When Amazon started printing readers' book reviews on the net, a window opened briefly on the mental worlds of ordinary people -- or, as Harry Dean Stanton so memorably called them, "ordinary fuckin' people."p>Everyone should have a look at these reviews once in a while, to get an idea of what actually goes on in the heads of the other people who sit in a theater with you, not laughing at all the best lines, and applauding all the stuff you hate.
Hell, it turns out, isn't other people; Hell is other people reviewing on Amazon. And it's good to get a glimpse into Hell every now and then. Slaps you awake.
To experience this Hell, just find the book or movie you most love on Amazon and read all the reviews. You will emerge a sadder, wiser aestheto-fascist, I guarantee.
And do it quickly, because Amazon's remarkable venture in practical free speech is ending. In the nineties, before America's dullard consensus had really gotten the hang of this internet thing, there really was a time when you could post honest reviews on Amazon. That's over. First they did away with swearing and libel -- the very mainstays of critical prose. Then they started insisting that reviewers use their real names, taking all the fun out of impersonating your enemies and plugging your own books.
Now Amazon's added a feature the FBI must love: a little button at the end of each reader review, labeled "report this." If you click the button, you get an invitation to turn in the offending review for "appropriate action" by Amazon.
Naturally, "appropriate action" means deletion. As this new feature goes to work, it will eventually grind away all the rough edges of these reviews. Soon nothing will be left but Amazon's "top reviewers," a few hundred bush-league Leonard Maltins incapable of blurting anything odd or new. So cherish these blurts while you can. Steep yourself in them. It's an essential part of a dissident education. And fun, in a painful way, like swimming through a swarm of low-toxicity jellyfish.
I've been swimming through the reviews of the film Election posted on Amazon. I wasn't sure why I picked Election. I love it, naturally. But I love Big Lebowski too, yet didn't find much fun reading through Amazon reviews of it. For one thing, nearly everybody who reviews Lebowski loves it. How could you not? And there's not much fun reading reviews by people you agree with. A big part of the pleasure of reading these things is the whip-sting of Wrong Thought.
That's why the reviews of Election were so delectable: they were full of horrible wrongness, wrong statements by wrong people. I went through all 213 posted reviews the way kids in my high school used to pore over every page of the crash pictures in Highway Patrol magazine: for the sheer horror of it. What did Kurtz know about horror? He never read Amazon reviews of Election.
Election drew all the wrong viewers, sat them down comfortably... and then slashed them across the face with a bleach-dipped cat-o-nine-tails. When it came out in 1999, it was billed as a chirpy teen comedy, with Reese Witherspoon's dimply smile fronting the ads. When her cornfed fans sat down with their popcorn, Election subjected them to a pitiless, contemptuous, proudly elitist dissection of the loathsome American polity. And this collision of ordinary fuckin' viewers and Olympian chill-film makes for some wonderfully painful rat-squeaks from shocked Reese-fans who expected some sort of Legally Blonde prequel.
The reviewers you end up almost admiring are the ones who admit with grace that they didn't get what they wanted:
"when i rented this film i thought it was going to be a cuetsy lil' thing about highschool....WRONG! i soon realized i wasn't watching something wholesome and family like. this movie is very, well it's different. i don't think i would buy the movie, but it was an interesting one to rent."