Matt Hackmann


The thoughts and goings-on of some programmer dude.

A Nostalgic Critique

The landscape of internet videos ten years ago was very different. YouTube was naught but three years old, and most of the content I consumed from it was in the form of sketch comedy skits (possibly due to the 1GB/11 minute limits of the day). Long form content just wasn't a thing, it was almost the stream of consciousness of the fledgling internet. So, when I stumbled across this thing called the "Nostalgia Critic", a series that review movies of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, I was intrigued. And then hooked.

I can't remember what my first Nostalgia Critic episode was, nor how I'd even heard about it, but I was on board pretty early in their run, some time in 2008. This was during the last several months of college for me, and was my first foray into "critical analysis" as an entertainment medium. Critique was always the part of school I dreaded, as I had (and still have) a difficult time formulating my opinions as a coherent stream of words. To see this person throw up videos upwards of twenty minutes and methodically walk through movies and critique them - all while actually being entertaining - was something I latched onto. At the time, I doubt I recognized that particular aspect, but in retrospect, the effect is publically noticeable. The amount of movie, anime, and even music I've reviewed since is kind of staggering. Hell, I even made that awful top five anime video. Now, I'm not going to pretend any of these are good or worthy of time, but there's clearly a trend that can be traced back to Nostalgia Critic.

Getting back to that part about YouTube and its dearth of long form content, the creator of Nostalgia Critic filled that gap as well in the form of That Guy With the Glasses (TGWTG). This was the website upon which Nostalgia Critic could be found, but also was the home to other content creators in similar vein. Lindsey Ellis, under the name of the Nostalgia Chick, was intended to be the female counterpart to the Critic; Todd in the Shadows discussed and analyzed popular music; the Cinema Snob was an overly sarcastic dude who reviewed obscure movies and, at one point, also did food reviews (another thing I tried to rip off in awful video form). TGWTG was a daily stop for me as I watched these creators do their thing but also bleed into each others worlds in the form of crossover videos. It got to the point that there was almost a familial feel to it, a party of friends that one almost felt a part of by simply watching.

To that point, TGWTG themselves began putting out a yearly anniversary video in which all these various characters would come together in one spot and make a movie. A really bad, poorly written, poorly executed movie. This is the point where I began losing interest. The first two movies I enjoyed; seeing everybody seemingly having a fun time pulling this together and also my own naivete made me forgive or completely overlook the sad quality of the actual content. By the time the third one rolled out, however, I wasn't nearly as forgiving. At this point in my own life, I'm employed, living on my own, and almost completely changed from the person who began watching the site as a college student. To see that this movie was still a bunch of people running around in a forest, wearing embarassingly poor costumes, delivering lines and jokes on par with my own Episode VII treatment... it was a glass shattering moment. Either I'd changed so much that I finally saw TGWTG for what it had actually been all this time, or they'd simply failed to improve in all the ways you'd expect a highly popular group to do over the course of a few years. Honestly, it's probably a little bit of column A and column B; I'd grown up and TGWTG had not.

Days became months. Months became years. And some things... were forgotten.

I don't recall how I found out about it, but a couple months back wind of troubled waters at TGWTG (now titled "Channel Awesome") caught my attention. I hadn't given that site a single thought for well over six or seven years, having moved on to much better produced content in the intervening years. A document came forward from the people I'd used to watch on TGWTG, discussing how awful it was work with the media aggregator. Everything from gross mismanagement, to poor conditions on the sets of those awful "movies", to embezzling Kickstarter funds, to allegations of one producer engaging in sexual creepiness (for this one, all names remained anonymous). It was kind of a confirmation of the feelings I'd had years ago when I'd dropped the site entirely.

And that was only the beginning of the roller coaster ride.

I became addicted to the situation as it was unfolding on the Channel Awesome subreddit. I could literally sit on the page, refresh, and something new would happen!. First was the non-apology stating that the owners of the site were "sorry [the producers] felt that way", which of course became a fire storm (and a meme). Following this, people who still contributed to the site started leaving in droves, which was exciting to watch. Every day it was "X, Y, and Z have left the site!", and it wasn't small fry contributors, either. Some of their largest producers were bailing ship and adding their own stories to an already length document of allegations. Then, one night as I was on my couch refreshing the page again, the Tsar Bomba of all posts from TGWTG dropped.

"Our Response" (I realized as I pasted that link that it's not even SSL... these fucks really have learned nothing...)

The above article, penned by some higher echelon douche at TGWTG, cherry picked a few of the complaints laid out in the Google doc and tried to refute them, using comical, middle school tactics.

ACCUSATION: Blog poster Matt Hackmann stated that TGWTG displayed that they never "grew up" or improved and that our rebuttal tactics are middle school level.

FACT: None of the owners of Channel Awesome even attended middle school, so we're clearly doing good!

Beyond the fact that this style of rebuttal proved that somebody with a hot head and no business or PR skills was the voice piece of the company, there was something far more damning in this article. Not only was it completely tone deaf to rising storm of anger and disappointment, but it actually reaffirmed many of the allegations put forth in the Google document. In an attempt to clear their names of negligence when it came to the above noted producer who was being all sexually creepy, they accidentally outed the name of the producer that was engaging in such conduct. Even worse, the allegation they were responding to wasn't the same allegation the were providing evidence for. Turns out the guy was a full on rapist and they knew!

Gross incompetence like this doesn't just grow on trees, ladies and gentlemen. This is something you're genetically born with and is encouraged through a poor social environment.

The few days that followed this bombshell was nothing short of pandemonium. All but two producers abandoned the site entirely (one of which is just hanging around for kicks and giggles) and the subreddit exploded in a series of memes and posts of people who'd genuinely had their feelings hurt. They looked up to the Nostalgia Critic, as I once had, but they'd not yet gotten to the point where they realized he was a hack fraud.

This is a sentiment I completely understand. I remember telling people back in "the day" that I couldn't ever see myself not watching the Nostalgia Critic, because the content was entertaining and I figured if they stayed the course, it'd continue to be entertaining. But, as this lengthy article has made abundantly clear, that wasn't the case. I changed, as people do, and they didn't. Well, they did, but they their course change really only drove home how much of a lack of skill was at play. So bad was it, that after the Nostalgia Critic was officially retired, they had to resurrect it because the new stuff was just that awful.

In the end, I don't really know what the point of writing this is, but the whole debacle lately has enraptured me so much that I wanted to get it all down in writing for posterity. I'm sure that the people I consider to be super awesome now will not continue to be, only joining me and enriching my life for part of the ride before I or they take a different exit. Because, that's how things go. People change and the things they associate with change as well. The things they love change.

Time marches forward.

And then we die.