It’s Always Nietzsche
Is The Hilarity And Popularity Of The Hit FX Series It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia Proof That Frederich Nietzsche Was Right And God Is Dead?
Sweet Dee is no body's mench.
By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine
Feb. 6, 2012 — Which 19th century German is the latest philosopher to infiltrate mainstream cable?
Perhaps not shockingly, it is not Arthur Schopenhauer.
Nor is it Ludwig Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer or Max Stirner.
It is not even Karl Marx — everyone knows he infiltrated cable TV a long time ago.
It is the ubermensch of philosophy, Friedrich Nietzsche, and he is coming to a television near you by way of the FX network and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. This ‘depraved’ and hilarious comedy that recently received a three-season contract renewal to extend the series to an unprecedented tenth season — employs more than a few passing nods to the German iconoclast.
The main characters in It’s Always Sunny — Dennis, Dee, Mac, Charlie, and Danny DeVito's Frank — make up the "Gang," a group of self-centered individuals that run a Philadelphia bar — Paddy's Pub — and work with every fiber of their being to avoid work and achieve glory, fame, and physical gratification through devious means.
The Gang will do literally anything that improves their fortunes with a complete disregard for those around them. In fact, the characters manage to devise the most convoluted plans in an attempt to better themselves and seek revenge against those who get in their way.
The objects of the Gang's scorn include an ex-priest (who was just a priest until the Gang got done with him), a waitress dealing with alcoholism, and any decent and productive member of society that attempts to extol moral or legal restrictions on their activities.
In other words, the Gang is preaching Nietzsche to the late-night comedy crowd. They are systematically dismembering every facet of control society has imposed on the mass populace, from religion to government to common courtesy.
It is all pretty fucked up. But audiences find it hilarious. Sure, each episode maintains its fair share of slapstick, shock-value humor. But the hilarity is also Nietzschean in the lengths it goes to subvert common morality.
In Degeneration, Nietzsche's contemporary Max Nordau writes a critique of the German philosopher. In it, he states that according to Nietzsche, "The intellectually free man must stand 'beyond good and evil'; these concepts do not exist for him; he tests his impulses and needs by their value for himself…he does that which causes him pleasure, even when, and especially when, it torments and injures — nay, annihilates others…"
The Gang will go to any and all lengths to achieve their personal goals, which are generally less than moral.
For instance, in a first season episode entitled "Charlie Wants an Abortion," Mac joins an anti-abortion protest movement in order to sleep with one of the protesters. He successfully achieves his goal by feigning sincerity until the woman states that she is pregnant, to which Mac replies "You need to get an abortion."
Another example is Charlie's series-long pursuit of ‘The Waitress,’ a coffee shop worker he is in love with who wants nothing to do with him. Over the course of seven seasons, Charlie has faked a cancer scare, pretended to be a boy's father, attacked or harassed several people, and participated in a range of other ill-advised stunts in an attempt to win the waitress' heart.
Similarly, the rest of the Gang has gone to great lengths to make easy money, attract sexual partners, and sometimes do harm to each other. In the season five episode "The D.E.N.N.I.S. System," Dennis explains to Mac and Charlie a foolproof method for getting women to sleep with him, which involves drawing them in, breaking them down emotionally, and then taking advantage.
In Guilt, Bad Conscience, and the Like, Nietzsche writes on the idea of bad conscience, or a systematic re-appropriation of morality that systems of authority use to limit the potential and uncontrollable actions of the individual.
In the essay, he writes, "This is a sort of volitional insanity in spiritual cruelty, such as has not its parallel anywhere; it is the will of man to find himself guilty and condemnable even unto irredeemableness …What anti-nature, what paroxysms of nonsense, what bestiality of idea…"
In order for the ubermensch to exist, Nietzsche says that certain individuals will have to rise above this bad conscience and exercise their own morality. His philosophy is much deeper and more complex than this, but, essentially, it says that the individual must circumvent modern decadent authority in order to realize personal potential.
And that is what the Gang is doing. Despite their low level of success, the characters in It's Always Sunny are the ultimate iconoclasts. They work to make themselves feel good at the expense of everyone around them.
In true Nietzschean fashion, the Gang works to bring down the ultimate figure of authority, the priest, throughout the entire series. Rickety Cricket, a high school classmate and former priest, has his life destroyed by the Gang as they work towards their own personal goals.
Nietzsche, a notorious Christian iconoclast and critic of the clergy, wrote in The Antichrist, "All concepts of the church have been recognised as what they are, as the wickedest of all forms of false coinage invented for the purposed of depreciating nature, natural values," and goes on to call the priestly class "parasites" for perpetuating this myth in order to create a niche for themselves as leaders and powerful influences on society.
According to Nietzsche, the ubermensch must overcome the indoctrination of the priest in order to achieve personal freedom.
In pursuing self-gratification, the Gang convinces Cricket to leave the cloth by telling him that Dee, his old crush, has feelings for him. After renouncing his vows, Cricket finds out that it was all a ploy and he is driven to homelessness and minor insanity. The next several seasons are spent chronicling the ways the Gang makes Cricket's life a living hell, including the episode in season four where Mac and Dennis hunt him a la "The Most Dangerous Game."
In contrast to the relatively moral society around them, the main characters in It's Always Sunny rebel against the morality of the outside world in order to attain personal success. And, while these pursuits generally end in disappointment and destruction for those involved, they continue their quest for personal freedom from constraint.
Because that is the Nietzschean way. The ubermensch is a Phoenix that will rise from the ashes of modern society. By circumventing authority and undermining it at every turn, the characters in the show hope that some day they will actually achieve their goals.
It never occurs to any of them that their efforts are in vein because they rise above authority in their own minds. And when success is not a reality, they create it in their own minds. Much like Nietzsche, the characters in It's Always Sunny continually justify their philosophies and ways of life as necessary and ahead of the curve.
This sort of incorporation of Nietzsche in comedy can lead to one of two conclusions. Either audiences consider these ideas so asinine that they are comical, or the characters in It's Always Sunny provide us with an outlet to express those suppressed feelings Nietzsche told us were there, and we laugh because we are finally recognizing — if only subconsciously — that within the Gang we find kindred spirits.
There is a little Dennis, Mac, Dee, Charlie and Frank in all of us.
God must be dead.
Wayne Schutsky lives in Phoenix, Ariz.
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