BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The sitcom "Friends," which is ending its
10-year run on TV next month, will be remembered as one of those
rare shows that marked a change in American culture, according to a
pop-culture expert at the University at Buffalo.
"'Friends,' stands out as a sign that we are now living in a
culture where youth rules, where the image of youth has become the
dominant image of our culture," says Elayne Rapping, Ph.D.,
professor of American studies in the UB College of Arts and
"'Friends' will be remembered as the show that made America
aware that being in your 20s is really being in the prime of life,"
Other cultural landmarks from TV-land include the Mary Tyler
Moor Show, for its depiction of the single working woman, and the
O.J. Simpson trial for the way it exposed race and class tensions
in this country, says Rapping who teaches a course on "Television
and Society" and is author of "Law and Justice as Seen on TV."
"Friends" and "Beverly Hills 90210," according to Rapping, were
among the first shows to depict young people who were very much on
their own, without significant parental interaction. Prior sitcoms
were almost always centered on the lives of nuclear families, where
father and mother knew best, Rapping says.
"The characters in 'Friends' and '90210' pretty much were
running their own lives and looked to each other for moral
guidance," Rapping says. "They constructed their own family among
"This became a dominant theme on many sitcoms, and reflected a
mainstream trend in our society," she says.
This theme, according to Rapping, grew partly from an awareness
that, for the first time in American history, a generation of young
people would not be better off than its parents.
"And so you had sitcoms like 'Friends' and 'Seinfeld,' where the
characters lived in apartments, not in houses, where the characters
were not upwardly mobile, and where they had the same friends
forever and never grew up," Rapping points out.
The premise of these shows, Rapping says, often centered on
trivial matters in the characters' lives -- sending the message
that it's okay to not be serious about anything because nothing
really bad is likely to happen in a young person's life.
Since 9/11 -- and with the country's current economic problems
-- that attitude has changed, which may be one reason why sitcoms
like "Friends" are not in style anymore and are in decline as a
major ratings draw, Rapping says.
"What we are seeing now instead is the immense popularity of TV
reality shows, with their depictions of corporate, cut-throat
values, whose characters are concerned solely with competing and
getting ahead of other people.
"That's the opposite of what 'Friends' was about," she