Monday, March 30, 2015

The Fanatical Readers of Amazon Customer Reviews

On Amazon, where I file reviews, I have had a curious thing happen several times. Customers have left comments that I must be a "ringer" for Amazon or Apple (because I like Apple products). The reason for this suspicion is that I "write too well." Ergo, I cannot be an ordinary consumer. These are not customers who are seniors leaving this comment. They are much younger. In one case, Jane, another senior and reviewer at Amazon, was accused of the same along with me. We were filing comments back and forth to one another over a review I'd written and we had contrary opinions.

Rather than preening over how marvelous I must be, I had another thought about this event. I majored in liberal arts in college at a four year university. I took a lot of English and writing courses. I took theater and psychology courses plus history and philosophy courses. This was not considered strange in the 1960s. When I went to Law School, the exams were all essays and if one could not write well about the law, one's grade generally suffered for it. I am sure that most of the seniors reading this entry could write similar reviews to the ones I've written because they had similar educations.

In addition to being able to write well, both a liberal arts education and a law school education taught one to analyze. One then could reach conclusions by analyzing a great deal of data and conflicting information.

Scarcely anyone is getting a liberal arts education today. It has been on the wane for decades. This lack is now showing by those who cannot fathom having skills outside of the ones necessary for their professions.

I have also had the opposite experience to the above. A number of times I have gotten barely coherent responses to a review, which also had profane and borderline obscene comments. These usually came in at about 3am. I got beautifully written letters shortly after that by the authors of those comments. One was a Harvard Law School graduate. Another was in London and held an elite job there. Both had been wildly drunk when they wrote their comments, discovered what they had written when they were nursing their hangovers and felt compelled to apologize. When I read the initial letters, I would have thought the writers had not even made it out of high school. To put the before and after letters side by side was a Jekyll and Hyde experience. The truly appalling thing is that the writers admit that this happens rather frequently to them and are not overly concerned about the situation.

The internet has also unleashed another type of person who is compelled to send me occasional comments.  These letters usually start off that I am a liberal stooge, that I am an Obama lover, that I am ruining this country, etc., etc., I do not review political books because I generally do not read them. So this type of comment comes in on a movie or tv review of mine. One of these came in when I wrote a review about a movie involving the Indian Ocean tsunami which killed so many people. I said that this had been another extreme climactic event and that comment set this person off with his political conclusions. It is extremely unwise to engage with anyone on the internet who is on a political crusade so I merely pressed the Amazon button next to this person's name which allows me to permanently block him from that point forward.

Related to the above is when I filed a review of a graphic novel (comic book) about Palestine. I said that I found the subject matter too depressing, never ending and probably insoluble. Hence, I would not be reading any more. I got an avalanche of comments saying that I was pro-Israel, anti Palestine, that I was a liberal stooge, that I was a conservative fanatic. You name it, I was called it. After receiving about twenty of these, I deleted the review and resolved anew to stay away from anything remotely political.

Then there is the battle of the sexes. I discovered that the tv show "Entourage" was the last bastion of the alpha male. The lead was a movie star and his hangers on. Any criticism of this show of any sort elicited comments about I was a man hater; I must have been dumped too often to give a fair shake to the guys; I must be jealous of all of the gorgeous babes and on and on. The only reason I watched this show was that I loved the scenes involving the agent (Ari played by Jeremy Piven), his fellow agent Lloyd and his entire office operation. I detested the star and his hanger ons. I was even pretty sure that the writer did not intend for us to like these guys. One user gave me what he felt was the clinching argument about how wonderful the men were on this show: "This is based upon the real life of Marc Wahlberg!" I think Wahlberg has done some good films but I did not think this show was a ringing endorsement of his personal life. Eventually I just stopped reviewing this show because I was tired of hearing about how marvelous and misunderstood the guys were on this show. The misunderstood male defense? Really?

I wanted to show I was "with it" so I did not put up the Fab Four to discuss Groupies. Instead I put up today's heartthrob and his fans, Justin Bieber. If I reviewed Justin Bieber harshly, I would expect an avalanche of email from his groupies telling me off and about 100-500 negative comments posted under my review. Every age has its teen icon and I understand that. In fact, "The Beeb" reminds me a lot of Fabian Forte. If you don't know who that is then you are not a senior reading this entry!

I have something far more interesting to tell you than that JB has groupies. It is that potentially everyone has groupies. I can never tell when this is going to hit me smack up the side of the head. I can be writing about someone like Nicola Tesla (scientist) or Nora Roberts (romance writer) or Glenn Gould (pianist), say something negative about one of them, and get clobbered by their groupies. These people have groupies? Yes. Romance writers, for example, have a very ardent base of groupies. You disparage one of them at your peril. But attack a classical pianist or a scientist, philosopher or poet also at your peril. You just never know. And oh my God, comic book writers, the new residents of Mt. Olympus. Long live Robert Kirkwood, the comic book creator of "The Walking Dead," because his fans are legion. Likewise Neil Gaiman, the creator of Sandman and many other hit comics along with his artist sidekick Dave McKean. Except for Nora Roberts, I enjoy the work of everyone I've written about in this paragraph so although I understand the appreciation of this work, I am surprised by a groupie presence.

What is the biggest blessing you can confer upon a user reader? Giving him a lead to something he didn't even know existed. For example, the hit show "Homeland" in the USA is based upon the just as good if not better, "Hatufim", an Israeli tv series, which had two seasons on Israeli tv. I've seen it and directed the viewers on "Homeland" to it. This is just one in a long line of hidden facts. "The Bridge" is much better in its original Danish-Swedish version. The Danish "The Eagle" has a killer soundtrack which is also available on Amazon but under a foreign name (even though it is sung in English). Gabriel Byrne's "In Treatment" was also based on an Israeli tv series. Harlan Coben's best selling novel "Tell No One" was made into a wonderful French film of the same title instead of into an American film. This list just goes on and on.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Carol,

    I just wanted to thank you for your kind words in your review on my „The Fourth Day” (you might not even remember, this was two years ago).

    Probably no writer in his right mind would openly confess that he/she reads his/her reviews, although I am sure many do. Here are some of my favourites on the Dr. Hoffmann books: one star for The Russian Donation from an angry ron.sha: „I never got this book on my Kindle device. It started down loading and then it quit loading the book.“ Same book, same maximum sentence from a Paula: “my kindle locked up when i was reading about the book and when closed and got back in it charged my account $7.99, i didnt know who to tell about this but i would like my money back!!!” But life is fair, a Zoey 101 substantiated her five stars for He Who Dies Last like this: “this book sounds very interesting to me. I think that I really want to try to read it because it does not seem all that bad. Then again it is probably different for many other people. I will give it five stars.“

    Are reader reviews helpful to improve your writing? At least you learn that, like in real life, you cannot make it right for everybody. What some readers call a page-turner, others will rate as boring.

    I just read with interest your latest blog on Entartete Kunst in Nazi Germany. What I always found strange is that the communists in the late German Democratic Republic, who declared themselves the real antifascists (while the west-oriented Federal Republic was fascist-imperialistic) pretty much shared the Nazi view on art.

    Thank you again,

    Herzlich Ihr