the history of Bert is Evil
The year was 1997
The internet was new, and digital illustration tools were in their infancy. Most of the websites on the burgeoning World Wide Web were serious and academic. A majority of the web domains were government (.gov) and education (.edu). This meant that the internet was mostly filled with factual information back then. This is the story of a little website that popularized misinformation and helped reshape the Internet.
Bert is Evil was launched in March 1997 as part of a website called Fractal Cow. Its creator, Dino Ignacio, was a Fine Arts student at the University of the Philippines. He made the website as a way to practice his digital art skills and to make his friends laugh.
**Weekly World News was a tabloid publication renowned for its outlandish cover stories and an approach to news that verged on the satirical.
**Mr. T Ate My Balls was a website that featured ridiculous comic strips that put Mr. T in compromising situations.
Bert is Evil’s content was a combination of the absurd fake news format popularized by the Weekly World News while focusing on a beloved personality like Mr. T.
Dino decided to use an unwittingly irritable muppet from the popular children’s television show Sesame Street as the target of his project.
Dino started crafting a narrative that Bert from Sesame Street was part of many of the major moments of evil in history.
Some of the images Dino created included:
- Bert hiding in the grassy knoll as John F. Kennedy’s motorcade drove through Dealy plaza
- Bert raising a flag while standing beside a Klan member
- Bert alongside Hitler as they survey their empire
The website started to become famous and was featured on other websites and publications like Internet Underground. As the website grew in notoriety, Dino was approached by artists like Victor J. Zuylen, N. Ross Gilbert, Wout Reinders, and Jasper Hulshoff Pol, who contributed to the site and expanded the mythology of Bert is Evil.
In 1998 it was nominated and won the Webby Awards for the category Weird and People’s Voice Award. Shortly after winning the Webby Awards, the server cost of running the site became too high, so Dino zipped up the whole website and offered it up for others to host on mirror sites.
This decentralized version of the site spawned many variants and additions to the collection of images making Bert is Evil one of the internet’s first memes.
A few years later, in 2001, soon after September 11, an anti-American rally was held in Bangladesh. Among the many images taken at the event, a picture of Bert is spotted in a poster that the protestors were carrying.
**The image of Bert with Osama Bin Laden has since been identified to have been added by one of the decentralized mirror sites.
The cosmic irony of it all is that a website that tried to parody moments in history landed squarely in the middle of one. Today, Bert is Evil is still seen as an example of the power of convergence culture.
The brand of misinformative humor and reality bending narrative that Bert is Evil popularized is now commonplace on the internet.
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