Fast Company

Andy Rooney: Voice Of The Internet

The late Andy Rooney was a vicious critic who despised sloppy grammar and loathed Justin Bieber. Sound familiar, Internet? Let's give the curmudgeonly commentator his due as the OG Hater of the pre-Internet age. Andy Rooney: The Godfather of Troll.

Andy Rooney was never much of a technologist: “Computers make it easier to do a lot of things,” he once observed, “but most of the things they make it easier to do don't need to be done.”

PCs, of course, are just one in a Christmas catalog of things Rooney railed against in his legendary career (including Christmas catalogs), earning the 92-year-old writer and 60 Minutes commentator a withering reputation among younger people (that is, under 70) as America’s biggest whiner, a rumpled grump whose advanced years afforded him a cranky old man caricature, one that gave Osama Bin Laden and a can of mixed nuts the same level of impassioned disregard. Upon his death last week, his reputation was quickly and succinctly illustrated with the posthumous Twitter hashtag #getoffmylawn.

Curmudgeon. Scrooge. Cranky old man. Yep, these descriptions applied to a fellow who boasted a cloudy world view as cumulonimbus as the shape of his eyebrows, but these terms imply a sense of irrelevance--as if what he said and how he said it were relics of another, bygone era of Old Man Land--and nothing could be further from the truth.

Andy Rooney and his legacy of observational journalism deserve credit for essentially creating the Voice of the Internet.

You know that voice. It’s the smug “IMO” asshole voice we all enjoy, the voice that is widely accepted and taken for granted as the tonal infrastructure that keeps the web upright. Sure, Marshall McLuhan may have defined the Global Village, but Rooney predicted and embodied its citizens, that no matter how great the village, we are all connected by a global desire to bitch about it. So, ladies and gentlemen, let’s give the hardest-hating man in show business his due. Andy Rooney: The Godfather of Troll.

That's a compliment, of course, in a Rooney-esque way. Frame his weekly gripes--essentially YouTube-ready rants before the format existed--in the context of digital culture: His Everyman assails on the mundane are near identical in form, severity, passion and agitation as anything you’ve read on or (just as likely) posted to Gawker, Twitter, or Facebook.

But in 1978, when he first appeared on CBS, it was a groundbreaking idea to express a disgruntled, emotional first-person editorial against the helmet-headed, stony-eyed broadcast news backdrop of that time. With that form, Rooney vehemently embodied things we now consider the tenets of the Internet: Rooney was intolerant of poor grammar, deeply resistant to change, especially price increases (Netflix, anyone?). He mastered internalizing everyday annoyances as if they were a high personal affront (sound familiar?) and confidently asserted strong opinions about topics he gamely admitted he didn’t know much about.

He was routinely called a racist, a misogynist, and a homophobe, yet that didn’t stop him from delivering a variety of hot button opinions delivered with such self-righteous heat, Godwin’s Law (“You’re Hitler!”) as the segment-closing catchphrase is pretty much assumed. He also disliked cats, didn’t “get” Lady Gaga, ragged on Bill Gates, and questioned the need for Justin Bieber’s existence. Doesn’t get more Internet than that, Internet.

Since Rooney also pioneered the “Too Soon?” with his callous comments immediately after the death of Kurt Cobain, an unsentimental but appreciative tribute to the eminence grouse as the unsung hero of our digital culture’s dialogue seems appropriate in its impropriety. So we’ve curated a list of Andy Rooney’s Top 10 Most Internet-Worthy Zingers and imagined them through the comments sections of the most troll-happy websites and a fictional Twitter feed. Looking at them through the digital lens may finally give Rooney his due as the Papa Smurf of digital natives. And no doubt the good man would have loved hating us for it. (Note: exclamation points have been added for editorial benefit.)

Andy Rooney's Ten Most Internet Worthy Zingers That Could Just As Easily Been On ...

Gawker: “Does you think the media has changed? Do you think the media has changed? It’s English. The English language would say do you think the media has changed, not does you think the media has changed.”

TechCrunch: “Someone screwed up how computers work, and I blame it on Bill Gates. I had one typewriter in 50 years. But I’ve bought seven computers in six years. I suppose that’s why Bill Gates is rich and Underwood is out of business.”

Business Insider: “Making duplicate copies and computer printouts of things no one wanted even one of in the first place is giving America a new sense of purpose.”

The Economist: “I never buy platinum. I don’t even know what platinum is. What do they DO with platinum anyway?!!!"

Jezebel: “Nowadays 80% of women are against marriage. Why? Because women realize it's not worth buying an entire pig just to get a little sausage!!!”

Pitchfork: “The singers I know have been replaced by singers like Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Usher. I mean, who?”

Co.Exist: "If running out of oil doesn’t scare you, maybe an iceberg the size of Connecticut floating away from Antarctica and hitting the United States will get your attention!”

Huffington Post: “War brings out the kind of pride in country that encourages its citizens in the direction of excellence and it encourages them to be ready to die for it. At no time do people work so well together to achieve the same goal as they do in wartime. Maybe that's enough to make patriotism eligible to be considered a virtue. If only I could get out of my mind the most patriotic people who ever lived, the Nazi Germans.”

Twitter:

“There are more beauty parlors than there are beauties.” #realtalk

“Everything about Kurt Cobain makes me suspicious.” #smellslikeseniorspirit

“Trust is a word banks like in their names. There are certain names they'd never use, 'Bankorama,' for instance.” #OWS

[Image: Getty Images]

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3 Comments

  • casey mahoney brad P

    I myself loved and Rooney.He did not care what people thought of him.He expressed his views and some people dislike it.

    Casey Mahoney Brad P

  • Bill Hazelton

    There are lots of things to complain about, and good writers sometimes use irony, a technique not well understood or appreciated in the US. 'Literate' is not the same as 'literal.' Political correctness loathes irony for this very reason.

    As for the interview with Ali G above, I'd have walked out, too. The language skills of a 3-year-old and a lack of understanding of the concepts of 'before' and 'after' are not a good foundation for interviewing a man who has long worked as a writer and reporter, where clarity and a solid grasp of reality are basic requirements. If you want a serious conversation with a serious person, you must, at least, take the conversation seriously.

    Curmudgeons have a role and place in a properly organized society. From the position of experience with fads and novelties, they probe the weaknesses in the evolving society. They think and pontificate, and perhaps get upset when others don't do the same, even their fans. They aren't doing it for the fame so much as to make people think. Most new things are fads, and careful testing is part of making sure that something new is going to last. Current events indicate how little thinking really occurs, as well as how much that is really new filters through, so the curmudgeon role is clearly under-utilized.

    In many cases, Mr. Rooney expressed everyone's frustrations with the everyday world. Computers are a pain, so why not blame one of the people who brought you many of those limitations and idiocies? If you don't kick against the thousand pricks of daily life, you simply accept declining standards. If you want to improve the world (i.e., change it for the better), you must be Shaw's 'Unreasonable Man.' If you can get a laugh, or even a snort of recognition along the way (to stop the computer you click the Start button!), you have got your point into someone's awareness, and who knows, they may even start to think.

    Fare thee well, Andy Rooney. You fought the good fight for many years, and hopefully we are a little bit better for your having done so.

  • Bob Thomison

    Good riddance to old garbage. I was a fan of Mr Rooney. Until I watched an interview with him talking about his fans & all his negative comments. These were about you (if a fan) & about me. After that I can't beleive I helped pay the asshole's salary by watching week after week.