The Museum Instinct and Sarcastic Amazon Reviews


Have 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 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.