Winnebago Man

The Internet continues to change our culture in various ways. In recent years we have seen the phenomenon of the YouTube celebrity (one website uses the term, “viral video superstar”.) One such person is Jack Rebney. He did an industrial film for the Winnebago company in 1989. The out takes, in which Rebney repeatedly loses his temper, were circulated on videotape among collectors. When YouTube was created, the video was immediately uploaded, and it has been viewed by millions of people since.

The documentary filmmaker, Ben Steinbauer, was curious about Rebney and wanted to know what happened to him. With the help of a private detective, he tracked down Rebney and found him living in a cabin in the mountains of Northern California. At first, Rebney tells Steinbauer that he doesn’t mind his notoriety. However, Rebney finally admits that he finds the video humiliating. He hates the Internet and he despises the people who watch the video. (He refers to them as having “room temperature IQ’s”.) With great difficulty, Steinbauer manages to persuade Rebney to attend a found video show in San Francisco. Rebney is pleased by the reception he gets there, and he finds that the people in the audience are intelligent and very appeciative of what he’s done.

I greatly enjoyed Winnebago Man. However, as I watched it, I kept getting the feeling that Rebney is perhaps a more interesting person than the filmmakers were willing to document. When they first approach Rebney, he wants to talk about his political views. They try to get him to talk about his childhood and his marriage instead. He refuses to discuss these things. At one point they try to film Rebney standing in front of a Wal-Mart, but the store manager chases them away. We never learn what it is that Rebney wanted to say about Wal-Mart. We do hear Rebney make some snarcky comments about Dick Cheney, but that is almost all we get about his politics. (In the out takes shown with the end credits, we see Rebney making fun of Arnold Schwarzenegger.) My suspicion is that the filmmakers were intent on trying to make Rebney come across as likable. I think the film might have been more interesting if they had let the old man rant.

3 Responses to “Winnebago Man”

  1. Tim Says:

    i loved this interview with Jack Rebney… talking about his political views on berkeley liberation radio: he’s a hippie?!

  2. Darren Says:

    Never heard of this film, but I’ll definitely look out for it.

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