Today I’m going to resist the urge to make snide comments about movies you haven’t seen and instead, pay tribute to the greatest humour website you’ve never heard of: Progressive Boink
I encountered Progressive Boink in the summer of 2005, while hanging around the house between exams, playing way too much 007: Nightfire, eating Jaffa Cakes, and casually browsing for hot pictures of celebrities. I don’t remember the date- I only remember the search string that took me there: the infamous Britney/Madonna kiss at the MTV awards. Ugh, yes, I was one of those teenage boys.
Britney and the Ghost of Career Past
So while casually browsing I accidentally stumbled onto something different entirely. By accident, instead of the pseudo-porn I was expecting, I’d found a gold mine. I’d found Rating The Lesbians, a sarcastic series of posts written by two mid-western teenagers.
And I was captivated. Emily and B, these mystery teens (god bless you both) wrote geeky, reference-laden puns about lesbian scenes from movies, assigning them arbitrary ratings. It was my first encounter with what is now a common archetype: the sarky geek (snark?). Somebody who could shoehorn a video-game reference or a catchphrase into a series discussion. Somebody who could multi-layer references into a confusing soup of allusion. Somebody who, like me, got that mis-placed jokes were funny because the context was wrong.
It was a wake-up call for me. It introduced me to a new kind of funny. Before Rating The Lesbians, comedy for me was Monty Python, The Two Ronnies and The Goon Show. After Rating The Lesbians, comedy became Family Guy and (eventually) Archer, shows where the quality of the jokes run parallel to how many cross-culture references they can deftly squeeze in. I owe these two writers a debt greater than I can express before I become all weepy. They directed my personal development into new and strange territory. Regarding the above Madonna/Britney soul-sucking incident, they wrote:
It’s difficult to properly describe what’s going on here: there are so many references they just bounce off your uncomprehending face. I don’t get some of them, even now, and I am way, way past being a gawky teenager. They made references to Tron and Troma films, David Lynch and 24 before I even knew these were things. God, i was so clueless. I started taking an interest in things I’d never heard of, which was why I was the only one of my peers at university who’d already seen, and already been bored by, A Clockwork Orange. Yet nearly a decade later, I feel like I’m only just catching up with these clever, sarcastic, mysterious somebodies: B & Emily. And in between cracking jokes about Olivia Wilde kissing Mischa Barton on The O.C., they were making insightful comments about the internet.
Heh heh heh, “penis makes sound effects”.
But Rating The Lesbians, I discovered, was just the tip of the iceberg. Progressive Boink offered a hilariously dark take on the comic Peanuts, as written by Charles Bukowski.
There were movie reviews. There was a database of every shitty, shitty Hanna-Barbera cartoon character.There was also the most scathing article anybody’s ever written about a comic book illustrator . A little background: this was a time when Rob Liefeld was one of the highest-paid comic book writer-illustrators in the world, despite lacking any ability to a) construct character and plot or b) draw. And B and Bill criticised him for it, and he deserved it. They cared enough about the comic medium to spend,like, a thousand years trawling through shitty Liefeld comics looking for examples of bad art. And they made a hilarious, famous article.
This is a good introduction to how Rob Liefeld, and indeed just about any comics artist in the early nineties, approached their medium: Make it as “dynamic” and “gritty” as possible. In this case, “dynamic” involves a whole shitload of lines on the face, some foreboding shadows obscuring the general middle-of-the-face area, and a background that I guess implies he is sitting in front of an enormous Bengal tiger. Also of note: the fingers of Stryfe’s left hand here all taper down in size from index to pinkie, you know, as fingers do. There is also some crazy shit going on behind that binder in the general gauntlet/forearm area. When I attempt to draw, I often fuck up a line and am like, “Oh shit, that’s not how those parts of the body connect,” and then I draw like two or three lines to try to cover it up but it just looks shitty. I can excuse it because 1. I am usually just drawing in ballpoint on my binder or something and 2. I am not a professional artist. Rob Liefeld, by contrast, draws a gauntlet going into the forearm all fucked-up in pencil. At that point, he then goes PFFFFT FUCK IT and then inks over it and sends it to the colorist. Then he GETS PAID FOR DOING THAT.”
“Imagine me at age 12 getting to read a comic about how the big black naked bodybuilder uses the girls he dates. Now imagine me at 27 going over it again, laughing at how skeevy it is, and then noticing an absolute cavalcade of illogical nonsense horseshit about it. Nothing in these panels makes sense. I get what he’s going for, he sits down at his drawing desk with his button-fly jeans and his backwards baseball cap, rubbing his chin and pondering what the new, hip comic book collector would like to read. So he spends at least a minute and a half drawing these pictures about a tough guy who wakes up, gets called in to work, and tells the woman he’s had the have sex with that he’s like dust in the wind. Liefeld smiles, pats himself on the back for a job well done, and slams a Dew.
Now, what is wrong with this, you may ask
It’s 1:11 PM. That’s the early afternoon. Chapel congratulates himself for “another night, another love.” He uses the colloquial phrase “M’MAN” to show that sex with broads is no big d. So even though it’s just past noon and he’s “ABOVEGROUND,” he’s saying it’s nighttime and his room is completely dark with a bunch of nighttime shadows on the wall.
The Youngblood communicator thing goes “eepBeep,” a sound no-one has heard or capitalized in that fashion anywhere ever, and he tells her to wake up (at 1:11 PM, again, above ground, where the sun should be). She asks him for five more minutes of sleep, and he responds with NO PROMISES YOU KNOW THE WAY OUT. If she had said “ooh baby i’ll be here when you get back” or “when can i see you again” it would’ve set her up as in awe of Chapel’s manhood (which is what Rob’s going for, I think), and the response would’ve shown Chapel as a hard womanizer who values his life as a soldier more than any woman he might take to bed. But she asks him for five minutes of sleep, so when he responds like that it makes him deaf, or some weird taskmaster of the alarm clock. I don’t think he’s sleeping, though, because he’s got his arms behind his head like he just finished up or is in a hammock, and depending on how long they’ve been there she’s been sleeping with her face in his giant hairless armpit.
To recap, it’s daytime but everybody acts like it’s night, Chapel quips without being set up for it, and even though Chapel sleeps on a mattress on the floor his bedspread still gets a full hang. And in the second panel Chapel is coated in a fine mist.”
“Warchild! He’s so muscular his pecs are trying to tear their way out of his chest! So muscular a pair of leather watches (?) squeeze off the circulation on his arms and blood comes out of his hands! It’s like somebody making sausage! WARCHILD, THE CHILD OF WAR.
You can tell he loves war because he’s carrying every weapon Liefeld could think of, whether it makes sense or not. I like that some of the swords are strapped on in one direction with a bunch strapped in the other, so whenever Warchild reaches over his shoulder he’s guaranteed to slice his hand in half. Maybe THAT’s why he’s bleeding from the hands. I wanted to make a joke about him having a thousand arrows and no bow, but I think that sword behind them is the bow. Haha is he carrying the bow in the quiver? Or is “behind the arrows” just the best place to carry a bow? Why am I asking the guy who wore teal pants, pointy metal headgear and goggles to war but forgot his shirt?
Pop quiz: Do you know what Warchild holds in all those pockets? WAR.”
This is fine art criticism with humour and love written through it like a stick of rock. Progressive Boink showed me how to write sarcastic and funny without being all “herp derp punchline” about it. These people,these pop culture nerds, wrote about what they loved and they wrote well.As I’ve said, I owe them a great debt. They shared with me a revelatory new kind of funny. Now they’re a much-loved cornerstone of the internet and a time machine to the early 2000s. Now it’s the 2010s and most of the original staff have moved on. They have jobs and twitter. I follow them silently, just making sure they’re still real.
These were my mid-teen heroes of a sort.And in my own small way, I’m just trying to offer homage to a website that gave me so much. This has been my tribute.