so bad. In the show, Ross is a “nerd” (well, he likes dinosaurs, science and Slave Leia, at least) and he’s “shy”. And I think both of these traits are supposed to be endearing. The dinosaur thing is cute, I’ll grant you — and I find it legit adorbs that he spun his childhood love of dinosaurs into a paleontology career — but as a socially awkward nerd myself, I’m offended by Ross. His “shyness” is all about protecting his own feelings at the expense of other people, and that’s just not OK. He treats Rachel, the supposed love of his life, as a prize to be won, and that’s super-duper not OK. He kept an illegal exotic monkey as a pet, and then asked Rachel, his crush, to watch it at the apartment she shared with his sister, without telling either of them that the monkey was, in fact, an illegal exotic, and then yelled at Rachel for calling animal control when she lost track of the animal. And even if I can sympathize with yelling at someone for losing your pet, (a) dude shouldn’t have implicated the Girl He’s Totally-for-Realsies in Love With in his illegal activities without her consent (or, y’know, at all) and (b) there are actual legit reasons not to keep an illegal exotic animal as a pet in the first place, and the regulations you’re flouting largely have to do with the health and well-being of the animal, and WTF is wrong with you, Ross!?? (You can’t see it, but I’m totally holding up my Ross Finger right now.)
Anyway, one of the reasons I wanted to talk about my visceral hatred of Ross (aside from finding complaining about the character fun, which I do) was so that I could talk about a particular scene, from season 3, episode 16, “The One with the Morning After.” This takes place after the infamous “we were on a break” stuff, and Ross is trying to pressure Rachel to get back together with her after she’s found out that he slept with another woman. I actually think that the entire scene is well-acted and well-written. I also think that it beautifully highlights a lot of the most horrible things about Ross, and, as such, I believe it deserves a closer look (transcript taken from http://www.friendstranscripts.tk/):
[Later, in the living room, Rachel is sitting on the couch, Ross is on the chair.]
Ross: What, now you’re not even taking to me? (moves over to the coffee table) Look Rachel, I-I’m sorry, okay, I’m sorry, I was out of my mind. I thought I’d lost you, I didn’t know what to do. Come on! Come on, how insane must I have been to do something like this? Huh? I-I don’t cheat right, I, that’s not me, I’m not Joey!
Let’s break this down a little. In the above exchange, Ross starts off by criticizing Rachel’s behavior:
Ross: What, now you’re not even taking to me? (moves over to the coffee table)
Maybe she doesn’t feel like talking to you right now, Ross. Gee, what could be the reason . . .
Ross [cont’d]: Look Rachel, I-I’m sorry, okay, I’m sorry, I was out of my mind.
Well, at least there’s an apology in there somewhere. I mean, it’s framed by a command (“Look Rachel,” which roughly translates into “You have to listen to me because you’re just not seeing things properly let me explain”) and an ableist, responsibility-deflecting excuse (“I was out of my mind”), but there are two “I’m sorry”s in there, so good job boy here’s a cookie. He follows this up with:
Ross [cont’d]: I thought I’d lost you, I didn’t know what to do. Come on! Come on, how insane must I have been to do something like this? Huh?
“Come on, Eileen!” Every time I see “come on” now, it reminds me of Jenny Trout’s 50 Shades deconstructions (at least I think that’s where this was, as I can’t remember the exact chapter or post) and her pointing out that Christian tells Ana to “come” whenever he wants her to follow him somewhere and to “come on” whenever he wants her to actually come. Anyway, “come on” is something you say to a person when (a) you want them to follow you, (b) they are being unreasonable and you’re trying to call their attention to it or (c) when you’re Christian Grey and you want Anastasia Steele to orgasm. Here’s the Urban Dictionary page for “come on.” Ross has no business saying “come on” here. Also, bonus douche points for the bonus ableism. It wasn’t his fault, because temporary insanity!
Ross [cont’d]: I-I don’t cheat right, I, that’s not me, I’m not Joey!
Dude, leave Joey out of this. Rachel wasn’t dating Joey. This here, what Ross is doing right here? It really bothers me. It’s a really human thing to do, and doing it is a really easy trap to fall into, but it leads to so much bad. This is the “I’m not a bad person” defense, and it sucks and is usually irrelevant to the issue at hand. Related versions are the “I am not a racist” defense and the “I am not a sexist” defense. The standard argument goes something like, “I am not bad, therefore I could not have done a bad thing,” and there’s just no arguing with that kind of logic, because it is not logic. (OK, it’s a kind of logic, but it’s based on the two assumptions that people can be essentially good and that essentially good people never do bad things, because Good people are like Asimov robots except that they follow the Three Laws of Absolute Moral Virtue instead of the Three Laws of Robotics.)
Just yesterday, I was watching this TED talk by Brené Brown — Because TED talks are on Netflix now too. Who knew, right? — called “Listening to Shame.” In it, Brown talks about how shame relates to how we see ourselves (“I am a bad person”) while guilt relates to the knowledge that we’ve done something bad (“I did a bad thing, and I’m sorry”). Guilt is the useful emotion that helps us with empathy and with learning to not do crappy stuff in the future. Shame is the significantly less useful emotion that corresponds positively with depression and other lovely stuff like that. Here, Ross is so focused on shielding himself from shame that he refuses to acknowledge the possibility of his own guilt.
And then he flips the script on Rachel with this lovely follow-up:
Ross: Y’know what, y’know what, I’m-I’m not the one that wanted that, that break, okay. You’re the one that bailed on us. You’re the one that, that ran when things got just a little rough!
Ross: That’s what?!
Rachel: That is neither here nor there.
Ross: Okay, well here we are. Now we’re in a tough spot again, Rach. What do you want to do? How do you want to handle it? Huh? Do you wanna fight for us? Or, do you wanna bail? (sits down next to her)
Dude, are you daring her to get back together with you? Also: you were the one who went full-throttle “I don’t feel like I have a girlfriend” when she had to work on your anniversary. (Never heard of rescheduling? I’ve rescheduled birthdays, Christmases and lots of other celebrations for friends and family. That’s what you do when someone is busy, but you still want to celebrate an event.) And then went to her office and made a bunch of noise while she was in the middle of a work phone call at the first job she has ever loved and then (accidentally, but still) set her desk on fire with romantic candlelight. And then slept with someone else when you thought you were on that “break.” Also, way to move responsibility for your own actions onto her.
Ross [cont’d]: Look, I, (on the verge of tears) I did a terrible, stupid, stupid thing. Okay? And I’m sorry, I wish I could take it back, but I can’t.
This is much better than the previous apology. And it even includes the acknowledgment on Ross’s part that Ross did a bad thing! Yay!
Then there’s this:
Ross [cont’d]: I just can’t see us throwing away something we know is so damn good. Rachel, I love you so much.
(He kisses her on her shoulder, then her neck, then the side of her face, then just before he kisses her on the lips….)
Rachel: No Ross!! (stands up and moves away from him) Don’t! You can’t just kiss me and think you’re gonna make it all go away, okay? It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t just make it better. Okay?
Ross: Okay, okay, okay.
Ew, ew, ew. This really creeped me out. So much. The creepy. You just slept with someone else and while it wasn’t cheating in your head, it feels like you cheated to her, and this is not the time to be kissing her. Ew, so gross. Hands off. This is emotional manipulation and unwanted touching, and she already feels violated from the huge emotional betrayal stuff. Also, I love Rachel here for explaining to Ross (and the at-home viewers) at least a little of why this behavior is bad. Really, she shouldn’t have to explain it, but she’s cool like that.
Rachel: (softly) I think you should go.
Rachel: (softly) I really think you need to go now.
Ross: (moving over to stand in front of her) Okay, okay.
Um, what? Why are you saying “okay” when she asks you to go but still moving closer to her? Moving closer isn’t going away. Bad Ross! Shoo!
Ross [cont’s]: This morning you said there was nothing so big that we couldn’t work past it together…
Rachel: Yeah, what the hell did I know!
Ross: Look, look, there’s got to be a way we can work past this. Okay, (takes a hold of one of her arms.) I can’t imagine, I can’t imagine my life without you. (Both of them are starting to cry.) Without, without these arms, and your face, and this heart. Your good heart Rach, (drops to his knees and hugs her around her waist) and, and….
Urgh, this is appalling. Realistic and appalling. Way to ratchet up the aforementioned emotional manipulation. This move is really unfair to Rachel. Ross is on his knees now, so he seems vulnerable and penitent and stuff, making it harder for Rachel to rebuff him without worrying that she’ll hurt his special Ross-feelings. At the same time, she just asked him to leave, and earlier told him to stop kissing her and moved away from his touch. Now he’s hugging her waist, literally making it harder for her to move away from him if/when she wants to.
After we watched this scene (which both the Boyfriend and I really enjoyed from a scene-quality perspective), Mac turned to me and said, “There was a moment there when I was really worried that Ross was going to rape Rachel.” And I was all, “Yeah, me too.” Even though we knew the show would never go there. (Because it’s a sitcom, because Ross is a “good person”, because we definitely would have heard about it before now, etc, etc.) But we both had the sense that Rachel was in danger in this scene. At first Ross is trying to (erotically) kiss his way back into Rachel’s good graces, and when she asks him to stop, he stops only temporarily before escalating the physical aspects of his behavior, first by grabbing her arm, then by (again, because I cannot stress this enough, after she asks him to leave) kneeling and hugging her.
And I was just so uncomfortable watching this.
Rachel: (crying) No. I can’t, you’re a totally different person to me now. I used to think of you as somebody that would never, ever hurt me, ever. God, and now I just can’t stop picturing with her, I can’t, (Ross stands up and backs away) it doesn’t matter what you say, or what you do, Ross. It’s just changed, everything. Forever.
Rachel is way more mature than Ross is. She’s not deflecting responsibility, she’s not even (at the moment, though this argument will rear its head later) harping on the were they / weren’t they on a break thing. She’s just honestly telling Ross her emotional reaction and what it means for her relationship with him. Does it hurt him to hear this stuff? Probably. (My heart bleeds.)
Ross: (crying) Yeah, but this can’t be it, I mean.
Rachel: Then how come it is?
This (somewhat pat) ending to an otherwise fairly realistic (as well as harrowing) scene sets up that, from this episode on (for the next few episodes, anyway), Ross and Rachel will be living in contradicting realities: to Ross, they will continue to be a couple, and he will bitch and moan and snark whenever she behaves in ways that do not reinforce his persistent belief that they are still a couple (in other words, he will behave in much the same way as he did when he first thought they were a couple but hadn’t told Rachel about it yet, except now he will be actively mean to her instead of faux-nice); to Rachel, they will become a former couple, and she will mourn for the lost relationship and try to move on with her life. Y’know, like a real grownup.
And on the supposed “break” . . .
Yeah, you know where my loyalties lie. Rachel (rightfully) points out that Ross is trying to get out of the accusation of cheating on a “technicality.” Well, I’ve got a technicality for you, Ross. To the transcript!:
Rachel: I don’t know, I don’t know. Urrrgh! Look, maybe we should take a break.
Ross: Okay, okay, fine, you’re right. Let’s ah, let’s take a break, (goes to the door) let’s cool off, okay, let’s get some frozen yogart, or something.. (opens the door)
Rachel: No. (Ross is standing in the doorway.) A break from us.
(Ross looks at her, then leaves slamming the door behind him.)
See that there? She says “maybe we should take a break.” Not “we’re on a break.” Not “I’m breaking up with you.” She introduces the possibility that maybe they should take a break. And he never says, “Let’s do that, then. OK, we’re on a break now.” He just up and leaves. And he has the gall to call her the one who bailed.
This guy, man.
::rude gesture in Ross’s general direction::
This fucking guy.