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TBTS Salutes: Eight of the Decade’s Most Original Uses of the Internet

December 30, 2009

I know what you’re thinking. You’re all like “this decade has been great because of MyFriend and FacePlace and YouTweets because now I know not only what that person who sat behind me in freshman english is doing for a living now, but how he or she feels about Avatar. And I can talk to him or her anytime I want, even though we have no more in common than we did when we were fifteen years old. It’s awesome!”

Don’t deny it. That’s exactly what you’re thinking. I said don’t deny it.

This decade saw the internet — what some still call the last great frontier — bloom with creative content. What began as a useful tool in the late nineties really grew into its own in the early 2000’s, as anyone with a keyboard and an ethernet cable suddenly was able to take to the net and find his or own true calling. The world became a free-for-all, and in many ways it’s quite beautiful. Today, we take a calculated look at some of the most original cult sites to pop up this past decade — not all remain currently active, but each deserves it’s own golf clap. You won’t find the classic McSweeneyses, Paris Reviews and Atlantic Monthlies here. Not today. Here’s to you, you glorious, comedy savant internet weirdos. 

Modern Humorist: The online webzine, helmed by John Aboud and Michael Coulton (who would later become regulars on VH1’s Best Week Ever, boasted Jon Stewart and producer Frank Marshall among its board of directors and generated countless classics both standard and avant garde. The site only produced original content (though a lot of it) until 2003, and in many ways was at the forefront of the same type of sublime comedy which Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s Internet Tendency would go on to perfect later in the decade. Though the site has been inactive for years, spotty archives can still be found at the site’s longtime web address.

Garfield Minus Garfield: Irishman Dan Walsh gained notoriety in the latter half of the decade with this surreal website, which removes the lasagna-eating cat from all of his titular ‘toons. The result monitors the slow, excruciating descent into madness for Garfield’s owner Jon Arbuckle and exists as a fantastic foray into the post-modern.

Homestar Runner:   The early 2000’s saw perhaps the internet’s first animated star in the armless simpleton Homestar Runner and his crew of similarly bizarre cohorts, notably the luchadero-esque StrongBad and indecipherable Coach Z. From StrongBad’s classic e-mails to the beauty of Teen Girl Squad, creators Mike and Matt Chapman mixed the surreal with deft pop cultural references to absurd effects, noting bands like Of Montreal and They Might Be Giants as sometimes-collaborators.

Spamusement!: Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most brilliant, as evidenced by cartoonist Steven Frank’s 2004-born website, which saw the artist illustrating panels to depict the nonsense titles we all find in our spam e-mail inbox. Frank’s cartoons are the perfect time-killers, and though he built up enough of a fan base to completely leave new cartoons in the hands of the site’s forums in 2006, the site still remains active (and great fun).

The Official Ninja Webpage: Real Ultimate Power: A fictional ten year-old named “Robert Hamburger” (which may or may not be the real name of the site’s adult author) is the “creator” of the Official Ninja Webpage, which touts up front three facts: 1.) Ninjas are mammals, 2.)Ninjas fight ALL the time, and 3.) The purpose of the ninja is to flip out and kill people. These facts may only partially be true, but the site’s vision of a ninja-obsessed child is pure, strange joy — and features articles on weaponry, movie treatments about ninjas, and ninja sightings. A must-see.

Airtoons: His official Twitter page lists the author’s name as “Airtoons McGee,” but the early 2000’s collection of oddly-captioned images from the safety pamphlet in the seatback of an airplane gained a popular cult following. The fact that the fine print on the site reads “A personal hobby site” means that it’s just some guy doing his own damn thing. And doing it beautifully.

Fat Chicks in Party Hats: I almost forewent this one, but it’s just too out-there not to bring up in a piece like this. Offensive, eccentric and infectiously giggle-inducing, this massive 39-part collection of photographs featuring, er, rotund people at parties — saddled with broken-English captions from “Miguel,” the site’s supposed webmaster — has to be seen to be believed. It should be noted that some of the pictures and language may not be safe for work. Weird? Yes. Offensive? Yes. Impossible to take your eyes away from? Absolutely. Check it out, and feel like a worse person than you already are.

Stuff White People Like: It’s a true internet Cinderella story — as the tale goes, the site was born after co-creator Christian Landers was teased his friend (fellow co-creator-to-be Myles Valentin) after Valentin observed him watching HBO’s The Wire. The rest is sparkle: a blog featuring daily updates concerning all things loved by white people everywhere, including “Living by the Water,” “Standing Still at Concerts” and “Juno.” The site received acclaim and 2008 saw a book released by the same name which stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for months. Apparently, White People loved it. And we all learned a lesson: the internet can be a beautiful thing — and we should all feel obligated to use it for our own art, as these aforementioned eight writers did, in the next decade.

Here’s to a 2010-2019 with your own mark on it, folks. Shine on, you crazy diamonds.

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