Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Utopian Communities in Sitcoms

My friend, Kirk, has ruminated on the idea that the apartment set up in Friends was an ideal living situation for him.

For most of the show's run, Monica and Rachel live in a huge, beautiful apartment on one side of the hallway; Joey and Chandler live on the other side of the hallway. Ross and Phoebe generally live outside of that apartment building. There is never any real reference where the Central Perk is located, but since it is convenient enough to go whenever anyone was in the apartment, I always believed that it was on the ground level of the building. I guess it could be just around the block or something, but it probably doesn't really matter. It's a convenient place for the characters to go and meet, just like the guys' and girls' apartments.

Kirk has apparently lived in a similar situation and sometimes looks longingly back to those days.

Last Sunday, during coffee hour after the church service, this guy mentioned a similar kind of situation that he enjoyed. Instead of Friends, however, he cited Seinfeld as the show that exemplified his image the ideal living situation.

Jerry lives alone on one side of the hallway and Kramer lives on the other side. George and Elaine move around the city, even though Elaine has once moved into apartment below or above Jerry. Having her around drove him crazy. Like in Friends, this group of friends has a hang out place nearby the apartment. It's a diner that, once again, I assume is at the bottom of the apartment building but nothing I know about really provides a reference to the location of the diner compared to the apartment building.

I once had a similar situation, too, when I first moved to Boston. An alumni of my college and a semi-regular to my church young adult group moved together on the first floor. On the center floor lived a family that we never really talked to, and near the end, I thought they were kind of eccentric but felt bad. I think they had to move out because the man of the house had a heart attack or something that either killed him or left him debilitated and needing constant care.

Some friends from church lived on the top floor. We all hung out every once in awhile and traded off at having parties. I think we even had a party that spanned both floors, too. To top it all off, we had a friend from relatively close by who would come on over pretty regularly and hang out (we sometimes got worried when she didn't come over). There was a cafe where some us hung out, but never really together that much and it was a 10 minute walk away. In the end, I have the feeling that we all went our own ways just about the time the first group of people moved out and away.

I feel like there's something to the Friends and Seinfeld model of setting up some kind of community and sense of community. It can work out organically and unintentionally, like many things in life. These portrayals of a small community and the space created in these apartments and hang out places can really provide people with a model of how to improve their feelings of community and connection in the world, whether they create it by getting a group of friends together to rent/buy apartments/condos in the same building or by getting to know the neighbors really well and hang out with them. And on top of that, at least two or three people in my life have brought up enjoyable experiences and compared them to the community situations in Friends and Seinfeld.

And on top of that, the people involved don't necessarily have to suffer through the tediousness of planning and organizing to make this community happen (well, maybe in a condo or co-op, but that's a whole other issue). They may not be acting as any type of revolutionary utopian, but this model could certainly make life more enjoyable. I guess, at the same time, it could help elucidate some useful principles about group dynamics, help come up with ideas for a more utopian model for society and culture and maybe even inspire the people involved to do a little more to create a utopian community and somehow affect change on a larger scale.

Who knows?

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