Empire of Dirt
TL;DR: One half star awarded for the creepy whispering and sniffing of food behind Cobra’s back. Avoid this fake documentary unless you really love the kind of cringe that’s barely fun.
[pullquote]”Somehow worse than anything I’ve ever seen on KingCobraJFS” ~ Ozzy Osbourne[/pullquote]
I’d never heard of the YouTuber “YourFavoriteSon,” but after only a few minutes of Empire of Dirt, he became my least favorite documentary filmmaker. Look on the bright side, fangirls. Buried somewhere inside this nearly three hour travesty there is some shaky high definition footage of KingCobraJFS singing at karaoke night!
“Cobes” jokes, sings, drinks, cooks, shreds guitar, and comments on politics, consistently hitting sour notes somewhere between Mitch Hedberg and GG Allin. The self-described “gothic bad boy” casts spells and crafts wands from his apartment in Casper, Wyoming. But you’ll have to strain to gather even that much lore from this steaming pile of abject camerawork, botched editing, and insipid clout-chasing commentary.
After spending five days in Casper, the crack team of documentary filmmakers somehow made a film that’s drastically less entertaining than even Cobes’ worst three hour live stream. Not only is this film a tremendous wasted opportunity, but the cringe is so unhinged that one only fears for the life of YourFavoriteSon as the SWAT team shuffles by King Cobra’s webcam.
An interrogation-style interview with the Mayor of Casper reveals the big surprise that nobody in the city has ever heard of King Cobra. Many tedious and pointless segments serve only to dispel the aura of “Cobra’s Casper,” boosting the city as a great place for young adults to raise a traditional family in the outdoors.
The greater bulk of the documentary is a surreal interview with completely out of sync audio, pressing an arc depicting Cobra’s “decline,” even as his YouTube channel is seeing some of its most explosive growth to date. King Cobra is currently in negotiations with Sam Hyde for an appearance on the popular Fishtank streaming house.
This idea that Cobra is somehow a man in decline, caught in “thought loops” and substance abuse is just not reasonable, no matter how much stupid psychobabble the narrator delivers. In its final analysis, the film utterly fails to explain why Cobra is so fascinating, with the narrator flatly declaring Cobra a spectacle because, get this, he is a spectacle. At best, the fumbling teenage fangirl HAZZIIBABII says, “We all live such normal lives … you get to see what like — in their lives — I don’t know how to explain it.”
A lolcow like King Cobra is a close analog to a grotesque, or a type of character in gothic literature typically included to reveal the hidden monstrosity of all humanity. But King Cobra is only a fictional character in as far as Josh Saunders (Cobra’s legal name) has contrived. There is indeed some fine performance art at play, along the lines of Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton, leaving the viewer’s sense of reality both shocked and unresolved. It should be no wonder that those who believe Cobra to only be a drunken fool in decline do not themselves understand why they are religiously watching his YouTube.
Empire of dirt plugs its own shitty t-shirt designed just for the documentary, as if it is some desperate touring metal band taking a quick break. The filmmakers cower in fear, whispering behind Cobra’s back while taking creepy whiffs of his cooking. When the police warn Cobra off from a grocery store for trespassing, the cameraman hides in the passenger seat, filming the potential arrest from the perspective of a trapped child. A handful of shots only show the back of Cobra’s shoulder, as if the documentary crew are pissing themselves while filming Darth Vader. Watching this pile of shit, a supposed documentary, I began to get the sense that maybe King Cobra really is a powerful sorcerer, and that he has indeed enslaved these trolls using powerful magic and handcrafted wands. Maybe in just a few years he really will be livestreaming from the top of a clocktower dreamhouse.