A Statement of Significance
The story of homestarrunner.com and the story on homestarrunner.com are both delightfully innocent. The former is a charming tale of a couple of Georgia college buddies caught up in the 1996 Olympic fever, drawing kids books, and imitating local tv commercials before ever going near a computer that became about two brothers sticking to their guns. The latter, as encapsulated in the website’s intro, is the tale of an earnest, energetic, if often missing the mark hero in primary colors, and his sarcastic character foil. These would-be archetypes are surrounded by a supporting cast endearing in their eccentricities – loyalties and rivalries abound, speech impediments and character flaws.
The World of HomeStar
The site featured cartoons with a regular cast: armless Homestar, his equally armless, guitar-playing sometimes girlfriend Marzipan, globular best friend PomPom, hip-hop loving Coach Z, concession stand-running Bubbs, the gluttonous King of Town, the exactly what it sounds like Poopsmith, and finally the aptly named Strong Sad, Strong Mad, and Strong Bad with his sidekick the Cheat.
The cartoons featured this main cast heavily and were generally stand alone. The site featured games and downloadable content like desktop wallpapers and sound effects to customize your AOL Instant Messenger. But, as the into pointed out, the site’s break away hit was the Strong Bad Emails. In this segment, fans could email the character and the character would pick emails to respond to – sort of. Early favorites like “Theme Party” had the sender asking for theme suggestions for a frat party and Strong Bad suggesting that the theme of the party be “Frat Party.” Part of the fun was how far off topic the email would diverge, how ludicrous it would become. From this meandering came Trogdor the Burninator (fun fact, Google Docs, corrected my misspelling of Burninator because Google knows what’s up), Strong Bad Techno, and Teen Girl Squad, which became an independent feature on the site. In addition to its own internal world of jokes, characters, and plot devices, the site heavily featured pop culture references from the 70s-90s, especially in the form of the annual Halloween costumes.
From 2000 to 2009, homestarrunner.com was a regulrary maintained website. The site never advertised, nor took in advertising; supporting itself through merchandise sales and expanding solely by word of mouth largely before the explosion of social media. The key audience was high school and college students ten years ago, the members of generation nostalgia; group for whom the integration of the 70s-90s pop culture references would resonate most clearly with their own life experiences. As with the preservation of other popular cultural icons, homestarrunner.com would be a valuable candidate for preservation because it spread so far without being dictated to the people who liked it by a network or publisher like other mass media. It was not created through a marketing machine, but by a couple of guys making what they thought was funny.
This is one of the great equalizers of the internet and the entire basis of YouTube – that anyone can put their content on the web for the whole world to enjoy, the best material will rise to the surface, the creators will be acknowledge and achieve fame and fortune. It is, in a sense, an easy version of the American dream (and it does ignore that there are now multiple television shows dedicated to making fun of the internet like @midnight on Comedy Central).
Nevertheless, the fans who supported the site, who bought enough merchandise to keep the project running for years, are the same fans who are making stained glass windows and keeping a subreddit active, editing a dedicated HR wiki, and following the Twitter feeds. Granted, many of the fans, like the creators, have gone on to focus on other things as their interests had developed, but like any beloved childhood accessory, what it meant at the time is fundamental to the shaping of who we are now.
Above all it is this first group for whom preservation is undertaken because it is for this group that the site was saved from the death of Flash, see more below, and for this group primarily that the site continues to be updated. No less arbitrators of cool than Rolling Stone magazine are on board, promoting the return of the ever innocent Homestar.
The second main group of people interested in the conservation of homestar runner would be internet historians who would be interested in tracking the growth and spread of a social phenomenon before social media. In addition to the site, however, conservation efforts would need to include materials relating to the site’s popularity and spread through the zeitgeist – mentions on mainstream television shows, appearances in other works, and as an early success in internet memes. The meme, the spreadable idea, is more what the site is becoming remembered for already, the snippets that haven’t quite died away – Trogdor especially.
Homestar began its ascent before social media and continued more or less independently of the craze. Those scholars would perhaps be interested in tracking the decline of homestar runner against the social media explosion looking for a corollary between the two; to determine if such word-of-mouth sites were no longer truly sustainable in a post-Facebook world when they should have been infinitely more accessible.
The third group of people who would be interested in the preservation of the site would be computer and internet technical preservationists who would be interested in the mechanics of how the site was built and maintained in the Flash animation environment and the subsequent transition away from Flash. The site dealt with the Flash transition in it’s own way, not ignoring that it was dealing with a significant problem and humorously dropping lines of broken code from the sky onto the main characters as the ever-frustrated Strong Bad attempted to explain the horror of the situation of the death of Flash in an entirely Flash-based world to the optimistically-oblivious Homestar. Both tech news outlets the Verge.com and Geek.com ran entire stories on HomestarRunner and the death of Flash.
The final group of people who would be especially interested in the preservation of homestarrunner would be cartoon and television historians who, because of the later work of the creators, the Brother Chaps, on other popular children’s shows such as the highly regarded Gravity Falls and Yo Gabba Gabba. Historians of popular media would be especially interested in capturing this early work to contextualize the later work of two prominent auteurs, however out of the mainstream the early career-making work might have been.