Ahhh, the early days of viral videos. Remember when these funny, weird little videos would float around the web and people would laugh at them and pass them around for months? Nowadays, they rarely have that kind of longevity. We watch them, laugh, and forget the next day when somebody else's embarrassing video comes to our attention.
Winnebago Man is a documentary about one of the web's first viral video sensations. I had forgotten all about this video, but the moment they showed footage from it, it all came rushing back. The Winnebago Man, known alternately as "The Angriest Man in the World", is Jack Rebney. In 1989, Rebney filmed an industrial video for Winnebago. He was so comically nasty, grouchy, and foul mouthed between takes, that somebody on the crew saw fit to edit together the outtakes and pass the video around. 16 years later, it found its way onto a fledgling Youtube, and took the world by storm. It found its way into pop culture (we're treated to Ben Affleck doing an impression, and a reference to it on 30 Rock), and had countless parody videos and even an Italian knockoff made. The documentary's director, Ben Steinbauer, became fascinated with Rebney's tragically hilarious outbursts, and decided to track the history of the video, and attempt to track down Rebney himself, if he's indeed still out there.
At first, I thought this movie was going to lay a guilt trip on those of us who laugh at viral videos. You know, because these people are human too, and this kind of notoriety could cause a lot of damage to somebody's psyche. The Star Wars Kid is a good example of that. But it doesn't judge us for laughing at these people. We can't help it if these videos are funny. It does address these issues, and even talks to some other subjects of these unintentionally videos. It's all very interesting, and you do sympathize with these people.
Winnebago Man really takes off when Steinbauer finds Rebney. He lives alone, running a campground in Northern California. He seems to be calm, at peace, and able to laugh at himself. If that seems too good to be true, it's because it is. A week later, Steinbauer gets a call from Rebney, saying that was all a ruse. I'm happy to report that Jack Rebney is still the exact same man we saw in that video, and he's irate about the youth of today and their internets and Youtubes.
As the movie progresses, we come to sympathize with Rebney, and maybe even like him a little (don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want to spend any time with him). He is who he is. He's grouchy and angry even towards people he likes. The climax is when Steinbauer convinces Jack to attend a Found Footage Festival screening of his video and do a Q & A. You get a sense that Jack has come to terms with this whole thing, maybe just a little.
Winnebago Man reminded me a great deal of last year's awesome documentary, Best Worst Movie, about the cult status of the hilariously terrible Troll 2. They both follow the effects of a new kind of fame, where maybe the people who love something aren't loving it for the intended reasons. These movies both humanize their subjects while still giving us permission to find them funny. We as viewers should just all be mindful that we're all just one accident or unguarded moment away from being a cult sensation ourselves.