Saying Goodbye to Friends


Saying goodbye to friends is never easy.

Especially after a ten-year relationship, at the start no one sure how long it would last, building incrementally in intensity and intimacy, bolstered by public relations spectaculars, award shows, fashion statements and celebrity marriages. We got to know each other so well, and now it's over.

By the way, I'm talking about last week's finale to long-running sitcom Friends, just in case there's one lone cultural hermit out there who hadn't a clue. And though I'm being glib about this goodbye, I also believe there's a real emotional dynamic to such partings of ways with fictional characters. It doesn't surprise me at all that the Friends finale fell in the same week as a lunar eclipse in cathartic Scorpio, an event that dredged up emotions deep and wide. The end of Friends is undoubtedly an emotional turning point among Americans, for no other current comedy show has reigned as perennially popular among so many different demographic groups for so long. It seems everyone liked Friends, except maybe those few high-browers who shun the general vapidity of television or reactionaries who refuse to enjoy anything popular.

It's hardly bold to assign cultural significance to a silly TV show, for even the safest mainstream commentators—those at, for instance—are astute enough to acknowledge successful sitcoms as 'joint, national experiences that help create a sense of community in our atomized lives'. Our attachment to characters in serialized episodic television develops at least as deep as many of our relationships with friends in real life. (If you look for 'friends' on Yahoo!, the top results refer to the TV show. Hmmm.)

More than merely entertaining us, our pop-culture products provide impersonal channels for legitimate emotional expression. We can invest feeling in the on-again-off-again romantic shenanigans of Ross and Rachel, without as much risk as serious emotional engagement in the relationship dramas of our 'real' friends, or our own. When Ross and Rachel finally get together (shocker!), we experience a genuine thrill. And sometimes doesn't it just feel so damn good to spill tears over a sappy dog-food commercial or soap-opera wedding, instead of crying about your miserable job or the years of abuse you suffered.

Of course, the use of TV shows to release our emotions requires an unavoidable suspension of disbelief, one which we'd snidely refer to as 'denial', were it functioning in our real lives. To all who watched the Friends finale: Anyone notice that, while Monica smashed open the foosball table to rescue the duck and the chick with Chandler looking on, their brand-new adopted twin babies sat unattended in the apartment across the hall? (Oops!)

Not to mention that, in order to maintain the romance of narrative tidiness for us, Rachel gives up an amazing job in Paris (PARIS?!?!) because of a last-minute plea from Ross, with whom her previous attempts at relationships have failed. If one of my 'real' friends tried to throw away such a fantastic growth opportunity for an umpteenth try with the same ol' guy, I'd beg her to reconsider and think of her own individual needs for a change. (And why didn't Ross ever consider sacrificing his career for her? Why didn't 'temporary long-distance relationship' or 'let's give it some thought past this heated moment' or 'hell no, Paris awaits!' come up?)

But no, we devoted viewers—we, who attach and invest emotion and escape our lives in TV—simply couldn't bear to watch decades more of continual Friends reruns packed with Ross-and-Rachel sexual tension without knowing that, in the end, they end up together. It simply had to work out that way.

And yet there's no more poignant counterpoint to this safe emotional release provided by Friends' perfect ending than the other prevailing headline of last week: the horrifying abuse against Iraqi prisoners by US troops. Again, no surprise that this scandal erupted in conjunction with the Scorpio lunar eclipse. But in this case, the emotions unleashed by our television sets were far from safe, and wholly inoperable as cultural distraction from our real lives. The US-led war in Iraq is our real lives. And seeing actual graphic images of the abuses perpetrated in the name of our country is an important, deep-reaching, unavoidably painful step for every American in facing the emotional truth of our leaders' actions and, hopefully, eventually healing.

It would be too easy to insert a tirade here, blasting Bush and Rumsfeld for their responsibility in soiling the US reputation around the world. But I am not bowled over with surprise that such military abuse has occurred (how else do we get our intelligence from prisoners?), though the images still disturb me. Hideously abusive acts were carried out by Saddam Hussein's regime, the Bush administration, name-the-government, in civil prisons, on the street, by police, by clergy, by parents. It continues.

Last week's revelations of abuse—and the worse ones still to come—fit the dark psychological realities of Scorpio, the sign of the lunar eclipse, to a tee. In our lives, we encounter numerous circumstantial inequities, differentials in which one person or group holds power over another. When those in power rise to the occasion, their responsible leadership benefits everyone. When they become so self-important as to lose sight of basic human compassion, horrible things happen.

Wars in themselves are horrible things, and violence against 'enemies' is to be expected, whether it's photo-captured POW humiliation or plain old machine-gun murder. But when official rhetoric (the propagandistic notion that the US has chosen war as a means to halt human rights violations against Iraqis) clashes so blatantly with the truth we can actually see (that US forces have become the human rights violators), that's an excruciating betrayal of national trust.

Gemini, the sign where Venus spends three months this year (instead of the typical 3½ weeks), is a master communicator, blessed with words and ideas and the ability to see multiple sides of every story. As such, Gemini can also exemplify the suspension of disbelief required to embrace a partial version of a story without digesting its entirety. (This latter view help explain how Geminis sometimes get a bum rap for being 'two-faced'.)

In the zodiac wheel, Gemini squares (makes a challenging 90-degree angle to) Pisces, a watery energy symbolizing universal interconnectedness among all life—and, at times, universal suffering as an inherent part of life. Uranus's long-term transit through Pisces (2003-2011) stimulates our recognition of collective spiritual unity with shocking twists and explosive change. This past week's events dramatized the clash between the conversational chatter of Gemini media and the specter of sympathetic Piscean sensitivity underneath.

Sure, it's hard to say goodbye to our old friends in the glowing cable-enhanced box. But, in real life, at any time, it could just as easily be any of our real friends, or us, who take the final bow.