Childhood memories are often specks in the rearview mirror; a lifetime of experiences fills the rift between adulthood and the simpler times of the past. Sometimes the memories sneak up on you. One moment, you might be reading a book when your traumatic third-grade birthday party strikes you with the efficiency of a right hook. Whether they hint at something psychological or result from a series of misfirings in the brain, these sneaky little snippets of childhood always cause me to lose my footing and reminisce with a sad smile or, in some cases, wince in humiliation and maybe want to bang my head against the wall.
Perhaps the most vivid core memory from my childhood took place on a middle-school bus ride. It goes like this: The interior of the bus reeks of exhaust and poor hygiene, the bus driver struggles to block out the lawless chaos behind them, my brain rattles in my skull with every pothole and bump in the road. Most of my senses are overwhelmed, but my ears are the most diligent observers, picking up fragments of conversations that I probably would have been better off not hearing.
I imagine this resembles what goes through George Miller’s head as he is attacked by memories of his past self as “Filthy Frank,” the YouTube persona who characterized an entire generation of SJW-destroyers with his shocking, edgy humor. Zealots of Frank will often refer to him as one of his numerous monikers, including “Papa Franku,” “Sir Francis of the Filth” and “Mr. Priest” — rarely would he be recognized as his government name.
Frank’s content was defined by its stunning profanity and purposeful ignorance of all things taboo — he indulged in shock comedy that included racial stereotypes, unflinchingly gross food-related videos and a macrocosm of Filthy Frank lore. Among his most popular videos were “RAT CHEF,” in which he cosplayed Guy Fieri cooking with dead rats and “WEABOOS,” where he ranted about the strange fanaticism of anime-lovers (which also happened to be his target demographic). His most influential character, “Pink Guy,” even released a chart-topping joke album with song titles that should not be repeated in print.
There is no better introduction to the omniverse of Frank than one of his videos — I can sit here and try to describe what it’s like to see a man dressed as Guy Fieri wrap a dead rat with a tortilla, but it’s not going to evoke the sort of visceral disgust the real thing would. In fact, half the enjoyment in Frank’s content comes from getting an oblivious friend to watch him for the first time and seeing the inquisitive expression on their face melt into complete revulsion.
I call him “Frank” instead of “George Miller” here because, fortunately, Filthy Frank is just a character. Miller himself is self-aware: The description for TVFilthyFrank reads, “Filthy Frank is the embodiment of everything a person should not be” — and that he is. By trolling with a purpose, Miller proves that in the environment of PC culture, the most anti-couth, obnoxious content garners just as much attention as, if not more than, the normal stuff.
Turns out, shamelessly trolling millions of people takes a toll on a person; in a now-deleted tweet posted in December of 2017, Miller renounced his YouTube career, somewhat dispassionately explaining that producing comedy was no longer enjoyable. Fans across Reddit mourned the loss of their beloved Papa Franku, but Miller’s days of trolling were no longer.
Following Miller’s retirement was a series of quiet SoundCloud releases driven by lo-fi production and tinged with melancholy lyrics — the kind of music that is generically hipster, but always seems to sell. Miller was not just trying out music as a hobby: The magnitude of his success as a “sad boy” just might have overshadowed his fame from YouTube. In the same year as his retirement, he joined the popular Asian music collective “88rising” alongside Rich Brian, Keith Ape and more. On Mar. 2, 2020, he made his TV debut on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
Remarkably, fans of Miller’s music rarely draw from or overlap with his YouTube fanbase: In fact, some Joji fans had to find out the hard way about Filthy Frank. Miller’s ability to survive and succeed in the shark-infested industry proves him a keen, if not talented, musician. It seems like a fire has been extinguished on the internet; where there once was a chaotic explosion of controversy, there is now a space for love and support for Joji. The demographics of Miller’s fanbase have shifted toward more harmless lovers of self-deprecating ballads and pensive lyrics.
As a longtime passive observer of Miller’s trajectory on the internet, I can’t help but notice that there is something missing on YouTube without Filthy Frank — something I’m not sure we can get back. Past his catalog of gut-wrenchingly disgusting videos, Frank is a provocateur who has carved out a corner of the internet for the politically incorrect to gather. In doing this, Frank was able to construct a parody of the well-oiled machine that social media is, proving that sometimes, humans are no better than the content they consume.
There is a great deal of enjoyment in sitting back and watching the public consume and digest Filthy Frank, but, in the past, his content fell into the wrong hands — that is, by being spread at face value. Adolescents such as the middle school boys who terrorize the back of the bus might see Frank’s videos as examples of acceptable humor. Like the unsuspecting few who might take Frank’s unsavory opinions seriously, equally vulnerable young people could model their behaviors after Frank’s example and further misconstrue his message.
This phenomenon is analogous to the algorithmic radicalization Youtube caused in the mid-2010s. The existence of Filthy Frank fans who are led down the infamous extremism rabbit hole might devalue the high-concept art that his channel could be — understandably, Miller may have quit for this exact reason.
I’m all for creative autonomy, but sometimes I’m left wondering if Miller’s career as Joji could ever conduct such an engaging human experiment in the way that Filthy Frank did. However, if Miller wanted to outrun the immaturity of his past, he certainly has, proving that the internet is not always good at remembering things.
Maybe one day Filthy Frank will return to grace us with his delightful satire, but for now, Joji’s lo-fi ballads continue to take the main stage.
Daily Arts Contributor Laine Brotherton can be reached at email@example.com.