Posted by <Jakob Maier> on 2022-02-15
On May 27, 2021, HBO Max released "Friends: The Reunion," a 104-minute special hosted by late-night host James Corden that brought together the original stars of one of the most popular American TV shows in history. The same day, I released a 163-minute video titled "Friend," filmed during late 2017 and 2018, when I watched all ten seasons of Friends and filmed whatever I was doing when the opening theme song to each episode played. The result is a 163-minute endurance piece juxtaposing the auditory omnipresence of "I'll Be There For You" by The Rembrandts with monotonous, domestic scenes of me cooking dinner, me vacuuming the floor, me taking a bath, me on the couch, almost always alone.
In making this piece, I was interested in the material conditions within which entertainment and nostalgia are both consumed and performed, and how the very consumption of such media properties itself can become both an identity signifier and a meme. See both the hyper-sincere fan economies of entertainment franchises like Friends (which necessarily culminates in reboots, reunions, and stars hosting rewatch podcasts), and the ironic memeification of those franchises—notably, for Friends, this often includes the performance of hate or disinterest with the theme song (look up "watching the Friends intro without clapping challenge" videos).
The amount of time Americans spend consuming digital media has steadily increased in recent years; according to a 2020 poll, during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic the average American streamed 8 hours of content per day on streaming services like Netflix, HBO Max, and Disney+. What are we doing during those hours?
As the loneliness epidemic continues, it's clear that media consumption fills the void, allowing the increasingly atomized individual consumer to form parasocial relationships with their "friends" on the screen. Older millennials and Gen-Xers especially, divorced from Boomer communities like Facebook and church groups and alienated from the younger users of the digital dark forest, are susceptible to nostalgia-focused identity messaging, which led to shows from the 90s and 00s dominating watch times. We have our six friends at the coffee shop and go to work at Dunder Mifflin, laughing alone in our bedroom the whole time.