In 2019, there is increasing attention being paid to issues of equality and representation. From the MeToo movement to Black Lives Matter, and all of the events, stories, and groups that they inspired, every aspect of our lives is now under some well-deserved scrutiny. With these new insights and awareness, it can be valuable to examine older, but still popular TV shows. Take, for example, How I Met Mother, which ran from 2005 to 2014, with steady popularity and many fans. Some may argue that it’s not fair to apply current standards to shows from the past. To resolve these concerns, How I Met Your Mothercan be compared to an even older and very similar show, like Friends, which ran from 1994 to 2004.
One of the most telling similarities between these two shows is in the mirroring of the characters. Ted and Ross are both academics searching for love who ultimately find it in the final season with Robin and Rachael, the career-focused women. Marshall and Chandler, the funny guys, marry Lily and Monica, the “moms” of the groups. Barney and Joey are both “players” who love women. Phoebe is the only character not replicated, and Friends fans will agree that this is a great mistake; Phoebe’s quirky, funny personality was one of the things that made Friends so great.
Unfortunately, the greatness of many characters did not translate into How I Met Your Mother. Joey and Barney are a perfect example of this. While Joey does love having sex, he is respectful of his female friends, and does not go to extreme lengths to entice women. Barney, on the other hand, sees women merely as conquests. Some of his offenses against women include convincing one the world has ended, the time he announced he’s “pretty sure he once sold a woman”, recording women without consent, and many more. So many more in fact, that an entire episode was dedicated to the group creating a bracket diagram to try to figure out which of Barney’s seduction methods were the worst. How I Met Your Mother obviously expects its audience to be critical of Barney, like his friends are, but like them we’re also still supposed to find him funny and likable, which is disturbing. Friends had none of this sexist rape culture in it, despite being made ten years earlier.
Another negative mark on How I Met Your Mother’s already messy record is cultural appropriation. In a season 9 episode, the entire cast dons “yellowface” in what creators claim was an homage to kung fu movies. What makes this an even worse offense is that due to the show’s notorious lack of diversity, the only significant Asian representation over the entirety of the nine-year-long series is this appropriation. Friends, on the other hand, while still being notably undiverse, has a recurring character portrayed by Chinese-American actor Lauren Tom. The first time Rachel meets Lauren Tom’s character, Julie, Rachel says,“Welcome to our country” in slow, babying tone and Julie smiles back and says,“thank you, I’m from New York” in perfect English. This turns the joke around to be at Rachel’s expense for being ignorant. This small scene does more than How I Met Your Mother ever did to break stereotypes. Instead, How I Met Your Mother chose to enforce them in their yellowface episode.
Although Friends isn’t perfect, How I Met Your Motheris much more insensitive, and because some of their worst offenses are so recent, (the yellowface episode aired in 2014), it makes it even more horrible. It is also interesting how programs that have very similar situations and characters, as well as being the same genre, can present such different values when it comes to consent and race. The difference of awareness and sensitivity to these issues in the two shows is glaring, and the messages that How I Met Your Mother sends masquerading as comedy are unacceptable. Shows like this are incredibly popular and help shape our culture. This is why education and movements like Black Lives Matter and MeToo are so important.