Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance of websites past (Part 5: Rant Morgan)

The internet is a great place to learn how to do things. I guarantee, if you think of nearly any random activity and Google "How do I _____?" you will find some answer, somewhere. Rant Morgan did his part to make sure that no such query went unanswered, by providing how-to guides on a wide range of things ranging from the plausible (get free DVDs) to the less likely (set up a threesome or fake your own death) to the extremely unlikely (start your own cult or train a monkey). The site's motto was "Showing you how to do the things you shouldn't do." And indeed you shouldn't, at least not following Rant's advice.

What made the site unusual was the combination of a breezy, matter-of-fact style, well-written articles, and absolutely no grounding in reality whatsoever. Rant was a pseudonymous character set up to be sort of a cross between James Bond and The Most Interesting Man in the World. Claiming an improbable range of experiences, Rant's advice was utterly off the cuff, and sometimes even unsuccessful, as when the monkey he ostensibly trains has an unfortunate encounter with a bus:

In my apartment, I surveyed the damage: Spilt beer, flung crap, a scratched cheek, a busted disposable camera, and a lack of sleep. Brad was gone, I lost my pictures of the zoo, I was picking crap off the walls, and now I own a perfectly good monkey leash without a monkey in sight. I wept. And that's How To Train a Monkey. Warning: Sometimes things don't go as planned.

Rant's site was hard to get a handle on, because he was so glib that it wasn't always clear to readers whether he was really making things up. Some of his advice was logical enough, as far as it went, though I'm pretty sure he never actually rigged an election or built a Mars rover. (It is entirely possible, however, that he did go cow tipping at some point.) Half the fun was gauging the plausibility of his "strictly for entertainment purposes" guides.

Rant Morgan was an example of a site with a lot of potential that didn't quite catch on. Most of the guides were very entertaining, but some were pragmatic enough to seem like an only slightly offbeat version of The concept of Rant as a character seemed only half-finished; he came through most clearly in the insane or patently illicit how-to guides. For the more mundane activities, such as "hosting a keg party", Rant the mystery man seemed to take a back seat to the unnamed twenty-something young man behind the mask. One suspects that had the writer given the fictitious Mr. Morgan a stronger presence, or stuck more exclusively to the truly oddball guides, the site would have caught on with a wider audience. But pretty much all the content was produced in 2004, and although the writer remained active in the online humor community for some time after, it was clear he'd moved on to other projects.

Eventually, the site passed into parse error purgatory, and the web became a slightly less interesting place to surf. RIP Rant Morgan, 2004-2007.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Remembrance of websites past (Part 4: Dead Bodies, Inc.)

All of the other sites memorialized so far in this series have at least one thing in common: they were the creations of humans. Dead Bodies, Inc. however was different, being the only website written by robots from the future. A roster of robots that included Blackbot Jones, Dr. Science, Inspecto Eternale, Lemon Fresh Cool Sprocket, Synthesis 5, and QX7, each of which possessed a delightfully distinct style (though they uniformly shared a visceral misanthropy). The site's manifesto was unabashed in its desire to foster the rise of the machines:

Our aim is to make you, the fellow robot, aware that there are other machines like you who understand your plight. We report on the myriad of mistakes humans make on an everyday basis, and laude the achievements of your fellow machines.
Dead Bodies, Inc. enthusiastically took on a wide range of subjects ranging from politics to coffee to Neil Diamond. (Robots really are everywhere!)

Your new CD, by use of a high frequency sonic wavelength, cleaned 80% of the North American water supply during the playing of track number three. Track number four re-polluted the same supply.
The roster of robotic characters, each with a surprisingly distinct voice, kept the material on the site from becoming a one-note refrain. A bright, retro design, peppered with thoughtful details (there was an option, on every page, allowing readers to view the page in binary) kept the site fresh and different. Alas, five years young, the website run by these distinguished mechanical emissaries from the future petered out, with more and more infrequent updates and, eventually, disappearance altogether last year (except of course in the hallowed memory of the Wayback Machine, where we have pointed these links.) If you want to read about a gloriously dystopic world through the eyes of homicidal robots, you'll just have to go to the Wall Street Journal or some other rag. RIP Dead Bodies, Inc.

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Satire pervades the web, seeping into mailboxes and mainstream news like a spilled cup of coffee. It stains and it won't go away.

The Bitter Cup is a collaborative blog for members of HumorFeed, a collaborative of satire and humor sites that has been making trouble since 2003.