YouTube launched in 2005. The found-footage meme site Everything is Terrible! launched in 2007, as if in direct response to the way YouTube mutated the internet into a new, hideous beast. I’m sure there was some equivalent to Everything is Terrible! on 90s college campuses, where VHS compilation tapes of weirdo pop culture ephemera were passed around & red-dubbed into fuzzed-out oblivion for dorm room stoner watch parties. There’s just something precisely post-YouTube about the Everything is Terrible! evolution of that format, where contextless clips of work-out tapes, self-help babble, Christian children’s propaganda, corporate training videos, soft-core pornography, and Z-grade Hollywood schlock all co-mingle as if they were part of the same cursed continuum. The Everything is Terrible! project started as a way for a small collective of Los Angeles hipsters to highlight & mock the disposable media most people glance over in thrift store bins without giving it a second’s thought. Through the timing of its launch and its incredible longevity, it’s evolved into a vivid record of American pop culture brain rot in the internet era, where everything is contextless, meaningless, cheap and, well, terrible.
Just two years into their historic run as a meme-culture institution, Everything is Terrible! branched out into making rapid-fire, feature-length compilations of their blog’s “greatest hits”, starting with Everything is Terrible! The Movie in 2009. Their first movie is a primitive prototype for the much better mixtapes the collective has dispatched in the years since, with nine features to their name as of 2022. Later EIT! titles like The Great Satan & Doggie Woggiez, Poochie Woochiez are much more thematically focused & purposeful than their first catch-all mixtape – the former being a frantic biopic of the titular Satan and the latter being a dog-video themed “remake” of Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain. Even the 2010 “sequel” to the first EIT! movie, 2 Everything 2 Terrible 2: Tokyo Drift, smooths out a lot of the original film’s rough spots, including moments of edgelord hipster irony that evoke suicide imagery and the word “retarded” as punching-down punchlines. Everything is Terrible! The Movie is very much a product of an aughts-era internet where cruel hellsites like eBaum’s World, 4chan, and People of Walmart were cornerstone content farms, an era the site has thankfully outlived.
As much as I struggled with the cruelty & aimlessness of the first Everything is Terrible! movie, it’s still impressive as an experiment in what an EIT! movie would even be, working with no previous blueprint to mimic or adjust. Structurally (and sarcastically), it echoes the basic structure of a Real Movie by starting with direct-to-camera character intros (pulled mostly from celebrities like Bob Saget, Kathy Griffith, and Angela Lansbury introducing their self-help and workout tapes). It concludes with action set pieces from direct-to-video schlock for its climax, followed by flashback clips from earlier in the mix while a sentimental jingle drones on the soundtrack. There’s also some early moodsetting that contextualize the medium the film is playing around with, including clips that explain how connections are made in a developing toddler’s brain and what, exactly, is a mixtape CD. Everything in-between those guiding signposts is a chaotic mess, though, a broadcast from a post-YouTube world where images of Evangelical abstinence training, child abduction scaremongering, Angela Lansbury masturbating, toupee infomercials, magician flirting tips, and 80s comic Sinbad dressed up as a condom all mix together as if they’re fibers of the same ragged cloth. It’s a little overwhelming, a little terrifying, and often very funny – the basic internet experience.
I watched Everything is Terrible! The Movie on a sun-faded laptop screen while loitering in a hotel lobby with a $3 Starbucks order and an hour to kill. My other entertainment option was to absent-mindedly scroll through my Twitter feed, where a jarring, algorithmic mix of bad takes, solid jokes, celebrity gaffs, thirst traps, absurdist home videos, and protest footage would’ve given me roughly the same psychic experience as this ancient internet relic from 2009. One of the smartest clips included in the film is a “What is the internet?” explainer where middle-aged women complain that they’re confused about “www.this” and “www.that”, framing the internet as a mystical nowhere space that cannot be fully understood. They’re right. Internet communication & culture is a menacing puzzle that cannot be fully understood, let alone explained. The Everything is Terrible! project has done a great job of capturing that mystical menace over the years, ironically by dragging pre-internet video clips into a post-YouTube world. Everything is Terrible! The Movie was an interesting early attempt to translate that project into proper cinema, and they’ve since only achieved greater & greater things in that new medium.