Ideology and Whiteness. Multicultural Communication

Table of Content


Imagine a world where your thoughts were not built off of the ideas of others or the way that society is portrayed through different medium. It is hard to say what that world might look like because of the way our daily practices and thoughts are often guided on a subconscious level. These ideas that are formulated based on the dominant societal view can be seen as ideology. Ideology, in its most basic terms, “a set of assumptions and beliefs that comprise a system of thought” . This elite group of individuals who are able to direct our thoughts based on media are using these dominant traits as a means of showing their power and status. Being able to present the ideas that they find to be ideal and true allows them to keep themselves in the power seat. The Marxist Philosopher, Antonio Gramsci, came up with this idea through his theory of ideological hegemony when he stated that, “mass media are tools that ruling elites use to perpetuate their power, wealth, and status by popularizing their own philosophy, culture, and morality”.

There are hundreds of television shows, movies, music videos, and other mass medium that portray these dominant ideologies. Specifically, the ten-season phenomenon that displays a wide variety of these dominant ideologies is the show FRIENDS. FRIENDS is an American sitcom that includes six individuals in their mid-twenties who live in New York City. The show begins in a coffee shop dubbed the “Central Perk” in which several scenes take place. This coffee shop is famous to many popular scenes from the long running show. The basis of the series relies upon the relationships between the six friends- Ross Geller, Rachel Green, Monica Geller, Chandler Bing, Phoebe Buffay, and Joey Tribbiani. These individuals all have very developed characters that help to show these dominant ideologies. The show FRIENDS helped to preserve the dominant ideologies of race, class, and gender, through their dialogue and actions, whilst using humor to mask the importance of how these stereotypes can be extremely damaging to our society as a whole.

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As stated in the introduction, the series FRIENDS lasted for ten seasons airing in 1994 and lasting until 2004. It was aired on the NBC network and was produced by Bright, Kauffman, and Crane. It has an average tomatometer of 78% and an average audience score of 95% as far as entertainment and likeness. The show has won many awards including a variety of EMMY’s, Golden Globes, BAFTA Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Aftonbladet TV Prizes, American Comedy Awards, and many more. Among their many wins, the cast and crew have also been nominated for a variety of other awards. It is still considered to be one of the most popular television shows of all time.

Dominant Gender Role Ideology

“Television programming’s hegemonic function is an ongoing process that supports the values and ideas held by the dominant ideology of a particular culture while devaluing values and ideas that are perceived as oppositional or alternative to that dominant ideology”. The first and undoubtedly the most obvious ideology in FRIENDS is gender. The way in which these roles are seen most frequently are through the work engagements of each six characters. From what most would assume about a female’s job, they are not usually seen in a corporate environment or handling businesses in the case of law or accounting. For example, in the case of FRIENDS, Monica Geller is at first a waitress and then eventually moves up to working as a head chef. The case of this dominant gender role that is most exaggerated on the show is that of Rachel Green. She works as a Waitress however she also works as a buyer and a personal shopper for Bloomingdale’s. Whereas their male counterparts work in more male gendered stereotypical roles. Ross Geller works as an Archaeologist at a museum and Chandler Bing works as an IT Procurement Manager. As Kimmel states in his article regarding gender roles and masculine hegemony, “hegemonic masculinity is a question of how particular men inhabit positions of power and wealth and how they legitimize and reproduce social relationships that demonstrate dominance”. The females on this show have feminine work roles and the men on the series have masculine roles. These feminine roles include work that doesn’t let women expend much physical energy or get any dirt under their nails. In its counterpart, the masculine jobs often have to do with competitiveness and analytic skills. The issue that arises with these gender roles is that the problem of patriarchy still exists and is able to look down upon women and their abilities .


The next significant dominant ideology that needs to be covered is Whiteness and how different races are represented throughout the series FRIENDS. Whiteness is described as, “White culture, norms, and values in all these areas that become normative natural. They become the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and are usually found to be inferior” (Henry & Tator, p. 46) What is striking about the television show is the fact that all six main characters are white. There were Black individuals on the show, however the main characters were not anything but white. Even more critically, the white actors and actresses used humor to almost negate serious issues. An example of this issue comes straight from the dialogue of the season premier from the second season, “The One with Ross’ New Girlfriend.” In this specific episode Rachel decides to wait at the airport for Ross to get off of the plane so that she can apologize for the way their relationship had ended after she realized that she missed him. Much to her surprise, Ross gets off of the plane with his new girlfriend, who is of Asian decent, that he met while on his business trip. The dialogue displays the whiteness and uneducated cultural issues that lie beneath the surface of this show. Ross sees Rachel and exclaims, “This is my girlfriend, Julie,” and Rachel being upset and shocked, fakes a smile and responds very slowly using a great amount of diction, “Welcome to our country.” Ross’ new girlfriend taking offense to the assumption that she was from another country and wouldn’t understand English declares, “Thank you. I’m from New York.”

While this might seem as though the writers are trying to point out an issue that needs to be addressed, when the show aired this issue was glanced over. The very same situation could have been applied to any race other than white who may have gotten off the plane with Ross. Why, you might ask? Well, because they were seen as inferior and as individuals who did not originally belong here. Another way that Julie was disrespected was when she met the rest of the original six friend group. They all considered her as an outsider because she did not fit in with their group. As stated by Chidester, “If FRIENDS were somehow able to make its historic lack of concern for racial issues clearly evident to its viewers, then the program could make a significant contribution to the reinforcement of whiteness as a contemporary American subject position” (Chidester, p. 15-16).

Social Class Ideology

Class stereotypes can be seen all over the television scene and it is exactly what you picture in your head to be true. When you hear of someone struggling with homelessness, they are often stereotyped as dirty and treated as if they have done something wrong in order to be in that position. When you hear of someone in which our generation would call “bougie”, you picture them with designer appearances and deserving of their status based on the usually minimal effort that they made to be in that position. These are the stereotypes that television shows use to form ideals in our mind of how things should work and what the world should look like. The most striking moment of FRIENDS in which this class ideology is shown begins with Rachel Green in the first episode of season one. She has just run away from her wedding and has decided that she wants to live away from what she has known. She is portrayed as a “dumb blonde” who has no understanding of what struggling financially feels like and has been given everything she has ever wanted. The moment in which this scenario happens is when the other five friends tell her that she needs to get rid of her father’s credit cards and earn some money for herself. The whole scene is a dramatic representation of her world falling apart in front of her because she will actually have to put in some effort and manual labor to survive in New York City (Kauffman, Crane, & Burrows). All of the characters on the show have their privilege shining for all to see when they make comments about “money not really being an issue”. While the audience is very aware that the characters with coffee shop jobs and entertainment careers would not make enough money to have the living environment and freedom that they do on the show, most don’t question why they are then shown to have more money than that of which they are bringing in through work. They are underrepresenting individuals who have those jobs and can only dream about having a beautiful flat in Manhattan, because with that salary there is no way they could afford to be there.

This series began in 1994 and quickly picked up the attention of the nation with its quick comedic dialogue and witty relatable scenarios. The issue at hand is the fact that the writers used dominant ideology and whiteness throughout all ten seasons without ever thinking to try and display their lives in a realistic manner. These six characters that you grow to fall in love with tick every box when it comes to displaying dominant gender, class, sexual identity, and racial ideologies. It is time that writers are held accountable for their patriarchal ways. Their ability to misconstrue reality and hold these dominant ideologies in place must be changed in order to protect and respect individuals whose voices are not being heard.

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Ideology and Whiteness. Multicultural Communication. (2022, Jul 07). Retrieved from

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