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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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.