Occupy Amazon.com: Why Review Bombings are Restoring My Faith in Politics
Review bombings. That’s when a group of everyday people write satirical reviews for a product, often on Amazon.com. The fake reviews catch on, and pretty soon, some products have thousands of satirical reviews.
In the age of social media, this is a new form of intercepting the public space. These days, some of us are occupying Wall Street. Others of us are occupying Amazon.com.
So why review bomb? Sometimes, this is for the purpose of making fun of a silly product, like this pointless banana slicer. In these reviews, users satirically praise this “wonder product” because previously, they had to slice bananas with Slinkys or ceiling fans. One reviewer claimed the device saved her marriage because of their constant marital fights over banana slicing duties. “The minute I heard our 6-year-old girl in her bedroom, re-enacting our daily banana fight with her Barbie dolls,” wrote the reviewer, “I knew we had to make a change. That’s when I found the 571B Banana Slicer.”
In my mind, though, the best review bombings are overtly political. I first became aware of these guerrila product reviews during the presidential election. After Mitt Romney’s declaration that he sought out female appointees by looking through “binders full of women,” the late-night comedy world went more bananas than the above-mentioned slicer.
But the late night comedians weren’t nearly as creative as the review bombers, who selected a seemingly innocuous binder for sale on Amazon.com. Within days of Romney’s ill-fated comment, hundreds of fake reviews of this binder popped up, ranking the ability of the binder in question to hold women. Of course, many of the reviews mocked the simple notion of women fitting into a binder, like this reviewer, who wrote, “I searched online and learned that this binder that I’d been using for Civics class doubles as a chick magnet/storage device. Little black books and cell phone address books are okay for storing phone numbers, but with this binder you can actually pluck out a lady anytime you want.”
Other reviewers used their reviews to critique the Romney campaign itself, like this one, which riffs on Obama’s critique that business leaders like Romney weren’t solely responsible for building their empires. The reviewer wrote, “Amazon’s description for this product is misleading. It indicates the manufacturer as Avery, but they didn’t build that (there were, like, roads and stuff). I only found that out when I ordered the product and it arrived half-covered in asphalt and with a yellow line down the middle, and smelling of roadkill.”
The top-rated review is by far my favorite:
Another fabulously political Amazon.com review bombing is for a bizarre (and no longer produced) toy called the Playmobil Security Check Point. This toy allows children to re-enact airport security screenings. Really. It looks like this: Some reviewers criticized this weirdly pro-government, pro-interrogation toy in a straightforward way, and several suggested it was akin to a Playmobil Gitmo or a Playmobil Abu Ghraib. Others made lighter comments, such as, “This toy would be a lot more realistic with about 350 people standing in line for an average of an hour.”
But the best comments called out the political implications satirically. Here’s one of my favorites:
And this is my very favorite:
Skeptics may argue that when it comes to the political process, review bombing doesn’t count for much, and that it’s just a bunch of (young) folks playing games instead of engaging in “real” political action. I couldn’t disagree more. In the age of social media, “political involvement” means more than just canvassing a neighborhood, putting a sign on your lawn, or writing a letter to the editor. Not that these traditional modes of political discourse are dead. But social media gives us so many more ways for everyday people to get involved and make a statement. And while canvassing a neighborhood may result in a few dozen conversations, well, thousands upon thousands of people read satirical reviews on Amazon.com.
Moreover, review bombing is fabulous because it’s truly a virtual grassroots movement. Somebody decides it’s funny to hijack a binder product page to criticize Romney, and a grassroots movement begins and catches on. (Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if the campaigns are taking note. Maybe during the next presidential election, a savvy staffer on someone’s campaign will try to turn the next binder-type gaffe into a staged “grassroots” review bombing session?)
As you can see, I’m especially enamored by review bombings that are political. But even the less overtly political bombings, like the ones for the banana slicer, are subversive. They’re taking over the space that Amazon uses to promote consumer goods in order to mock these goods. It’s an occupation of corporate space. It may seem less of an innocuous critique of capitalism than, say, protesting a bank. But satire is powerful — especially because it masks its own subversive power by being “just a joke.”
Review bombings are also fabulous because they’re such a smart use of social media. You can’t review bomb a TV station. Or a newspaper. These media are remain largely inaccessible to the average citizen. But with a little creativity, anyone can write a satirical review of a product on the Internet, and with some luck and/or organized efforts, their efforts can go viral.
Review bombings aren’t the answer to all the problems in our corporate-sponsored political process — and, as I’m sure someone will point out, Amazon.com itself no doubt benefits from the traffic it receives from these activities (otherwise, they would take down the reviews). But more than anything else that happened in the 2012 presidential election, the “binder” review bombing really gave me hope for our electorate and our ability to use creativity and satire to fight the corporate political machines. I hold out hope that Occupy Amazon.com is only getting started.