Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Websites From Hell

By Marc Savlov

DECEMBER 29, 1997:  It's three-thirty in the morning on a Friday night. The clubs are shut up tight until tomorrow, your roommate's asleep, and the last swallow of the last Shiner in the house is five seconds in the past. You've got a choice here: You can do the sensible thing and crash head-first into your bed, pull the covers up, and hibernate until the late afternoon like any good Austinite, or you can crawl over to the computer, hit the Free PPP dialup and surf until your eyeballs explode like M-80s in Jell-O mold. The temptation to follow the latter path in situations like this is overpowering. That's the siren song of the Web, a nattering little voice that grabs you by the cortex and pulls you in, even when you have better things to do. How many windows have the dim glow of 21" SVGA monitors creeping out from around their blind lattice works at 4am? What is the sound of one hand tapping? On the other end, at the same time -- all the time -- are the website creators, providers of late-night cerebral sustenance and fuzzy, endless downloads. They're writing code even as you read this, jamming bandwidth with line after line after line of HTML code that will be sculpted into personal histories, odes to the banana daiquiri, and Liddy-esque rants that make no sense at all most of the time while seeming perfectly lucid in the last few hours before dawn.

The surfer and the surfee, a mutually ambitious, symbiotic phenomenon. With no hits, sites wither and die on the wire, and so the sites get stranger and more complex, weirder and more obsessive day in and day out. Skipping over Reuter's global weather listings is easy. Ignoring a fully-shocked, streaming audio reenactment of the Zapruder film featuring little alien greys bursting forth from JFK's shattered noggin' while LBJ and Dick Cavett perform an abbreviated, naked conga line in the depository window is another thing altogether. Obsessive in(s)anity sells -- or at least attracts -- and this is the one arena in which the Web holds absolute sway: It's leveled the playing field for cyber-psychos of all stripes. Anyone can have a website, and pretty much anyone does. Naturally, some of them are cooler than others. That goes without saying.

As part of an ongoing series, we're taking a look at some of the more, ah, interesting sites we've come across in the past few months. A few of these are going to be familiar to Constant Surfers (especially here in Austin), and some others are going to be new to everyone but the hardest of the hardcore. They're all the products of hard work and obsessive dedication on the part of the designers, but whether they'll be fully functioning or just another dead link this time next year is anyone's guess. Regardless, they were all odd enough to catch our eye -- and then pop it -- even with the Safe-T goggles firmly affixed. Ouchy.

If you're one of the few normals who haven't logged on to the official Church of the SubGenius site (http://sunsite.unc.edu/subgenius/) lately, you're missing out on what is probably the closest approximation to a hallucinogen-free mind-fuck on the Net today. Really, this site started off huge and seems to have tripled its size weekly. It's the Brain from Planet Arous times 10. Spiritual and emotional chaos to the nth degree. Controlled lunacy sanitized for your infection.

But first, a bit of background for the two of you out there that don't already revel in Slack: The Church of the SubGenius is a Dallas-based quasi-religion that's either a colossal, long-running (well over a decade) hoax, or The One True Path to enlightenment, depending on whether or not you're asking Governor Bush or Ivan Stang (Stang is one of the founders and original lynchpins of the Church, and, not coincidentally, an ordained reverend to boot).

The Church, such as it is, revolves around the image of Bob Dobbs, a pipe-smoking, alien, god-like being with a striking resemblance to Hugh Beaumont, circa Leave it to Beaver; through the teachings of Dobbs, Church members claw their way through the vagaries of modern life towards the state of "slack," which can best be described as "an absence of crap." A history of the Church and its tenets could fill a book several times over, however (and indeed has), so let's get back to the website.

(It's worth noting that the Pope's recent arrival online, via his Holy Roman website, remains vastly overshadowed by the Church of the SubGenius by sheer virtue of bandwidth alone. No one knows who will triumph in that oft-discussed battle royal between Superman and Jesus, but clearly, Dobbs -- for the present, at least -- has a clear advantage over John Paul.)

After keying in the URL, first-time visitors are greeted by a typical bit SubGenii humor: It's an exacting parody of the Heaven's Gate website, the words "Hail Bob!" plastered beneath the starry comet scene.

Clicking past the opening page brings a plethora of downloadable goodies: everything from specially condensed (for your safety, natch) versions of the Church's infamous rants and pamphlets to gig upon gig of graphics (exploding Bobs, twirling Bobs, morphing Bobs) and sounds. Internet radio links, SubGenius trinkets and baubles, and an astounding, boggling, downright irritating amount of "ephemera." A religion whose prime tenet is "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke," there's plenty of weighty, semi-serious flim -flam here, chock-full of clip-art madness and bizarre head-scratchers. It's the kind of site you stumble across and find yourself returning to again and again, just to check what new, cooler stuff has been uploaded since you last visited.

Créme de la créme of Dobbsville, U.S.A. procrastination techniques (and in this case, perhaps, "procreation techniques") is the Church's "Short Duration Marriage," an online wedding program that allows browsers to get hitched to their sweetie via a series of multiple-choice responses ("Are you a.) a man, b.) a lady, c.) a no-account son of a bitch") with the legally questionable cyber marriage presided over by your choice of deities (Elvis, Bill Hicks, "the Fightin' Jesus," etcetera).

It's all in good phun, but not really. Vaguely menacing and broadly hilarious, the Church of the SubGenius online is the sum toto of more inspired codemonkey lunacy than you're likely to see in place anytime soon.

And speaking of online marriages, after six months of hell, chances are you're going to be eager to sell your soul to that ol' debbil moon just to get a chance to go hang with the guys. Wouldn't you know it, the fine folks known as EvilPeople, Inc. (http://www.gaijin.com/EvilPeople/) are ready and waiting to help you out of the Lord's hands and into the proverbial fire.

Set up as a sort of satirical take on massive corporate websites (Microsoft comes to mind, but they're only number three according to the front runners at EvilPeople, Inc.), Cali programmer Brandon Harris and his minions have created the perfect parody of corporate greed, from the graphics (black and red backgrounds emblazoned with the "company" logo, a wickedly gleaming pentagram) to EvilPeople, Inc.'s scathing Mission Statement: "Silently engineering all the badness that must exist for there to be goodness, EvilPeople, Inc. entered the 20th century, and, in 1994, decided to throw off its cloak of secrecy and announce its dark, twisted presence to a world that was ready for it."

Unsurprisingly, EvilPeople, Inc. (which is in itself a subset of Harris' "gaijin.com" site -- "gaijin" is Japanese for "outsider," BTW) is based out of the SoMa district in San Francisco, where Harris works daily to assume his rightful position of world domination and also, we assume, at some sort of graphic design firm. I mean, really, what else, huh? Thankfully, Harris is more than willing to take us all along for the ride, and EvilPeople, Inc., like any corporate monolith worth its 401k, encourages its audience to sell their soul to the company in exchange for a title and rank within The Firm. Nifty! I sold mine for "three hots and a cot" plus benefits, and in return I've been put in charge of the "Dolphins in the Tuna" division.

Perhaps the best single thing about EvilPeople, Inc. -- apart from all the religion-baiting -- is Harris' flair for corporate mockery. You could easily replace the EvilPeople, Inc. logo for that of Microsoft without anyone really noticing, so well-constructed is the site. Broken down into key areas such as Home, What's New, Support ("You get none. Deal."), Sell Your Soul, and Mailbag, Harris' site claims full responsibility for everything from The Fall to Bill Gates the Highlander sequels. Wanna join up? You have your choice of being a Guinea Pig, Mindless Thug, Crack Assassin, or any one of a dozen others, while the fine print notes that EvilPeople, Inc. is also looking "for bright, energetic, ambitious, and hell-damned individuals in the following categories: Pestilence, Mindless Brutality, Eco-Destruction, Propaganda, Sears Roebuck, etcetera.

Harris admitted via e-mail that, yes, he does receive quite a bit of hate mail from irate Christians and roving bands of morons, but hey, "each one is funnier than the last. It's all sort of a Taoist joke, the whole concept of an external force guiding all the evil in the world is ludicrous. Some people just don't get the joke, though."

Enough with the evil, I hear you cry. Fine. If your idea of a perfect date is a lemur-eyed femme that coos sweet nothings in Japanese, The Cute Zone (http://gpu.srv.ualberta.ca/~bfun/cute/cute.htm) is right up your alley. One of the growing ranks of the literally thousands of online sites devoted exclusively to Japanese anime, The Cute Zone steers clear of the "tentacles and demons" crowd, known as "hentai" (think Urotsujudoki, the NC-17 exploding teen horror show that's garnered so many stateside fans) in favor of something even more hideous: the Japanese cuteness ideal (known as "kawaii"), personified by short, stumpy little girls and boys with maddeningly huge swirly orbs for eyes and pink and robin's egg blue uniforms. Aaaaiii!

The Cute Zone is the brainchild of Asuma Shinohhara, who spends much of his homepage desperately trying to explain his penchant for kawaii. "This page is dedicated to anything cute in anime," he says. "I thought the anime spectrum needed a little balancing out because I've seen too many perverted sites and not enough cute ones." Since debuting the site back in February of 1996, Shinohara has marshaled his admittedly googly-eyed troops and created something of a backlash in anime sites. A Yahoo! search still reveals far more hentai webmasters than kawaii fans, but the latter's numbers are growing steadily.

As for The Cute Zone, it's broken down into various subsets (all of which are extremely graphic heavy -- that's generally the rule with image-laden anime sites), everything from a Cute FAQ, to areas where sounds and graphics can be downloaded, if you find you have some time on your hands. At one time or another, haven't we all wanted to hear Miki Koishikawa (star of "Marmalade Boy") say "How are you?" Sure we have, and Shino gleefully provides it for us, along with audio clips of revered Japanese voice actress (and teen pop phenom) Sakurai Tomo, meg upon meg of blatantly cute video captures from fave Cute animes, and a special "warning" section of things too cute to coexist with mankind.

Personally, despite several Serling-esque journeys into The Cute Zone in the last few months, I remain a dedicated hentai fanatic, allowing my baser kawaii desires to find outlet only occasionally. Really, there's only so many outlandishly oversized eyeballs one can take before logic and sanity reassert themselves and send me fleeing back to the relative safety of The Wandering Kid, or even the tame Golgo 13.

(Oddly, Shinomura's site makes no mention of the breakthrough 1988 anime feature My Neighbor Totoro by Hayao Miyazaki. ...Totoro remains -- in my mind, anyway -- the personification of anime cuteness to this day.)

While we're being cutesy, it behooves me to mention a bit about Hello Kitty!, the Sanrio Company's flagship creation and the subject of over a thousand websites. The first, best, and most complete of those has to be the Sanrio site itself (http://www.sanrio.com), although goofball parodies such as Hello Cthulhu! (http://www.upl.cs.wisc.edu/~kimuchi/cthulhu.html) and Full Metal Kitty! (http://www.neosoft.com/~hk/phipps.htm) do have their charms (if you've ever had the itch to read revolutionary haiku about Hello Kitty! and catch some shots of our diminutive hero leading a division of Panzer tanks into battle, well here's your chance).

The official Sanrio site is as much a marketing tool as it is a way of catching up on the latest Kitty gossip. As such, it offers profiles of not only Kitty herself (did you know she lives in London with her cousin Mimi? Neither did I.), but also the dozen or so other Sanrio spin-offs, including my personal fave, Keroppi the googly-eyed frog, Pekkle the spasmolytic mallard, Pochacco the Charles M. Schulz rip-off, and Winkipini, who gets my vote as anime critter with the most annoying name ever. Still, kids love Sanrio, and you'd better bet that Sanrio loves the kids right back. Here's Sanrio President and CEO Shintaro Tsuji on the Sanrio philosophy, or what he likes to call "the social communication business:"

"Everyone wants to spend their days being happy. It is the common wish of just about anyone on the face of the Earth. But just what is happiness? As the old saying goes, 'No man is an island.' Humans need each other... Whether one is sad, down, happy, or whatever, we want to help people share these important feelings with one another. This is the reason for our business."

Holy saccharine platitudes, Batman! Not what I expected to stumble across when I surfed in, but hey, that's one of the great things about both the Sanrio Corporation and Hello Kitty! herself -- their charmingly mindless inscrutability. That darn cat's got no mouth -- how much more inscrutable can you get?

Along with Tsuji's heartwarming message, Sanrio.com provides a full-scale timeline and history of the company and its creations, a FAQ, and some genuinely terrifying information on the Sanrio clothing line, Sanrio Smiles ("Soon you'll even be able to coordinate your house or bedroom with the cutest housewares and domestics you can imagine!"). Dear god, it's as though Stalin had his own toy line!

So much for the lighter side of things. This next site is just plain bizarre. The Real Doll Company (http://www.realdoll.com/) is an online service eager to solve your dating and romance problems for the next decade or so. What the hell am I talking about? Well, look at it this way: Remember those inflatable love dolls you could purchase out of the back pages of sleazy "sophisticate" mags back in the day? Bachelor party favors, usually, but somebody had to be using them for their stated purpose, because Real Doll has updated the scheme, incorporating state-of-the-art lifesize PVC "simulacrums" of sexy female companions for the bargain price of $3,999, or $4,249 for the deluxe, three-entry Real Doll.

It may sound like some ghastly joke, but the crack scientific pleasure team at Real Doll (a division of Abyss Creations... see, it all ties together?) go to great lengths to assure us that it isn't, providing full photo documentation of the various styles, skin tones, breast sizes, and the like, plus a helpful FAQ that provides the answer to every single question the inquiring pervert might ask.

"Q: Does the silicon flesh have a foul odor?

A: No! Real Doll's silicone flesh is very nearly odorless. You may detect a very slight odor, but it's a pleasant and very mild fruit-like perfume.

Q: Can you pierce her ears, nipples, etc.?

A: Yes! You can pierce your Real Doll anywhere.

Q: Can you pull on her nipples hard without fear of tearing them?

A: Yes, within reason. Real Doll's nipples can withstand approximately 400% elongation before tearing.

And on, and on, and on. The cost of these dolls may be a bit prohibitive for the common fellow, but in my heart of hearts I know Bill Gates must already have one of each style. Indeed, the whole concept of lifelike non-animatronic sex partners (and the site takes great pains to reference Philip K. Dick and Blade Runner as an example of how cutting-edge and forward-thinking the whole notion actually is) being hawked for big bucks over the Web is so endearingly perverse that the site stands out by virtue of its sheer cojones (or lack thereof). And you wondered what you were going to get Dad for Christmas!

Finally, remember the recent international craze over those "Tamagochi" personal pocket pets from Bandai, Inc.? The fad may have already gone the way of the pet rock (in record time, no less), but that hasn't stopped the black-clad maniacs over at Perkygoth World Headquarters from creating a "Tamagothi Home Page" (http://www.gothic.net/~luvcraft/tamagothi/tamagothi.htm).

You got it -- a gothic pocket pet! Complete with cranky, block-y animation, this site takes you step by step through the Tamagothi nurturing process. Raising your evil little Alien Sex Fiend takes constant attention. Is he too uppity? Hit the "smack" button and a nice dose of heroin will calm him right down. Too lethargic? Time for some speed! The "angst" indicator is flashing? That means your Tamagothi is craving some love and attention. "Remember, the more you ignore his cries, the better he will turn out. He might even write some dismal poetry!"

Through a series of several linked pages, the Tamagothi Home Page allows you to see the growth and development of your little pet, who begins life as a "cute little throbbing skull." From there, your wee bundle of skank moves on to various gothic states, including Battygothis (a floating bat skull, natch), Babygothis, and on to Mopeygothis and Perkygothis. There's the Romantigothi, characterized "by their constant feelings of hopelessness and malaise and their tendency to burst into four-hour-long crying jags. Romantigothis love to read Milton and Joyce and love to listen to Dead Can Dance, Swans, and Switchblade Symphony.

One of the best small-scale parody sites I've found, the Tamagothi Home Page takes the piss out of the ever-in-danger-of-pretentiousness gothic scene and injects some desperately needed humor. Much of the gags here will go right over the heads of non-goths ("a 'Murphygothi?!' what the hell is that?"), but it's still some nifty graveyard humor to fill your screens until Halloween and the inevitable return of Jack Skellington to Halloweentown.com.


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