Back in the dark ages before Youtube, us underground types had to work to get our bizarre video fix. In order to find something outside the norm you could watch again and again, you had to scour the collections of fellow devotees, find something in your own collection that they didn’t have, copy it onto a blank VHS tape, and send it to them through the mail (and if you wanted to “share” it with your “friends,” you would have to invite them to your house). For those too young to experience tape-trading culture firsthand, this classic MR. SHOW sketch pretty much captures the spirit of the times.
The content of these tapes roughly corresponded to the sorts of clips which currently clutter your desktop feed: bizarre found home videos, rare or unreleased movies, TV performances from alternative bands, and so forth. The most treasured, however, were the video mix tapes, or “TV Tapes.” Collectors with a formidable enough catalog and skills in the art of creative dubbing would compile the highlights of their collection onto a single tape, ranging anywhere from 2 to 8 hours (depending on how much fidelity they were willing to sacrifice in the name of quantity). The results were almost always brain-melting, like channel surfing in some sort of alternate universe. These were the tapes you put on at parties, and watched until they literally disintegrated.
With the rise of digital sharing, one might think that the TV Tape would have become a lost artform, a relic of a dead technology. Instead, the best of the video jammers adapted, whittling their often feature-length opuses into focused, bite-size morsels. If anything, video mixtapes have finally seeped into the mainstream, to the point that your grandparents might forward you the latest masterworks from TV Carnage or Found Footage Festival. It is a strange world we live in.
Of this new wave of analog fetishists, perhaps none have flourished like the collective known as Everything Is Terrible! (their punctuation). With hundreds of videos spread across several online video platforms (a fail-safe against crises like their 2009 YouTube ban following a complaint by Yogi Oki Doki), the minds at EIT! have created a virtual tapestry of the drab, disposable entertainment which flooded our VCRs in the ‘80s and ‘90s. With the VHS boom, after all, came thousands of stores with miles of shelves to fill, which perhaps goes some way to explain tapes like Cat Massage, WITNESSES, and, of course, Duane. EIT! are also cannier than most at self-promotion; their effort to collect every VHS copy of JERRY MAGUIRE has yielded thousands of submissions, and the troupe’s silly codenames and homemade masks makes them a sort of VHS-dork Wu Tang Clan.
Tonight, the Everything Is Terrible! crew comes to the Brattle with two of their most recent mixtapes, each of which mine particularly fertile strains of VHS badness: COMIC RELIEF ZERO plumbs the deepest dregs of the 1980s’ stand-up boom, while EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE! DOES THE HIP HOP! documents the most cringeworthy attempts by the square establishment to understand and assimilate rap culture. This is, of course, in addition to EIT!’s famously chaotic stage antics, and probably a few of their greatest hits (to reiterate: DUAAAANE!).
EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE!: COMIC RELIEF ZERO & EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE! DOES THE HIP HOP
Tuesday, May 20, 9:30 PM
Brattle Theatre (40 Brattle St., Cambridge, MA 02138)