In the grand tradition of making sitcoms out of Twitter feeds, it should come as no surprise that YouTube videos have also spawned feature-length film efforts — and it’s not all $h*! My Dad Says. Back in the early days of the social networking site, someone posted an outtake reel (that had circled the country on dubbed VHS tapes for years) of a Winnebago commercial, which basically amounted to an old guy swearing a lot.
Where most would have just laughed before moving on to the next instrument-playing animal, Ben Steinbauer says he was “mesmerized” by the video, and knew he had to find the guy behind it. Thus, Winnebago Man.
What follows is a tale of attempted internet redemption. Steinbauer has the notion that by getting Jack Rebney, the internet-acclaimed “angriest man in the world,” on camera, it will humanize him and allow him some manner of catharsis. Maybe it would even change people’s opinions of him.
But there’s an inherent contradiction in the very nature of internet videos. Not only are they intentionally fleeting and lacking a backstory, they’re also by and large appealing to the schadenfreude in us. Whenever someone uses the word “fans” when referring to those who have watched the video, it feels a bit like the teacher talking about all the “friends” the geeky kid has, the ones who constantly beat the hell out of him and steal his lunch money.
Rebney gets good vibes after attending a screening with his rabid “fans,” but the wrongness of using that word is apparent even then. Before the screening, everyone in line talks about how they hope he’ll “blow up” again, or wonder if he’s really that angry. When he puts in a very charming performance, they come out in awe, expressing surprise and guilt over their preconceptions.
I’m not sure exactly what we’re supposed to take away. Yes, Rebney’s not psychotically angry, but it really doesn’t matter either way. The clip’s still out there — and on YouTube, he’ll be angry forever. it certainly seems strange that a documentary setting out to change the world’s idea of Rebney will end up cementing his legacy as the Winnebago Man.