It seems like the internet has always been a part of our life: Our untrustworthy informant, our shameful lover, the rancid meat way in the back of our soul, neglected and slowly turning monstrous. But there was a time when this whole ‘Cyber Web’ thing was new and frightening, instead of just frightening. That time was 1997, the year that gave us The Kids Guide to the Internet and took The Notorious B.I.G., and you will never make me believe those two things are unrelated.
Explanatory theme song? You’re goddamn right there’s an explanatory theme song. You couldn’t wipe your ass in the late ‘90s without a jazzy white lady rhyming ‘ain’t’ with ‘taint.’ And Kids Guide to the Internet has the jazziest white lady to ever do an awkward Mick Jagger strut at your cousin’s wedding. Picture your mom singing along to Michael Buble after six too many glasses of rose. Picture the voice you least like to hear in Theater Class — the one that cuts right through the babble and into your last nerve. Got it fixed in your head? Put it to work on these lyrics:
On your mark, get set
we’re riding on the internet
Cyberspace, set us free
Hello virtual reality!
This song has everything the late ‘90s did wrong. There’s even a brief, ill-advised rap breakdown, but Somebody’s Aunt almost immediately realizes it was the wrong move. She starts burning that bridge even as she’s standing on it. Then she takes us out with a snappy little flourish:
Take a spin
Now you’re in
with the technoset
You’re going surfing on the internet!
Get used to that last bit: it’s played at every single transition screen, and there are so many transition screens. Whoever edited this video just found out about the wipe function and they were in a terrible tire-swing accident that permanently damaged the part of their brain that regulates their use of the wipe function. You will hear this hook eight hundred times before this video is over. You will forget what all other music sounds like. Don’t even attempt karaoke until you have three straight weeks of audio detox, or you’ll screech “you’re going surfing on the internet!” in the middle of Old Town Road and utterly ruin girl’s night out. Madison will never forgive you, and you do not want to be on her shit list.
Hey, speaking of white people you’re just certain are secretly evil:
This is the whitest family I’ve ever seen. It’s a kind of white that can’t even exist anymore. 1997 was the last year you were allowed to be this white. That was the year Connecticut opened its borders and ended two centuries of isolationist foreign policy. After 1997, at least one of these people would have seen a black person in real life, if only while zipping by in their Tahoe on the way to World Market.
This is Petey, and I know you hate him already and that’s too bad, because he’s our host. Petey looks like he’s one racist Minions meme away from a school shooting, and this whole video is about him diving face-first into the internet without so much as a dental dam.
“Now that I’ve gotten on the Internet, I’d rather be on my computer than doing just about anything!” Petey warbles. His parents will look back on this moment and begrudgingly admit that yes, there were warning signs.
Mom and Dad aren’t in the video long, which is good, because dad speaks like a drunk alien who doesn’t want to give away the game, but kind of thinks it’d be hilarious if you discovered his secret.
“[My kids] play the typical computer games that all the kids enjoy,” dad says, before breaking into laughter and revealing his tentacles.
The girl, Dasha, knows the gig is up, but she’s not quite ready for dad to be dissected in a government laboratory, so she immediately leaps in with “don’t worry though, it’s still cool! The program is by kids, for kids, and it’s not just for boys either!”
That doesn’t make any sense and she’s disputing an assertion nobody put forth, but Dasha imprinted on her Broodhosts early so we cannot fault her for the things their pheremones make her do.
Like all white suburban housewives in the ‘90s, mom is trapped in a living nightmare of her own construction and her every facial expression is one unexpected loud noise away from relentless screaming. She’s drunk all the time and nobody has the patience for pity, not after all of these years. She chimes in with:
“As a parent, I’ve never been happier than when my children ask their friends over for an internet computer party!”
And she’s too far gone to know that’s the saddest fucking thing ever constructed with human language. She thinks she’s putting on a brave face, but she basically just puked chardonnay onto an orphan then tried to swallow the glass. Her only role in this film is to buzzkill all the boys, and she is aware of that role, and she hates it.
“The internet is not regulated,” mom warns, before stumbling out to drink straight vermouth in the water heater closet.
Luckily the parents aren’t in this video for long, as two “cool friends” arrive to make this an official “internet computer party.” Lisa and Andrew have a lot of questions about this internet thing, and I know you think you’re hot shit, reader. You think you’re ready to laugh at this mess, but it honestly might kill you if you go in with that attitude. Here’s the level of awkward I need you to brace for:
Petey and Andrew give stillbirth to the worst five that never lived. Everything about it hurts, from the long, slow reach, to the weak clap, to Andrew’s strange hand fling at the end. It’s like this is the first five he’s ever been offered, but it was so lackluster he can’t accept it. He’s ready for a second step — an up-high, a fist clasp, little explosion fingers, something, anything. He assumed there would be more to it than this. There has to be more to it than this. But there’s not, Andrew. Just like Jennifer Hayes in the back of my Ford Taurus after the tenth grade Gym ‘N Jam, you are going to have to learn to live with this milestone being a disappointment.
Andrew is so in his head about that crazy-bad five he spends the rest of the film trying to bring extra swagger to every scene. He’s the kid leaping up after eating shit on the bleacher stairs and then, hearing all the derisive laughter, going in for a backflip: You’re never going to pull it off, Andrew, you are compounding embarrassment and you actually might paralyze yourself.
“What’s a web page, something ducks walk on?” Andrew squeaks, to silent judgment.
It wouldn’t have been funny even if it had made sense, and he knows it.
“Surfing the world wide w-” Petey starts.
“Surfing, that sounds pretty cool already!” Andrew cuts in, trying to overwhelm the terribleness of the moment with blind, verbal machinegun fire.
“Andrew don’t interrupt,” Lisa spits.
It’s an out of character moment for this ‘fun hang-out sesh,’ but nobody yelled ‘cut’ because Andrew is caught in a fallacy now, trying to chew his leg off when it’s his neck that’s caught. The only humane thing to do is put him down.
After pity-slaying her own brother, Lisa attempts to move on, but she’s off balance. She’s so happy for a return to normality that she gets way too psyched at the idea of visiting the webpages of museums. It’s a weird overreaction to the most boring punishment a child could imagine, but Petey sees his opening:
“Wanna write a letter to President Clinton?” he says.
It’s a crazy jump. A mad logical leap. It shouldn’t work, but Lisa gasps “would he write back?”
Petey is fucking in. He knows he’ll at least get some of that sweet hand-holding action, just rubbing his clammy little palm all over her puffy-painted nails long before she discovers it’s a con. So he doubles down:
“I bet he would,” Petey smirks.
Like the President of the United States of America has time to answer every random email from a horny teenager. This is Bill Clinton you’re talking about: you’re going to need to at least send underage nudes if you hope for anything more an automated reply.
Look at that garbage: Bill Clinton has a filter sent up to bin anything that doesn’t contain a photo attachment and the words “fat young titties” at least twice.
Andrew suggests they check out “something about astronomy” because he’s still panic-firing words and at this point it’s like watching a rabid dog drown. It’s a bad idea to help, but could you call yourself truly human if you did not?
So Petey humors him and brings up the best website I have ever seen:
JACK HORKHEIMER: STAR HUSTLER is the name of my pulp sci-fi novel that quickly degrades into cheap pornography. I guarantee you that site is blocked at work under every single category. Jack Horkheimer tried to get everyone to call him The Star Hustler, but they just wound up calling him The Hork. This was the late ‘90s, when the internet was still wild and free and any hork could spin his love for the stars into confused nerd tail. JACK HORKHEIMER: STAR HUSTLER was single-handedly responsible for the HPV epidemic that still plagues observatories to this day.
There’s no way that page is still around, right?
Oh shit! It is! And he clearly got in trouble so bad he had to change the name! And he looks exactly like you thought! And… he’s dead.
Ah, well, sorry to bring down the mood, everybody. I’m sure The Hork is up in heaven now, railing a Tiffany against Uranus.
Let’s check back in with Petey and the Cyberbunch — surely we can’t spend the whole runtime of this instructional video watching a horny 12 year old boy try to get his fingers wet.
Good god, Petey: Your every action cannot be tied to Lisa. You can’t send her an email while she’s standing right there — it’s too thirsty. Especially with four exclamation points. Everybody knows that one exclamation point is for enthusiasm, two is for offense, three is for imminent danger, and four is for straight fuckin’.
This video promised to show us everything the web has to offer, but it spends twenty minutes just quietly showing us the webpages of its sponsors. There is, no joke, three straight minutes of a child browsing the Nick at Nite webpage in absolute silence. Not a word is spoken as they slowly read all 40 words of text available on this crude non-page. They even pause to watch 30 seconds of a tiny, grainy video of Mr. Ed, just like no child has ever done in history.
It is grim. It is grim and quiet, because everybody knows this is the moral compromise necessary to pay for the Craft Services table. Only simple, sweaty Andrew is oblivious to the gravitas of the moment. While his friends watch their dignity die in a Netscape Navigator window, Andrew abruptly pipes “Nick at Nite, cool!”
I know you only read at a 2nd grade level, Andrew, but even you can read this room.
When we’re finally finished earning our $240 in sponsorship money, Petey gets back to browsing, and we need to address a huge problem: Petey will click on anything.
Not just websites, straight downloads. Petey browses the internet like an angry bull. Red flags only mean ‘go faster, go harder’ and consequences are just pathetic things to be observed by parents and Lisas. Seriously, Petey straight rawdogs the internet and if he fucks like he browses, Lisa should book a Planned Parenthood appointment now just to get that prime 4:00PM spot.
Mom has powered through the vermouth and half of the cooking sherry, so she staggers in to ask if they learned anything good. Lisa goes nuts: “Are you kidding?” She squeals, “Peter showed me everything!” And Petey — this brassy little bastard — he actually swivels to the camera to give us the old Ferris Bueller-style “I’m in!”
All that’s left is to face the camera for the legally mandated ‘90s choral catchphrase and freezeframe.
“Surf’s up, see you on the ‘net!”
And we’re out. We’ve survived. That was a powerful but livable amount of awkward, considering we…
Is that Andrew, coming back in? No, Andrew. Come on. Don’t do it man, it’s over. You’ll never pull it off. Just go home and reflect on your decisions, just g-