Monday, April 16, 2012

Shut Up, Little Man!

In the late 1980's, two twenty-something midwestern guys moved into a cheap apartment in San Francisco. Much to their chagrin, they soon discovered that their neighbors, two drunk old men, had violent screaming matches at any and all hours of the day. The thin walls offered little protection from the noise, so these guys did what any smartass twenty-something kid would do: they started recording the arguments. Little did they realize that these tapes would become an underground sensation.

Shut Up, Little Man! is a 2010 documentary by Matthew Bate that not just presents their story, but also attempts to piece together the story of these two miserable old men. They were Peter J Haskett and Raymond Huffman, one proudly gay, the other loudly homophobic, but nevertheless, they were roommates, and apparently the best of friends.

The guys, who go by the names Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D, recorded Haskett and Huffman for months. At one point on a recording, one of the old men even comments that "Now the neighbors are recording us!" and they just keep arguing! They passed the tapes to friends, who in turn passed the tapes to friends, and so on. The tapes got so popular in their circle that they would have parties where they'd all get together and listen to the old men arguing live.

The Shut Up, Little Man! tapes were viral videos before viral videos existed. There were people back in the 80's and 90's who collected such tapes, recordings of prank calls, etc. Sausage and D's recordings became such an underground sensation that an indie magazine actually began to distribute them across the nation, a hit play was produced, and there were even early talks to make a Shut Up, Little Man! movie(!?!).

Shut Up, Little Man! is a fun little documentary. The phenomenon of tape trading interests me. I was quite young at the time this was going on, but if I was 10 years older, I bet I would have ate that stuff up. This movie reminds me a lot of the documentary Winnebago Man. If you watch the two movies back to back, you'll get a fairly decent account of the history of viral videos, leading up to the early days of the internet.

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