Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

The Museum Instinct and Sarcastic Amazon Reviews

THATHave you visited the saddest IMDb page in existence? It belongs to Anne Sellors, a woman just barely featured in the 1984 BBC television play Threads, which imagines the aftermath of nuclear armageddon in England. What role did Ms. Sellors play? "Woman who urinates herself." She did not receive a credit and understandably never acted onscreen again.

Twenty-six years later, that lone performance is being recognized.

"Indeed, a truly memorable turn by the legendary Sellors," writes one IMDb user. "Anne's performance captured the real essence of the moment," writes another. Rather than enduring the grim entirety of Threads, you can now skip directly to the terror-piss or enjoy it in .gif form. Here is obscurity celebrated, humiliation made holy. A few cutting-floor-ready frames scrutinized as museum exhibit.

The longer the web fractalizes, the more layers and detritus and dead ends it accrues, the more we trip over what amount to bizarre archaeological finds. Though it won't matter later, we'd prefer to do the initial unearthing or be among the first on the scene when such a discovery occurs. We can then point others toward it, hoping to hear joyous disbelief.

Take that "Double Rainbow" video, which has now passed the 3.7-million-view mark this week: ecstasy over ecstasy. We are natural anthropologists, inviting colleagues to speculate on the circumstance of lives we have glimpsed askew.

Calling attention to a surreal life-fragment is not quite like force-loaning a DVD or gushing about a restaurant. In either case we shepherd opinion, flagging an object that shouldn't get lost in the shuffle. Yet the Internet's entropy overshadows the proliferation of art, insists that ever more sublime accidents go unnoticed in its hyperchurned muck. When we link to Anne Sellor's IMDb page, we fight for its ascendance to the planes of conversation and preservation. It's no big deal if your buddy isn't into the mixtape you love (it will survive as private bliss), but Anne Sellors' career must be acknowledged as shattering fact; she must be saved from-and by-her anti-legacy; people must confirm that real life is realer than they guessed. And they must draw wisdom from it all.

No doubt you're familiar with Three Wolf Moon, a geek couture T-shirt design championed throughout the ether. You may also know that its popularity owes much to what Wikipedia delightfully terms "the ur-review," a tongue-in-cheek bit of Amazon.com customer feedback written by one Brian Govern (alias "Bee-Dot-Govern"). Govern deadpanned that the shirt-and wolves generally-are ultimate, aphrodisiac expressions of alphahood, inspiring some 1,647 like-humored individuals to offer prose and Photoshops further expounding on the garment's aura of supernatural virility.

Three Wolf Moon shot to the top of Amazon's clothing bestsellers list more than a year ago; more remarkably, it still ranks #49.

If you're not impressed by that data, ask yourself this: when was the last time a sarcastic response to lameness converted that lameness into unfiltered, profitable cool? Irony, fed into a complex chemical reaction, burned off quickly. The reverence is no longer shtick. Wearing the Three Wolf Moon shirt is probably the first identifiable act of post-hipsterism, eclipsing any argument about subverted intent or meta-fashion. The image simply owns its attached mythology like any other religious icon, collapsing the moment between folklore's invention and its broader acceptance as a compelling belief system.

Many, um, niche items have since been blanketed with sarcastic reviews. Playmobil's TSA security checkpoint set, a steering wheel-mounted laptop desk, a UFO detector and a gallon of Tuscan whole milk have drawn amusing comments for being creepy, suicidal, dumb and not something you want to buy from Amazon, respectively. My favorite, however, has to be a 648-page self-published book available for the sale (!) price of $135 and titled "BIRTH CONTROL IS SINFUL IN THE CHRISTIAN MARRIAGES and also ROBBING GOD OF PRIESTHOOD CHILDREN!!: MANY FALSE CHRIST MARRIAGES ARE LIVING ON BIRTH CONTROL AND: NOW LEADING THE AMERICAN CHURCH WEALTH!," about which Amazon customer G. Foster yelled, "THIS IS A FANTASTIC BOOK BUT MY BOOKSHELF IS A BIT SPARSE AS AFTER READING IT I BURNED ALL MY OTHER BOOKS, INCLUDING THE BIBLES AS THEY WERE WRITTEN PARTIALLY IN LOWERCASE LETTERS, OR AS I LIKE TO CALL THEM, THE DEVIL'S RUNES."

The difference is these items don't sell. Nobody has crossed the line from ridicule to fondness here. Rarely is there an airtight marriage of product presentation and mock enthusiasm. But if Three Wolf Moon, laughably marketed as a "power" shirt, can be enshrined as one-can find an audience willing to ascribe actual power to it as part of an in-joke so broad that everyone's in and the joke gets fuzzy-then doesn't every morsel of our experience have a shot at immortality?

There's a dreamy Steven Millhauser story called "Here at the Historical Society" that explores the radical desire to overlook the past and study the banalities of the present, as these can be vividly painted and upheld for future historians' benefit. We have a hobby of explaining earlier generations, the story says, but a duty to explain our own. Nothing is too insignificant for this historical society-even gum wrappers have a place in the archives. Eventually, this new branch of academia proves too full, too vast, unsustainable, and one pines for the elisions of long-ago. Yet the project will not die; its steady subdivision cannot abate.

It is easier than ever to make the negligible infamous, to claim images or words as residue of and clues to modern consciousness. With an online campaign, Anne Sellors could even make a comeback. The age of the meme, for all its white noise, does permit a singular form of redemption.

Miles Klee is leaving some amazing reviews on Yelp right now.

37 Comments / Post A Comment

boyofdestiny (#1,243)


deepomega (#1,720)

frist pots

deepomega (#1,720)


roboloki (#1,724)

i'll be backsies to this centipede. last (just ignore lv down there)

Art Yucko (#1,321)


Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

Or maybe Howling Wolves are just fucking awesome.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

awesome = inner redneck = 'alphahood'

Joe Berkowitz (#5,534)

Teen 1: Oh, here comes that cannonball guy. He's cool.
Teen 2: Are you being sarcastic, dude?
Teen 1: I don't even know anymore

I enjoyed this! Unironically!

NinetyNine (#98)

(shouldn't you leave 'LAST' in any Klee article?)

Review bombing goes back to at least 2000. Eggers specifically encouraged people to review bomb ASHGFITSHGV (not bothering to make sure I did that right). See, also I guess, all of 4chan?

Only question: don't know BBC contracts, but I'll assume Sellors doesn't get residuals. So how could we make a comeback for her? Hell, I had a copy of Threads back in 1990, so I guess I was the ur-hipster?


Art Yucko (#1,321)


Miles Klee (#3,657)

that is cool about the review-bombing; there seems to be a spectrum of this stuff, from the coordinated attack to the somewhat more organic flocking

for the comeback i was envisioning one of those web campaigns that has, against all odds, a practical effect. maybe it starts with an SNL cameo where she pisses herself.


@99: I believe that contest was inspired by an article (story? whatever the units of that webstie were. Are?) they'd published by a fake-review hobbyist: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/2000/02/07amazon.html For proof of this preceding the contest see here: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/news/feb00.html
I am a kind of archivist, yes.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

This reminds me of, pre-internet, how a well-known-in-certain-circles friend of mine (I'll spare the hyperlinks), who has made something of a career of hipster irony/coolhunting, introduced me to The Shaggs on a 14-hour-straight drive down South. "…Maaaaan. Listen to this. :D …Aren't they amazing?!"………..no, it's really just a group of musically-malformed young women. And it's kind of sad.

beatbeatbeat (#3,187)

ooooh BAD example…I certainly understand you or anyone else not digging it, but the what makes that record special for a lot of people is a lot more complicated and genuine than mere "hipster irony"…

But that's probably an argument for another time and another place…

See below.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

@CHL: exactly.

@beatx3: Listen, I've always been open to difference, but the first thing that popped into my head when I heard them was "these girls were shut-ins and may or may not have been abused." I realize that many 'inside-baseball' rock sages have opined authoritatively and waxed poetic about this subject, and perhaps this tars me "a conservative" or "a concern troll" or whatever you like- but sorry- context, and I mean that in the sense of their personal lives and the history of music in general, does indeed matter for something.

iantenna (#5,160)

@ay: right on. when i saw wesley willis some 10+ years ago i nearly cried at the enabling, borderline abusive, spectacle of it all.

KarenUhOh (#19)

It's like how we used to sit around the basement telling people they had to hear the Shaggs. And when they did, they got up and left, so we had all the weed to ourselves.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

pass on the tree, but send that bottle of Beam my way.

Matt (#26)

Stop me if you've heard this Henry Darger joke.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

"Rabuzin and Henri Rousseau walk into a bar…"

LondonLee (#922)

'Threads' made me piss my pants too, but only metaphorically.

migraineheadache (#1,866)

One of my friends was way into the wolf/moon shirt around Y2K. It really stood out at snobby San Francisco techno parties.

iwantyrskull (#1,706)

"The reverence is no longer shtick."

Hm, having trouble with this one. I think it's kind of the ultimate shtick. Like, claiming to think "Three Wolves" is cool not because they're "just fucking awesome" as noted above, but because you think it's cool that you think it's cool (not a typo) despite it's lameness. It's still a performance, a pose, not a genuine reverence. I see how it does collapse that irony, but I don't think that necessarily makes it an authentic gesture.

Miles Klee (#3,657)

it's an uncomfortable and maybe paroadoxical idea, but i'm of the mind (and the shraggs anecdotes above may support this) that when something begins to have the practical effect of a revered object, it is being genuinely revered

Grant G Brown (#3,366)

But there's something going on here, isn't there. The transformation from desperately uncool to cool. I like how it isn't tied to money or status –the status gets conferred by the internet, unlike a $500 pair of jeans.

If it weren't the end of the day, I'd be trying to figure out what it says about coolness in general. That our society prizes being ahead of the curve on things; the exclusivity of knowing what's cool; the fact a three wolves shirt needs an audience to be cool, and would be just another stupid piece of clothing if worn around the basement on a Sunday.

Thoughtful analysis, Miles.

kmhyde (#6,041)

I think that's right–there's no perceivable difference, functionally speaking, between something that's second-degree (performance) revered and genuinely revered. Also, "Here at the Historical Society" is by Steven Millhauser, I think!

Ribs (#2,690)

Sort of like when you (i) start to say something because "people SERIOUSLY say this!", then it becomes actually absorbed and enjoyed in your (i's) vernacular.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

I am amused that the Brits made their own "The Day After."

barnhouse (#1,326)

This was SO GOOD, Miles Klee, that I am going to go order a Three Wolf Moon shirt in memory of this piece.

I remember when I found out my old flatmate had an IMDB page a couple of years back (she was of the precocious child actor persuasion), and how fucking stoked I was when I realised I could basically edit it to say whatever, until I realised that I didn't actually have anything clever to add to it (In retrospect, I don't know why I didn't- she was batshit, incredibly nasty and all of my friends hated her- surely I must have been able to come up with something).

I enjoyed this article but I'm not entirely sure what the thesis is.

Dave Bry (#422)

Great piece, Miles. And I had never seen the double rainbow video before. So thanks for that. And in answer to the ecstatic rainbow-viewer's question, this, from the Osho Energy Transformation Institute (http://www.sarovara.com/OETI.html):

"The double rainbow is the symbol of transformation.
In the first rainbow we see red is at the top and
violet at the bottom.
This represents the material world.
We are a rainbow, but the red belongs at the feet and
the first chakra area and the violet at the head.
So when we see the red at the top and the violet at
the bottom, it is as if we are seeing a person upside
down or descending from heaven diving down to the
earth. In the upper second rainbow,
and remember it is not such a common sight,
the colours are the right way up,
this symbolizes the journey back to heaven,
the ascent of the kundalini,
the journey of transformation, the spiritual world."

roboloki (#1,724)

i thought it meant he had some really good mushrooms.

katiebakes (#32)

I saw a moon rainbow once. Now THAT is some shit.

Ribs (#2,690)

This is great and all, but have you guys seen that double-rainbow?

Danny (#168,024)

LOL@THE SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK REVIEW. I've collected some more amusing and sarcastic Amazon over here: Funny Reviews

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