Observing Frankie McNamara's Observations
Story and photography by Brandon TauszikJan 17, 2024
I first met Frankie McNamara unexpectedly, thanks to my For You page on TikTok. A twenty-something Irish native, McNamara’s series of “cultural observations” dissect everyone from Swifties to Gen Z to young men who wear North Face puffers. Conveyed with an unwaveringly flat affect, his well-researched videos are recorded in public alongside individuals who match the given description. Dozens of commenters refer to him as this generation’s David Attenborough, although I wouldn’t peg him as a biologist. Cultivating a largely European audience, his account has amassed nearly half a million followers and over 43 million views.
After watching McNamara's videos for nearly a year, I did what any other sane person would do and traveled from California to meet him in Ireland. We spent a chilly afternoon together wandering the streets of Dublin, chatting and photographing as we went. Between incessant selfie requests from admiring fans, he explained his rise to online fame and dreams of becoming a sociology professor.
Are you originally from here in Dublin?
I’m from a little village outside of Dublin known as “Parts Unknown.” But I have been spotted several times in Dunshaughlin by people that are spying on me, because that’s where I live. Do you know anything about them?
Do you consider yourself an anthropologist or sociologist in some way?
I read a lot of social theory and I’m influenced just as much by that as I am by comedy. I remember watching George Carlin’s rants on YouTube and I was always blown away with how he could speak about what he felt passionate about in a way that moved people.
Are you still in school? What are you studying?
Yeah, I’m doing a Master’s degree at the moment, studying sociology. Although I did an undergrad in psychology as well. I decided to walk away from psychology because psychologists are usually totally insane. At least sociologists inflict their misery inwards, rather than trying to get other people to change their behavior. Who cares? I don’t care what you do.
What prompted you to make “man on the street” content like this?
When I was in college one day, I noticed this guy walking in front of me with an immaculate skin fade, a silver necklace and an orange North Face jacket. I began to ask myself why almost all male college students dress like this. So I decided to grab some people who fit the criteria and asked them to stand in my video while I analyze them. They were not hard to find. People seemed to love this format because it was original and was breaking the fourth wall in a weird way. So I started to make videos about various topics that either annoy or confuse me, like BMW drivers and mullets.
What’s the research process for writing your videos?
I usually start off by finding a topic to write about. It might come from talking to a friend, or something I notice when I’m out and about. That night before going to bed, I’ll write a few topline ideas for the script. Later, I’ll start writing on my laptop. I write in 25 minute increments because I get easily distracted. Sometimes I’ll edit a script for weeks or even months. I usually have two or three scripts on the go at any given time and try to stick to a fairly regular schedule, posting once a week.
Do you have any other content creators or artists or writers that inspire you?
I’m a fan of motivational speakers like Dr. Phil just because he is rich and he made his fortune by shaming people on live television. I hope someday I can be as sociopathic as he is. But until then I will refuse to take accountability for any and all of my action, and continue to eat Chinese food late at night, watching him on YouTube, cursing my creator for ever thinking me into existence.
Why do you think your audience has grown and people have latched onto you as a creator?
The pseudo-spiritual narcissist healer was an untapped gold mine, so I decided to cash in and become a “narcissistic spirit guide.” I started doing guided meditation tapes during the COVID-19 lockdown. I have about 15 of them on YouTube.
I think what started getting me a bit of traction was when I posted Instagram stories. I put up a suggestion box asking people to give me their username and I’d post a future prediction for their life on my story. People loved it. I was playing into their main character syndrome. People love to be acknowledged and to feel seen. They see a page with maybe a few thousand followers (which is what I had at the time) and they see me talk about them. Then they shared it on their story, and it had a snowball effect.
How has online fame affected your IRL life?
People come up to me all the time and say hello. I love talking to people about myself. Everyone is really nice, which is really traumatizing for me. I usually decide to shock them by being friendly back, hoping that will be enough to get them to go away. I am really unobservant in my day-to-day life, so I’ll be walking with a friend and they always notice when people recognize me, but I’m in my own world so I am the last to find out.
What was your first video that got a lot of attention?
The first video that did well on a national level was a video I made about a little town in Dublin called Kimmage. It’s one of those places that nobody ever goes to, it’s like a simulation. Nobody knows anyone that lives in Kimmage and no one ever has a reason to go to Kimmage.
On a more global level, my most popular video is probably my “skinfade northface combo” video, which was the first episode of my “cultural observations” series. I was in university and I was late walking to my class. I saw a guy walking in front of me who had a skinfade and an orange North Face puffer jacket. I noticed the vast majority of people in my university look like that, and I found it so strange. I used some of the social theory I learned in my sociology course, to critically analyze the “skinfade northface jacket combo” through the lens of the Frankfurt school.
What makes Ireland and Irish people unique?
I love being Irish and I love Irish people. Irish people are special to me because they have a twisted sense of humor that would horrify anyone in a respectable society. Ireland has a very dark history and a strong tradition of storytelling. We’ve been turning horror into comedy for 800 years. I think that’s what I love the most about Irish people. They like to have a laugh.
Where do you want to take your work in the future?
I would like to be a sociology professor in a few years’ time. I like the idea of being able to take theories that dead philosophers wrote about and bring them into a modern context. Sociology is everywhere you look. I find it so fascinating.
I would also love to write more books in the future. I wrote a book called The Toxic Travel Guide published by HarperCollins. It’s a travel guide about various towns and villages in all the counties of Ireland.
Do you have hope in humankind?
Photography: Brandon Tauszik