Academic journal article Journal of American Folklore

Faux Your Entertainment: Amazon.com Product Reviews as a Locus of Digital Performance

Academic journal article Journal of American Folklore

Faux Your Entertainment: Amazon.com Product Reviews as a Locus of Digital Performance

Article excerpt

ON NOVEMBER 18, 2011, STUDENT PROTESTORS1 assembled on the campus of the university of california, Davis, to peacefully demonstrate against the institution's proposed tuition hikes and budget cuts. When the students did not disperse as requested by campus police just before 5 p.m. local time, they were forcibly dispersed. The ensuing moments were all captured on amateur video2 and photography; louise macabitas, a student bystander, snapped a picture of lieutenant John Pike in the act of calmly dousing the seated protestors with pepper spray.3 The image went viral4 and in short order, prompted a massive online folk response to the shocking scene, at first most predominantly in the form of digitally tweaked "photoshopped" parodies featuring Pike using excessive force and violating civil liberties in numerous settings and contexts. however, within a matter of days, a more textually oriented and widely accessible expressive venue coalesced online at the Amazon.com product sales page for mk-9 pepper spray (Amazon product iD: b0058eoAue)-the very same brand used by the uc Davis police.5

Conspicuously and deliberately, the pepper spray's sales page on Amazon became inundated with cleverly disguised faux reviews employing the same recognizable tone, length, and narrative styles found in most legitimate customer reviews appearing throughout the site, but rhetorically catered toward the mockery of Pike's dirty deeds.6 in conjunction with other faux reviews, participants contributed new humorous texts, commented on others' offerings, or uploaded new "customer images" (which usually consisted of the popularly circulating photoshops) to further visually imbue the product and its corresponding reviews with the glazed appearance of authenticity, even though closer inspection revealed a careful dismantling of the product page's contents and intended presentation. Through this collective gesture, participants managed to ignite a fun and empowering counter-hegemonic discourse.

While the vernacular reappropriation of the mk-9 pepper spray page on Amazon serves as a colorful example of the collaborative faux review phenomenon in action (garnering 355 "reviews" as of February 2014), many other product pages have experienced similar and even greater institutional disruptions; some deriving from counter-hegemonic motivations against a particular product or its parent, and others thriving as humorous play spaces for performatively mocking peculiar or silly products. Among the more notable items on Amazon with product pages that feature predominantly faux customer reviews are the bic "cristal for her" ball Pen (Amazon product iD: b004F9Qbe6)-a writing utensil marketed exclusively to females-home to 1,924 reviews; the mountain Three Wolf moon shirt7 (Amazon product iD: b008b5iSVo)-an epic artistic t-shirt portraying three wolves baying at a full moon-boasts 2,774 reviews; and the hutzler banana Slicer (Amazon product iD: b0047e0eii)-a plastic banana slicer written with incredibly specific and outlandish user instructions in a prose style seemingly tailored for imbeciles-has yielded an impressive 4,786 reviews.8 clearly, the performative frame of faux reviews is enticing individuals to congregate in Amazon's shared virtual space online in order to symbolically interact. but why?

This essay examines the scope and function of faux product reviews on Amazon. com as a hybridized locus for expressive phenomena. in particular, i look to the myriad ways in which certain site patrons collaboratively defy the institutional authority of Amazon-a multi-billion dollar corporation and one of the world's largest retailers-in an effort to cultivate a virtual platform for the purposes of performatively engaging in the creation, dissemination, and communal enjoyment of folklore.9 by using Amazon as a locus of digital performance, participants are able to utilize the venue's hybridity to converge and challenge institutional forces, both corporeal and virtual, through vernacular discourse. …

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