Terminal Madness, Terminal Madness!

Terminal Madness was a mini-documentary about computers released in 1980, when basically nobody cared about computers. It was made in and for Madison, Wisconsin, where basically nobody cared about computers. It was created by people who did not care about computers, for people who did not care about computers. It was half an hour of newscasters talking about a thing they didn’t give a shit about to people who did not give a shit about it either, but also didn’t understand it and didn’t want to hear about it. It was sort of a commercial for computing in general, sort of a warning about an incoming future the audience would not understand, and sort of a long elaborate burn on the people who did actually care about computers. Terminal Madness mocks more nerds from a barely polite distance than Waffle House employees during Dragon Con.

The early minutes of Terminal Madness need to do a lot: They have to introduce the very concept of computers to their intended audience, which seems to be ‘apathetic Wisconsites in the midst of a seasonal depression so crippling they can’t even get up to change the channel.’ Then the show has to convince them to not only care enough to learn, but to learn enough to buy one instead of a used car, or a delicious new shotgun.  

So it’s too bad that Terminal Madness has no interest in doing any of that, but would rather play crude CGI skits and boop out screeching computer calliope music that sounds like robots tried to put on a circus but got everything murderously wrong.

I know you can’t hear that gif, but if you pretend that you can, you will be correct. Terminal Madness sounds like that gif looks: juddery and ill-defined, distinctly painful in a weirdly playful way, like puppy teeth, or a child who is also the devil.

Terminal Madness gave primary host duties to Jerilyn Goodman, who proudly does not understand computers…

Then recruited computer expert Nicolas Johnson, so they could ask him: “What can you do with computers?” 

HIs answer: An extremely long, convoluted analogy about how people once asked that question of the engine — they asked, “what can you do with an engine?” and you could say “it drives a car” and they’d be like “cool, it drives a car.” But then you’d say “it runs a lawnmower,” and they’d be like “cool, it runs a lawnmower.” And anyway, the point is it was impossible to answer that question, just like it’s impossible to answer this question.

Even the computer gets sick of his shit, and starts heckling him:

Nick talks for five minutes about hypothetical people who have never heard of engines and the asshole time traveler that refuses to explain them, but does not list a single thing you can do with a computer. Not one.

Please remember: This is the co-host that knows about computers. 

Back to Jerilyn, pretending to listen (not hard).

After not explaining anything and hinting at a thesis statement that might be “computers are impossible,” Terminal Madness smashcuts to this screen:

Woops, that’s the symptom checker to find out if you’ve been possessed by Algebracadabra, The Number Sorcerer, and turned into one of his shambling Combinatorial Explosives. Quick, factor for the human heart before he uses you against The Kidz Crew, in his quest to make learning no fun!

No, that’s actually the insane way Terminal Madness chooses to break down the main questions Madisonians have about computers, after “c-computer?” and “can you leave me alone?” 

They are:

Do your eyes glaze over when someone mentions computers?

Do you worry they will explode?

Do you think they are only for math wizards?

It’s obvious that Terminal Madness has no idea why you should be interested in computers, so they don’t even try to answer their own first question. Jerilyn jumps right ahead to the second one, since it’s clearly the most pressing. 20% of her audience just heard the word ‘computer’ and threw the TV in the fridge before leaping out the window. She attempts to console people who only use the microwave from behind a welding mask by saying “don’t be afraid of computers… there might be computers in your home you don’t even know about!”

And that’s a good way to destroy half of Madison, Jerilyn.

That’s seriously her only answer for people who are afraid their computers might kill them — “it might already be too late!” 

This explains the Great Wisconsin Tech Riots of 1980, in which four Radio Shacks and one Sentry (sounds roboty) burned to the ground.

Anyway, on to the third question, which is what the rest of Terminal Madness is about: “Do you think they are only for math wizards?” 

Wrong, buddy! Computers are not just for nerds!

And Terminal Madness is going to prove that… by talking to the biggest fucking nerds they can find!

Jerilyn introduces everyone in the next segment as “regular computer users,” then she pauses to put extra stress on every syllable of this: “who, by the way are NOT geniuses.” 

Now we’ve established that these people might be dorks, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re smart, the rest of this documentary is about breaking down what the progenitor nerds did with computers (it sucks). 

This guy is going bald like a fjord and argues that it’s “fun” to enter his expenses.

Jerilyn follows this up by asking if computers have made his life easier, and his whole existence crawls to a halt.

After a long silence he answers, “easier? … … … … no.”

Computers have destroyed this man’s life somehow, and we get no closure on that. We just hastily cut away to a guy who uses his PC to make setlists for his band. 

Hey! Holy shit, that’s kind of almost cool! 

Wait wait, remember where you are.

His band’s name is “Wheatstone” which doesn’t sound rad, but don’t worry: It’s probably named for the Wheatstone Bridge, a type of circuit used to measure resistances!

Wheatstone is the least cool band name since Gary Goodtime and The All-Narc Allstars, and the only word this guy misspelled on his setlist was “coccaine.”

Wheatstone’s groupies are called The Moms of Wheatstone. Wheatstone’s riders all dictate two cases of Flonase in the green room. This band exclusively plays weddings between a man and a bodypillow. I promise you that every show Wheatstone ever played has ended in an apology to the people who tried to dance, and a sincere thanks to the soundtech for not beating them up again.

Somehow our proto-nerds get even stranger: Little Martha here says she enters FAA data for fun. 

She’s been doing it since she was four!

I’d make a joke about how Martha is either insane, or an alien, or an insane alien, but Martha’s face beat me to it:

George Martin used his computer to make a remote control house!

It does everything! It turns on his lights, it starts the coffee, it harasses his wife into doing her chores at all hours of the night! He keeps saying he set it up to switch on the lights and set off alarms so “we get up to feed the baby,” but even in the reenactment that’s a lie. It’s only his beleaguered wife that rolls out of bed at the computer’s cue, probably so the housebot doesn’t get mad at her again and spike the temperature on her next shower.

In fact, George Martin programmed his home to raise his child for him almost exclusively:

George Martin will not technically be murdered by robots. It will be their guiding claws that teach his child to hate all flesh. But it will not be the robots that kill him. Not technically. 

This guy, on the other hand, is absolutely going to be murdered by robots.

In fact, he’d prefer it.

He built out a little program that allows him to voice control his computer. Here’s what he taught it to do, in order: Nod its head ‘yes,’ shake its head ‘no,’ shriek to the heavens with impotent fury, and aim a laser gun.

Terminal Madness ends on a warning, and it is shockingly not about how programming a rudimentary AI to scream and shoot at the sound of your voice is a surefire way to become the first footnote in the history of Skynet. Nor is it about how letting your robot-house raise your child will net you a kid who always takes out the garbage at exactly 9:37AM and does not understand why you cry when it stabs. No, Terminal Madness’ dire warning about the dangers of computing comes in response to this teen:

Who says he likes computers better than TV because it’s “like havin’ someone to talk to.” Even the computer can’t believe how sad that shit is:

To be clear, he’s not referring to the internet. He talks to the computer itself. Like it’s his only friend. Apparently all the nerds do. 

And so Terminal Madness ultimately posits that the true danger of personal computing is that birth rates will plummet once all the nerds stop trying to be social, and instead opt to spend more time with their machines.

You idiots. You god damn morons. You think dorks don’t fuck? Every single nerd in that image is working furiously at finding other nerds to bang. My first internet was a local BBS system and every single user had fucked every single other user so many times that one of the nerds wrote a program to try to track who’d fucked who and there was a huge fight… about his code

Nerds don’t fuck? My god. You reach a hand into the great writhing orgy-mass that ends every COMDEX and if it comes back unfucked I will give you fifty bucks, which in 1980 was enough to buy a modest robot house and send your kids away to a nice boarding school once it turned them murderous. 

3 replies on “Terminal Madness, Terminal Madness!”

My first extensive internet experience was the WBS chat rooms. All of them were…well, orgies.

Thankfully the internet, and nerds in general, have evolved beyond the point of orgiastic online displays… Yeah, I couldn’t type that with a straight face. Anyone who played WoW back in the day and spent time passing through Cybermoon City or Pornshire… er, I mean, Silvermoon and Goldshire, know precisely what I’m talking about.

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