In the past fifty years, film has easily become one of the most prominent forms–if not the most prominent form–of literature. A quick internet search will easily reveal that. This year, over 4-million copies of Delia Owens Where The Crawdads Sing were sold, a book that New York Times rated 2019’s best seller. On the other hand, on the opening weekend of Marvel Superheroes Avengers: Endgame, the highest grossing film of 2019, over 100-million people came to see the film. That’s a 96-million person difference.
With film being so popular, we have gathered many representations of contemporary American Literature using the medium. I’d like to focus on the popular American sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
The show is set in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and centered around a cast of long-time relatives and friends: Dee, Charlie, Mac, Dennis, and Frank. Together, the five own a rundown bar named Paddy’s Pub. Here they spend literally everyday drinking, often contriving ways to entertain themselves or make money, and when not doing that, they always find themselves in the most bizarre situations. The group is extraordinary to say the least. Just as in the next clip where we find a few of our group members attempting to impress a corporation so that they may fund there dilapidated bar.
It has probably immediately came to your mind, “how is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia considered American Literature?” Looking at how hotly-debated the genre of American Literature is, it could be argued that it is not. Although from my own perspective, it surely is. The first of those reasons is that it was made in the United States by U.S. citizens.
Looking back to many of the previous texts, we can consider the sitcom to be American Literature from the variety of themes and topics it often addresses. Themes that we see often (taken directly from one of the last worksheets used in class) are “notions of gender, race, the human/nonhuman divide, sexual threat, violence, citizenship, [and] nationhood…” And, considering the listed themes, we can already see their presence in this two-minute scene.
“Actually Dee, you won’t be zinging anything around, because men are intimidated by funny women, okay? So what we need you to be is just pretty and benign.”
When Dennis says to Dee “…men are intimidated by funny women…” he doesn’t actually mean it in that he believes they are truly funny. The way he says it (and portrayed by Dennis overall morals throughout the show) shows that this gives the women power and control of themselves and situations. They are touching on a topic that has been in American Literature for many years. American Society has proven again and again that when women gain power, weak men become intimidated. They don’t want to lose the patriarchy.
I’m currently brought to think of the Grandmother from Harriet Jacobs Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. The Grandmother is of course a slave, owned by the rich, white patriarchy of the nineteenth century. Yet whenever we see the Grandmother confronted by men of this type, she never lets them have the upper hand. The white men who literally own her are actually intimidated by her. The following passage shows how steadfast she is against white men who constantly threatened her life:
“Where’d the damned n**gers git all dis sheet an’ table clarf?” My grandmother, emboldened by the presence of our white protector, said, “You may be sure we didn’t pilfer ’em from your houses” (Jacobs 100).
To conclude, the TV show highlights touchy and unspoken subjects that are prevalent in American society without ever directly saying that it is what they are doing. That is why it’s a sitcom. The subjects they touch upon are endless, though they often come up in quick, second-long segments scattered throughout the series, just as within the first clip. And it is American Literature because it is written about the lives of people who live and deal with, or have dealt with, the problems of an American society. Similarly, Benito Cereno highlights the troubles of foreign slavers being saved by an American group, Self-Reliance is a text which contradictingly attempts conform Americans to a different style of life, and Song of Myself is an ode to the beauty in the U.S. that, all the while, described many of its not-so-beautiful issues.
It’s Always Sunny even often blatantly just uses various members of our society in extremely humorous ways. I think we all know the person this clip talks about: big truck, Don’t Tread On Me sticker, uses the founding fathers as the basis for most arguments, has a collection of American Flags. Well, Charlie was that person for an episode, and yes, it was meant to be entirely ironic. They just are utilizing people we know and live near.
What is the importance of this series being a film and not written? That, I believe, has to do with the interpretations that can be made of the film. When we watch each mannerism and here every inflection being acted by the characters themselves, we gain an actual understanding of what is being conveyed or portrayed. We can here by how when Dennis tells Dee what men are intimidated of, he is being serious, but from the show’s genre as a black-comedy sitcom, we understand that he is making fun of those men; he is not actually trying to state a fact.
Looking at the excerpt I took from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, it is much harder to understand that when the Lisa writes “emboldened by the presence of our white protector” she means not that the grandmother feels more confident in his protecting her; rather that she feels more confident in herself to rebuke to this white man. The only reason we are to know that is from how the grandmother is portrayed throughout the text.
Furthermore, with living in the twenty-first century, we are in the presence of a massive hive-mind that is called the internet where we are now able to disseminate texts and films completely at will. Here we gain with the film or text an assortment of readings and perspectives that we would not have been able to have all those years ago. If I google an analysis of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia through an American Literature lens, I am sure I would find hundreds of pieces on it. The same goes for whatever I would need to search for a written text. There are thousands of works being analyzed by millions of people all the time and they are entirely available on the internet. Our Open Anthology of American Literature is the greatest representation of that. Not only does it give us access to a variety of texts, it also gives us access to essays of other students on the texts.
Technology has provided us with the means to gain access to whatever we want whenever we want, more or less. If this were the nineteenth century, I could not just look at a piece of paper and say “I want that book” and expect it in the mail within a few days. Nor could I even watch a film. With all these things, we have gained instant access and a multitudes of analysis. We, whenever we are so interested, are able to deep dive into whatever we want, whenever we want. The world is–for better or worse–at our disposal.
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Oxford University Press, 1988.
FX Productions. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. [United States]: 20th Century Fox, 2019.