The New Stars: Winnebago Man

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Published July 9, 2010

Inadvertent Internet fame is a phenomenon that has made phrases like “the Numa Numa guy,”  “Rickrolling,” and “Ms. Teen South Carolina” part of the cultural lexicon. Not only do these online videos spread as contagious clips, but they soon get remixed, quoted, and parodied. Despite YouTube celebrity, these “stars” remain largely anonymous. Moved to learn more about one such celebrity, Ben Steinbauer, an Austin based filmmaker, began piecing together the story of Jack Rebney, an RV salesman later know as known as “The Angriest Man in the World.” The project resulted in a documentary, Winnebago Man, which opens today.

In the early 90s, the original Winnebago Man outtakes (see above)—a series of obscene meltdown clips from a motor-home sales video—were passed around on VHS from friend to friend. But once YouTube was created, the outtakes outgrew their underground fanbase, eventually accumulating an unparalleled twenty million hits worldwide. Steinbauer, who “wanted to know how [Rebney] felt about this attention, and how the popularity of such a humiliating clip had affected him,” set out to find the Winnebago Man.

Frustrated by a series of dead ends, the first half of Steinbauer’s documentary focuses on the filmmaker’s unrelenting pursuit. But once Ben meets Rebney, his dogged pilgrimage evolves from a simple fan story to reflections on his initial motives, the effects of undesired spotlight, and the caustic nature of Internet’s exhibition. Though Steinbauer struggles to elicit from Rebney a more personal, perhaps sentimental story–at one point he quits the project entirely–what develops is a singular and sometimes strained,sometimes playful narrative between this unlikely pair.