Saturday, October 6, 2007

YouTube: The 'Mystery Science Theater' of the 2000s

Posted By on Sat, Oct 6, 2007 at 1:26 PM

Jack Pendarvis, recipient of the coveted Critic’s Pick for Best Local Author in Creative Loafing’s 2007 Best of Atlanta issue, has added a new recurring feature to his blog, known as the Place Where Jack Pendarvis Has a “Blog.” The new daily feature is called McNeil’s Gold Medal Emergency Exit Theatre. Apparently a fellow named Jeff McNeil spends hours on YouTube searching for funny-ha-ha or funny-strange pop artifacts, sends a link every day, and Pendarvis posts it. So far, McNeil’s tastes seem to lean toward obscure clips from film and television in the 1960s and 1970s (he seems to have an affinity for the original Rat Pack), but he’s uncovered some true gems, like this, a black-and-white commercial from yesteryear of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble extolling the virtues of Winston cigarettes.

McNeil’s Gold Medal Emergency Exit Theatre puts me in mind of "Mystery Science Theater 3000." What YouTube was to the 2000s, “MST3K” was to the 1990s. The show changed hosts, cast members and cable channels in its life from 1988-1999, but its premise remained constant: the mockery of cheesy movies by wiseacres shown as onscreen silhouettes. One of the great things about “MST3K” was that it unearthed fascinatingly awful chunks of forgotten cinema, including such semieducational black-and-white short films as "A Date with Your Family" and "Alphabet Antics." Plus, it could make watching some of the worst films ever made, like Manos: The Hands of Fate, into a pleasant experience, instead of a punishing one. (Incidentally, a kind of Internet-based "MST3K" stepchild exists in the form of RiffTrax, downloadable “DVD commentaries” from former host Michael J. Nelson (and frequently featuring "MST3K" alumni) making fun of mainstream movies like Spider-Man and Battlefield Earth.)

YouTube uncovers obscure, ridiculous pop ephemera in far greater quantity than “MST3K” did. YouTube clips don’t seem to need the funny commentary, probably because they’re so short, they go down much more easily than a two-hour movie. Plus, they look more ridiculous out of context on the YouTube screen on your monitor than they would on an actual television or movie theater. Instead of hecklers, what the clips need are gatekeepers – folks like Pendarvis and McNeil, who can pan for the fool’s gold so you don’t have to. Because the likes of this should not go forgotten:

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