I don’t think Friends brought on the downfall of Western Civilization any more than nerds being hazed in Leave it to Beaver, Happy Days, Karate Kid or any of a number of shows.
I don’t see the theme song as foreboding — I think that most twenty-somethings struggle figuring out how life works. Most people take away the supportive message that friends help you through tough times. If you’re looking for foreboding, how about Johnny Mandel’s M*A*S*H theme song “Suicide is Painless?” The song is what you make of it. From the perspective of a secretary in the steno pool, the transformational changes in technology of the past 40 years present “The end of the world as we know it” and I feel fine…
Is Ross’s character a harsh embrace of anti-intellectualism — Yes.
Was it celebrated more than other examples — Perhaps.
But Ross getting picked on is a plotline — not the cause of our purported collective downfall.
In many ways I am Ross (and I suspect David Hopkins is to some degree, as well).
I was on the chess club. I was locked in lockers & thrown in juniper bushes in the school quad.
I was beaten up for my homework. I was hazed at dances & other social events.
I grew up programming computers from the late 70’s & have a job in the tech sector today.
But, like George McFly, I’m pretty comfortable where I ended up in the world and am thankful I didn’t end up with Biff Tannen’s job waxing my car.
I think the Bill Gates & Mark Zuckerbergs of the world can do well and do good. And beyond them, I see a subculture of technology zealots working on vaccines, robotics & neuroscience advances which will transform lives on our planet for years to come. I suspect many of them were potentially hazed growing up — like the Beaver, like George McFly, like Urkel or any number of fictional characters.
So thank you for standing up for your chess club members — and thank you for your recommendations to read books, learn something and be less materialistic. But please notch down the hyperbole. Ross is Ross. Monica’s brother with four other friends. People were entertained by his suffering. But that’s it. His influence on our culture is far less than you assert.