'Everything Is Terrible' Digs Up Gems Of The VHS Era

Every weekend or free afternoon they get, Dimitri Simakis and his friends troll through bargain bins, thrift stores and yard sales looking for old VHS tapes.

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Maryjean Ballmer, seen in this screen grab from her video, is a cat massage expert. hide caption

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More specifically, they're searching for video gold: commercials, instructional videos, TV shows — cultural artifacts from the end of the 20th century. Simakis and his friends share the clips on their Web sites. They also have live shows in which they wear cloaks and gold-painted VHS tapes around their necks while showcasing their favorite finds.

Their project is called Everything Is Terrible.

It started in early 2000, when Simakis and his friends at Ohio University would occupy themselves by sharing silly tapes with each other.

"The winters were not kind to us, so we'd spend a lot of time just indoors, sitting around, trying to outdo each other with the worst VHS tape or the most ridiculous movie," he tells NPR's Guy Raz.

Some of the clips posted online have turned their subjects into unwitting celebrities. One instructional video called "So Your Cat Wants A Massage?" garnered so much attention for its star, Maryjean Ballner, that she eventually became a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman.

"It's a perfect example of how innocent and young our culture was at this time," Simakis says. "We didn't have any wars to really worry about or economic downturns to be concerned with. ... We had the time, as a culture, to write, edit, produce, then purchase a video about how to massage your cat."

Another clip from a video called "What the Heck's the Net" features a scene with three mothers at a lunch table. "Are you on the Internet?" one asks, to which another mom replies, "Isn't that for techno geeks with spreadsheets?"

Simakis says he's amazed to think that this was only a decade ago.

"It shows how fast things progressed," he says.

The group has undertaken another endeavor: Trying to amass the largest collection of Jerry Maguire tapes since they were first manufactured, the group is requesting VHS copies of the film. More than 300 copies have been sent in so far.

Simakis says the tapes are easy to spot: The title Jerry Maguire is in bright red, and they seem to be stocked anywhere VHS tapes are found.

"We always have noticed since the beginning that there seems to be nothing but just Jerry Maguire tapes filling our nation's thrift stores," Simakis says. "I have no idea why."

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