Though I came late to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (and I have Dale to thank for making me take the plunge by showing me “The Nightman Cometh”), it quickly became one of my favorite shows. One of the lines from the series that’s always stuck out to me is in the season 5 episode, “The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention.” At a funeral, Frank Reynolds — played, of course, by the inimitable Danny DeVito — declares “Well, I don’t know how many years on this Earth I got left. I’m going to get real weird with it.”
But given that we only have 12 years left before climate change becomes irreversible and the headlines are full of downright strange stories — are we living in the Frank Reynolds timeline? Has reality collectively decided that we’re gonna get real weird with the time remaining? As I write this, we’ve had news stories about brands on Twitter claiming depression, a Skittles Broadway musical, and Elon Musk, well, Musking. To borrow a metaphor from another great comedy, it’s a bit like drinking from the firehose.
A number of think pieces have been written about the millennial trend toward absurdist, nihilistic humor. It’s unsurprising — careers aren’t really a thing anymore (let alone benefits), and most of the people in power are working to make sure that remains the case. American society doesn’t protect people anymore; Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House, is against “Medicare for All,” despite the vast majority of Americans want universal health care. Worldwide isn’t much better — politicians in the UK and Canada are stumping for a move to the American system, which is utterly baffling. And that’s not even mentioning the utter clusterfuck that is Brexit.
A move to, well, getting real weird with it Frank Reynolds-style in times of crisis isn’t unprecedented. The Dada artistic movement came out of the post-World War I darkness. The Nixon era was punctuated by experimental film, music and art. DEVO came out of the Kent State Massacre, but found their greatest fame in the Reagan era, with their dark take on 1980s consumerism.
The difference is that artists like DEVO were positioning themselves more as a warning of things to come. The “Beautiful World” video is dark, but strangely hopeful — not so much in the text itself but the way it’s presented. The video says “Things are going wrong, but now that you know, we can fix it.” Admittedly, the theory of de-evolution says that, of course, we won’t fix it. And, as we all know by now, DEVO was right. About everything.
The modern-day equivalent of this style of canary-in-the-coal-mine, however, lacks any hope that we’ll change. Millennial humor is about, yes, being that canary, but noting that at least you’ll get a wicked high off the lack of oxygen before we die. We don’t know how many years Earth has left, so we’re gonna get real weird with it. We’re basically Frank Reynolds, minus the money.
But the scary thing? As we’ve seen with the aforementioned brands and billionaires like Musk — the folks with money are also embracing their inner Frank Reynolds. And if we’ve learned anything about It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, it’s that when Frank Reynolds is in charge, we’re fucked.
So we might as well get real weird with it.