It's possible that PenName220 and kimberly piccolo initially visited Amazon.com in search of office supplies or a new running shoe.
It's possible. But the two posts above tell a very different story. PenName220 and kimberly piccolo are not interested in reviewing binders
and shoes, even though they are ostensibly writing reviews for those products. Rather, they seem interested in finding a space where
they can exercise their voices and join a larger, political conversation. And they found that space in an unlikely location:
Amazon.com customer reviews.
Amazon's modern-day agora has become the hub both for reviewers offering their advice and consumers looking for guidance.
The number of reviews, their popularity, adaptability, and staying power make them a legitimate site of inquiry for marketing and
advertising experts, and, of course, for rhetoricians. Researchers have noted that Amazon "hosts the largest review community on
the Internet, featuring more than 28 million products" (Garcia and Schweitzer). Amazon's detailed consumer product reviews supplement
online shopping by providing a missing physicality; the reviewer acts as the shopper's surrogate, providing tangible information
(how well a product fits; durability; colors and textures) that may elude the online consumer.
Product reviews have developed fairly stable conventions, but they are--like other genres--still "dynamic because as their conditions
of use change...genres must change along with them or risk becoming obsolete" (Bawarshi and Reiff 79). We have seen the genre
transform as users have turned the Amazon review into a vehicle for political engagement, dialogue, and satire. In particular,
we are interested in the rhetoric of reviews related to two moments: the 2012 Presidential debates and Wendy Davis's Texas filibuster
During these political moments, Amazon reviewers shed the role of consumer to perform the role of "fringe activist." As Tristan Bridges
notes in his blog, Inequality by (Interior) Design
, "Political protest and civic engagement have always taken on new forms to respond to
inequalities and injustice in new ways." Like so many rhetoricians before them, the Amazon reviewers we discuss use a seemingly marginal
space to offer political commentary that became highly visible and mainstream.
Deviations from Convention
In his essay, "Identity and the Internet: The Telling Case of Amazon.com's Top Fifty Reviewers," Douglas Hesse focuses on the motivations
of Amazon's most prolific reviewers. As Hesse recounts, Amazon's reviewers have deliberately deviated from the conventions associated
with online consumer reviews almost since their inception. For instance, faux online reviews--or reviews that pretend to take a
product seriously while actually mocking it--stand in for such deviations. The "Three Wolf Moon"
t-shirt and the book,
How to Avoid Huge Ships
are just two of our favorite examples of such products. The mock reviews of these real products follow the conventions of the genre
itself--titling the review, giving star ratings, explaining how/when reviewers used the product--without actually offering anything that would be
useful for the reader (aside from some snarky, but enjoyable humor). These faux reviews call into question the utility and purpose of reviews
News outlets have also noted the entertainment value of these mock reviews. The Daily Dot
--a blog that publishes "All the news that's fit to
click"--acknowledges that the Amazon review space has "become a source of great hilarity...where Internet users can display their wit and comedic
chops" (Martinez). However, journalists distinguish between reviews posted purely for humor's sake and those that contribute to a political
dialogue. And so do we.
We intend to highlight those Amazon reviewers who transgress the generic boundaries of the online consumer reviews to incite political commentary.
The reviewers we discuss--each of whom works through their political frustration by penning Amazon reviews of binders and running shoes--focus less
on products, and are instead interested in the political moments that give tangible objects new meanings. In these reviews, then, products stand
in for social issues.