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It’s Always Offensive in Philadelphia

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In a previous thread, a few commenters discussed the merits of the show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” I’m a fan of the show, myself, but apparently not everyone is. I reckon that’s because the show is basically the same joke told over and over and over again in a thousand different ways. And the joke is “OMG, aren’t these people assholes and idiots?!” The “plots” such as they are are basically just excuses for the five main characters to sit around saying disgusting and stupid things to each other. Either you find that amusing or you find it grating. I find it the former.

Whether you enjoy the it or not, I think the show can be instructive because it succeeds in being ¬†shocking and offensive without actually being, well, offensive. “What? Now you’re just talking crazy, bspen!” you’re probably saying now. But stay with me. One of the reasons I think “It’s Always Sunny” is such a great–and in many ways innovative–show is because it makes me laugh and it makes groan and it makes me gasp, but it never makes me think “Wow, that was mean.” Oh, don’t get me wrong–the show is incredibly mean-spirited. It’s a little dark to begin with, it has no laugh track, plus every character on the show, save maybe Charlie, is a sociopath. But the meanest part of “It’s Always Sunny” is–make no mistake–the viewer. Because while the The Gang may be doing and saying horrible things to any person unfortunate enough to be in their orbit, the show is pretty explicitly inviting you laugh at them, not their victims. So you basically get to sit there in your Lazyboy recliner, all fat and happy, and shake your head and say “What horrible people.” Fun!

The point I’m getting at here is that you can make a show that’s tasteless, shocking and offensive by punching at the right target. A lot of people don’t like rape jokes for good reason. “It’s Always Sunny” has a running gag about Dennis, wherein he uses language that–to the writers and presumably the viewers–is pretty rapey. And the reason that’s funny isn’t that Dennis may or may not be a rapist. The joke is that Dennis is not aware that the language he uses is absolutely rapey and you should never ever ever ever emulate him, in word or in deed. EVER. So the writers are punching at misogynists and would be rapists. (And the fact that Dennis is profoundly, debilitatingly un-self-aware.) And that’s why it’s so fucking funny.

So, it’s hard for me to buy the argument that in order to be shocking or challenging you have to be cruel to certain segments of society. You absolutely don’t, as this show amply demonstrates. And its meanness is still very much intact. I love that.

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