ARTS

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May 11, 2004

Type Slowly

I am no more prepared to write a real column than I was last week.

A wink and a laugh track, signifying nothing

You have to be specific about not liking it, and you have to justify yourself. In general, I will assume you are being contrary just so you can be That Asshole Who Doesn't Like Friends or Pizza.—Margaret Lyons, "Stay Tuned," 5/7/04

Hi. I'm kind of an asshole—in print, at least. I like pizza, and I don't like Friends. My position as a long-suffering barista at Uncle Joe's dead-ended into an obligation to watch the show's fake-passionately anticipated finale, which seemed a lot like the episodes I'd seen before I gave up on it completely. Rachel and Ross were kind of in a relationship, Phoebe was saying dumb shit (Lisa Kudrow, I have to admit, is some kind of genius, marrying screechy abrasiveness to stoner comedy—really applying the principles of stoner comedy to coffee, when it comes down to it—and making a mint), Monica was being vaguely unpleasant, and the other two, whose names escape me, were being the likeable frat-guy types. I wasn't sure that it was the finale until I realized that Courtney Cox was flashing baby fat and everybody else was 15 pounds underweight.

I mean, there's nothing wrong with this. As former Voices editor S. Eccleston has pointed out, Jay-Z has made more money than God by applying these principles to hip-hop: Be tight, hard-working, consistent, funny in the way that your audience expects, dramatic in the way your audience expects, play on your looks and your money, and you can get truckloads of fans and cash. I believe he called Jay-Z the Ford of hip-hop, and that's the perfect way to describe Friends: year in and year out, providing a product that is inspiring mainly in its reliability. Seinfeld and Frasier, at their high points, were doing things that Friends could never conceive of. But at their low points—Seinfeld's increasingly unhinged final seasons, or the sorry tailspin that Frasier found itself in—they were deeply spotty.

Not Friends. By limiting its purview to a few reliable tropes, Friends managed to spin out the same comfortably amusing product for 10 fucking years. That's an achievement in and of itself, but one that's ultimately kind of depressing, and this was reflected in the compulsory coverage of the finale. One especially reaching piece in—of course—RedEye tried to describe how Friends changed the way people talk; you'll remember this sort of article from the Seinfeld finale. Unfortunately, Seinfeld actually created a number of legit memes, whereas for Friends…they weren't really sure; it had something to do with pop cultural references and irony. In Slate, Caitlin Macy said that the show represented the desire of young people to be in college-y atmospheres. Which, you know, is great.

As befitted the show, the best line in the finale was a throwaway: "Has this place always been purple?" I mean, after awhile, you do stop paying attention.

We got played

Those of you with at least a passing interest in baseball may have noticed the fiasco about Major League Baseball's (now retracted) plan to advertise a summer blockbuster on the bases during a weekend of inter-league play. The idea was to put red 6" x 6" ads with the movie's logo on top of bases one through three. On a basic physical level, this is one of the worst ideas ever. The inside of Andy Pettite's hat brim would be a better location. But you can't tell me that getting the ads on the bases was even close to the point.

The point is that everyone lost their shit. This was front-page news on ESPN.com and CNNSI.com, and all the rage for commentators to pontificate on. How dare MLB put [you-what-know] ads on the bases! These ads for [you-know-what] are horrible! I'm a traditionalist and I can't stand these ads for [you-know-what]! MLB pulled the ads last week.

Wow, was this a brilliant marketing gimmick. The initial idea was, of course, terrible. First of all, anyone who actually had to buy an individual ticket for these games was going to be so damn far from the base that a six-inch ad would be completely illegible. Anyone watching on TV knows that the tops of bases don't get in many camera angles, and when they do, it's from a distance.

I will bet you money that everyone at [movie production studio] and MLB could care less that the ads didn't get on the bases. The point was to turn the wave of anti-advertising sentiment into an advertising campaign that was far more effective than pointlessly illegible ads could be on their own. And turn them into a completely unavoidable campaign. Anyone concerned about the sanctity of America's Pastime was going to raise a stink, and it worked—fans were just as angry as writers. And it worked: the ads are gone—but at the cost of advertising the movie.

The moral? Everyone wins and loses. Now that's symbiosis. And, friends, how to create a meme.