Why COVID-19 Makes It Hard To Remain Friends With Our Anti-Vaccine Phoebe Buffays
Vaccine resisters are ruining our lives while greatly shortening their own. It's not a good deal for anyone. Polls show that rational people have had enough with morons who'll eat horse paste before taking an FDA-approve vaccine.
According to a recent Buzzfeed article, friendships are breaking up over the vaccination question, which isn't an actual question unless the answer is “duh." When I first read this, I wondered who's friends with these assholes? You probably assume most anti-mask, anti-vaccine crackpots are like Cliff Clavin from “Cheers," and no one liked that guy. That was the joke. Carla would happily embrace a vaccine mandate if it kept Cliff out of the bar.
Actor Jennifer Aniston, who has a professional history with friends, revealed in an interview with InStyle that she's “lost a few people" because of their anti-vaccine position. No, they aren't dead (yet), but she's stopped socializing with them.
ANISTON: [T]here's still a large group of people who are anti-vaxxers or just don't listen to the facts. It's a real shame. I've just lost a few people in my weekly routine who have refused or did not disclose [whether or not they had been vaccinated], and it was unfortunate. I feel it's your moral and professional obligation to inform, since we're not all podded up and being tested every single day. It's tricky because everyone is entitled to their own opinion — but a lot of opinions don't feel based in anything except fear or propaganda.
Aniston's interview reminds me that 1) I should start doing yoga and 2) her former “Friends" character Rachel Green and fictional friend, Phoebe Buffay, would've parted ways by now. An episode that feels especially prescient is 1995's “The One Where Heckles Dies" when Phoebe reveals her bold flat-Earth position on evolution.
ROSS: Whoa, whoa, whoa. What, you don't, uh, you don't believe in evolution?
PHOEBE: Nah. Not really.
ROSS: You don't believe in evolution?
PHOEBE: I don't know, it's just, you know...monkeys, Darwin, you know, it's a, it's a nice story, I just think it's a little too easy.
ROSS: Too easy? Too ... the process of every living thing on this planet evolving over millions of years from single-celled organisms, too easy?
PHOEBE: Yeah, I just don't buy it.
ROSS: Uh, excuse me. Evolution is not for you to buy, Phoebe. Evolution is scientific fact, like, like, like the air we breathe, like gravity.
PHOEBE: Ok, don't get me started on gravity.
ROSS: You uh, you don't believe in gravity?
PHOEBE: Well, it's not so much that you know, like I don't believe in it, you know, it's just...I don't know, lately I get the feeling that I'm not so much being pulled down as I am being pushed.
This is nonsense, of course, but 26 years later, it's less amusing. Phoebe sounds like way too many anti-vax COVID-19 “skeptics" who won't accept reality because it's "too easy."
We're supposed to consider Ross a rigid, arrogant jerk who won't accept that someone has a different viewpoint. However, Ross is an expert. As he says, he's studied paleontology his entire adult life. He doesn't point and laugh at Phoebe. He actually takes the time to educate her with facts and data, just like so many people who've bloodied their heads against brick walls trying to convince their misguided friends and relatives that the COVID-19 vaccine won't make them metallic.
PHOEBE: Look, can't we just say that you believe in something, and I don't.
ROSS: No, no, Pheebs, we can't, ok, because--
PHOEBE: What is this obsessive need you have to make everyone agree with you?
Ross is not the unreasonable one here. He's not demanding she agree that "Deep Space Nine" is the best "Star Trek" series (although that's also objective fact). He wants her to join a shared reality.
PHOEBE: Uh-oh. It's Scary Scientist Man.
ROSS: Ok, Phoebe, this is it. In this briefcase I carry actual scientific facts. A briefcase of facts, if you will. Some of these fossils are over 200 million years old.
PHOEBE: Ok, look, before you even start, I'm not denying evolution, ok, I'm just saying that it's one of the possibilities.
ROSS: It's the only possibility, Phoebe.
PHOEBE: Ok, Ross, could you just open your mind like this much, ok?
Rewatching these scenes during the second year of this damnable pandemic, it's clear that Phoebe is the jerk not Ross. She insists on remaining willfully ignorant and shows no respect for her friend's area of expertise. If a trained paleontologist can't convince her that gravity literally exists, then what hope does anyone else have? She's the same asshole who won't take Dr. Anthony Fauci's word on the vaccine but will do their “own research" on YouTube.
As COVID-19 cases rise and vaccinate rates plateau, maybe we should consider that glamorizing stupidity is a bad idea. In 1997's “The One With The Cat," Phoebe believes a stray cat is the reincarnation of her dead mother (it's not). Ross is once again presented as a jerk because he won't support Phoebe's deranged belief.
PHOEBE: I believe this is my mother. Even if I'm wrong, who cares? Just be a friend. Okay? Be supportive.
ROSS: I'm sorry
No, Ross shouldn't apologize to the crazy cat lady. He shouldn't support her disordered thinking. That's not actually being a good friend, and what we've seen over the past year is that real life Phoebes don't suddenly become lucid and rational when faced with a true crisis. A good friend suggested that even if Phoebe wouldn't get vaccinated, she'd at least wear a mask out of deference to everyone else, but Phoebe took too much pride in her unconventional nature. If Ross couldn't reach her with actual dinosaur fossils from the museum, it's unclear why she'd accept basic germ theory.
When Ross admitted that there's a remote chance he's wrong about evolution, which is true because, you know, science isn't a 100 percent enterprise, Phoebe mocks him for lacking the courage of his convictions. Right now someone's anti-vax relative has pinned them into the same rhetorical corner on Facebook. No one wastes that much time with the Cliff Clavins in their lives, but we like our Phoebes, even if they're defiant dullards who base their whole identity on kooky contrarianism.
Disclaimer: I think Lisa Kudrow the actor is amazing and awesome. This post was about the make-believe character not the national treasure who gave us Michele Weinberger. I'm also confident that Michele would've gotten the damn shot.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."