After AP reported that Donald Trump would become the next president of the United States, a large group of people who were hoping for a Hillary Clinton victory took to social media to voice their outrage, fears, sadness and general feeling of being lost. As CNN commentator Van Jones said, for Trump and the Republican party, the result was a miracle, but for many American citizens, it was a nightmare they couldn’t wake from.
As the night went on, hopeful messages started spreading across Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other sites from people that wanted to fight. They wanted to fight for women’s rights, gay rights, trans rights, progress in environmental protection, economic inequality, and justice for minority people. A fire had been lit under the tens of millions of Americans that didn’t want to just sit back and let whatever was going to happen, happen.
But there was also an overwhelming sense of grief and despair at what the future of the country — the future of the world — could look like. People on Twitter cited an increase in anxiety, depression and a general feeling of unwell scrolling through tweets or watching live coverage. Many just wanted to block out the entire election and try to forget about what was happening outside their windows for as long as possible. A brief reprieve from reality.
I was — I am — one of those people. When the results came in and AP called the election, I turned off my television, trudged into my bedroom at three in the morning, and put on an episode of Friends. "The One with the Cop," if you’re particularly interested.
It wasn’t much, but I laughed
It’s not like there wasn’t other and better TV options; there most certainly were. As an entertainment reporter for Polygon, I spend quite a bit of my time cycling through different TV shows to see what’s worth writing about and what’s not. But last night, feeling just as scared as my friends about the future of everything we know, all I wanted to do was watch Ross scream "PIVOT!" at Chandler and Rachel as they tried to get a couch up the stairs.
It wasn’t much, but I laughed. For about twenty-two minutes, I genuinely laughed and briefly forgot about what was happening in the real world. It didn’t matter that I had seen the episode about eight times, Friends had become comfort television and a form of therapy. When I needed it most, well, it was there for me too.
A couple of minutes into the episode, I got a text from a friend who had just returned home, devastated, from an election party in Manhattan. It was a screenshot of an episode of Friends and it was captioned, "This is the only thing getting me through tonight."
Today on Twitter and Facebook, there are people talking about how they want to start volunteering with different organizations and pick up the metaphorical sword, running headfirst into the dark forest to take down the evil monster. It’s been nothing short of inspiring to see. But there are also people talking about how they don’t want to — or even can’t — do anything but watch their favorite TV shows, movies and return to their favorite games. Hordes of people are returning to Animal Crossing to lallygag the day away fishing and chatting with neighbors.
As I sit here, feeling like many of my co-workers and friends that I should be doing more than just writing about watching garbage television, I still have Friends playing in the background. It hasn’t taken my mind off of the election, but I can look up every once in a while and smile, sometimes even laugh. Instead of surrounding myself with news and constant updates or analysis, I’m focusing my attention on the ridiculous lives of six friends who live in a different time — whose lives, while messy, seem simpler. Right now, simplicity seems like something we’re all yearning for.
Someone I follow on Twitter tweeted that she noticed Netflix had added the complete collections of Xena and Hercules. That, she added, was what she was planning to do with the rest of her day. Another of my friends said he was spending the day revisiting How I Met Your Mother. We weren’t looking for an experience that you’d get with Westworld, where you can spend your time trying to unravel mysteries and focusing on what lies ahead; we just wanted something we could watch aimlessly and pretend we lived in different times.
The thing is, it’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to recognize that we’re human beings with emotions and feelings. It’s OK to tell yourself, friends and family that you need a day or two to not engage with the rest of the world. It’s OK to just sit back and watch Friends for the thousandth time.
There will be time to fight tomorrow, or next week or even next month. If what you need today is to throw on that pair of old and comfortable sweat pants, eat a box of cookies and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer again from beginning to end, then do that. Comfort TV and being able to binge watch are part of what makes services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime great. If you need today to be a mental health day, full of nothing but comfort TV, then take the time to make that happen.
One of my closest friends texted me today saying that he felt paralyzed by fear, and wanted to do nothing but watch Parks and Recreation, a show that many of us are turning to today. He wanted to hear the hopeful words of Leslie Knope, and pretend that he was living in Pawnee, Indiana. There are many lessons that can be taken away from Parks and Rec — a few that could even be applied to the country’s exact situation right now — but the most important one today comes from Tom and Donna, and it’s the message I texted back immediately.
"You gotta treat yo self."