Most of us have likely looked back at old photographs or recalled previous experiences with a slight wince and a voice in the back of our minds screaming, “what on earth were you thinking?”
Perhaps it’s an outfit that was apparently stylish at the time but are never going to make their way back on to the catwalk these days, no matter how much the fashion designers try to hype it up. I look back at the heyday of shoulder pads and while they looked quite acceptable back then paired up with big hair and sharp tailoring, I just cannot imagine ever willingly adorning such a garment in the present time.
Maybe you got yourself into a situation that thankfully ended in a positive way, but in hindsight you realise that you should never have let things get so carried away at the time. They’re the kinds of things that you manage to survive through sheer dumb luck rather than any skill or careful consideration.
The thing is, what we see as a good decision or an acceptable way of life now may not be a belief that is timelessly universal. As the word around us shifts, so too does our moral compass. We may become more liberal in those which we consider our core values to be or perhaps something has happened to trigger a belief that society needs certain firm rules to ensure that a proper way of life is maintained.
The prime example is the fire of outrage that has recently ignited around the American sitcom, Friends. I remember that it was really popular when I was in primary school and there’d be a group of girls always talking about recently aired episodes and making references to in-jokes that featured in the programme. It was so popular that it sparked off a trend in “the Rachel” haircuts.
Alas, it was lost on me as I was less interested in what these fictional American adults were getting up to and more concerned with making sure I was home in time to watch Blue Peter or finish reading whatever book I’d managed to engross myself in. As I got older however and repeats started flooding the TV listings, I did become more aware of it but I wasn’t really one to fall head first into the cult following.
Friends started streaming on Netflix at the start of the year and it brought the hit of the 90’s to a whole new audience. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have aged well and rather than reliving its success, it has been widely criticised for how it lacks any racial diversity, how several jokes are centred around homosexuality, stereotyping is blatantly obvious, sexism is rife and accepted and how these were supposed to be average people that viewers could easily aspire to be but were anything but.
If we’re honest, if it were a programme pitched to a TV station in 2018, it’s highly unlikely to have been anywhere nearly as successful as it was, if it was commissioned at all in the first place. There are just so many storylines and key concepts that are perilously on the edge of acceptable that you couldn’t blame a production company for not being willing to take the risk.
But that’s in the present day. Twenty years ago, things were very different and the majority of the general viewing public wouldn’t have had too much of an issue with the things that raise eyebrows today. It was reflective of society at the time. Those were the days when gender stereotyping didn’t even have a name and it was just assumed that girls liked dolls while boys preferred cars. They were times when it was unusual to have an LGBT character regularly featured who had a backstory of their own. Wolf whistles and smarmy remarks may not have been appreciated, but they were rebuffed with a sharp look or witty comeback.
It’s not the only victim of the times. I grew up knowing of the Golliwogs collectibles that were created by Robertson’s jam and noticed when they were officially retired in 2002 to be replaced with Roald Dahl characters. Initially marketed as cute little teddy-style collectable badges, they’re now seen as symbols of offence and racism.
Warner Brothers show an image before some of their old cartoons stating that they are “products of their time” with racial and ethnic prejudices that “were wrong then and are wrong now”. However, they continue to show them as they could give valuable insight in to how society has changed.
Whether things have changed now for the better is something that is always going to be up for debate. When it comes to cultural staples of a certain time, I think we can still appreciate and enjoy them while being acutely aware of the fact that certain parts are problematic and outdated.
Like it or not, political correctness has only really come into practice in the past decade or so and it’s going to take a generation or two before the majority can agree on what is and is not generally acceptable. We’ve been accused of becoming something of a “snowflake society” where it’s expected that everyone is looking for some way to be offended no matter what the situation. Perhaps we are but it’s quite a big debate to have and maybe best left for a different column.