5 September 2011

Can Customer Reviews be a Literary Genre?

A new literary genre has been born: the Amazon customer review.

The Amazon page for these ridiculously overpriced speaker cables* has been inundated with satirical customer reviews.

Review posters range from Father Christmas to electricity itself. Some of the customers experienced quasi-religious experiences involving Kylie Minogue, others found alternative uses for the cables like fixing space ships, making impromptu reigns for sand worms or reactor-powered electric whips.

There are several things we can learn from these fictional reviews, alongside the reviews of these one-gallon Tuscan whole milk cartons:
  1. There are a lot of people out there with a lot of spare time.
  2. The customer review is a wonderful platform for pretending to be someone else, gloriously misunderstanding the purpose of the product, or generally dicking around.
Aside from simply venting rage at how expensive something is, or showing off, is it possible to use a customer review (or series of reviews) to tell a proper story?

Amazon isn't the only selling website that can be co-opted into storytelling. Many will remember the eBay listing for My Brother-in-Law's Shit Record Collection (which has since been sold and sadly removed from eBay). It told the story of seller's relationship with the original owner of the records as this man met, married and eventually moved on from the seller's sister, leaving his terrible record collection behind. The seller dude didn't like his brother in law much, and used selling his records as an excuse to badmouth him as much as possible. Wonderful stuff, as you can imagine.

I suppose these misuses of sales websites are a development of funny newspaper advertisements like the London Review of Books' famous lonely hearts personals. Sadly, none of these technological updates quite beat that classic Hemingway classified ad:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
But then what will?

The customer review, and its related genre the product description, both strike me as under-explored media.  Watch this space, and I might produce something along those lines... (And so should everyone else.)

Does anyone have any more examples of people hijacking capitalist websites for story-telling purposes? 

* Though shipping is free.

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