The amazing viral rise of Wendy Davis from unknown Texas legislator to established national figure is complete: Her YouTubed 13-hour filibuster last Tuesday begat an Internet sensation; she was all over the Sunday yak shows this weekend; and this morning The New York Times has the obligatory How Technology Is Changing Public Discourse chin-stroking wrap-up.
But before we move on to whatever sensation the Internet will spit out this week, we need to address one troubling subplot here. I’ll leave it to others to determine what the Davis story means for politics; I am concerned about what it all means for goofing off on the Internet.
Like any Web-fueled phenomenon, the serious news of a politician laboring to thwart a piece of legislation she found troubling quickly spawned non-serious reactions. As is often the case, people latched onto an irrelevant detail as a potential source of lulz. This time it was Davis’s pink-and-green sneakers: The Amazon page for Mizuno Women's Wave Rider 16 Running Shoe quickly filled up with hundreds of fake “reviews,” which various observers pronounced “awesome,” “passionate,” and “trenchant.”
But when I actually read the reviews, I discovered something no one seemed to be mentioning: They are not funny.
Consider these alleged highlights: “Guaranteed to outrun patriarchy.” “I tried on a pair at the local mall and suddenly Texas Republicans started telling me what to do with my genitals.” “If you are looking for a shoe that will never yield to the floor, pressure or good ol’ fashioned boy’s club bullying this is the shoe for you.” “Even if you wear these gems without sox for three days straight, they still smell better than a republican Lt. Governor who tries to push a low through past midnight.”
Whatever your politics may be, I seriously doubt you’re laughing at any of that. And my point here has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with laughter. I’m a devoted fan of prank reviews on Amazon and other crowd-sourced mischief — from the legendary Three Wolf Moon phenomenon to more recent instances involving a a strange banana slicer, the Bible, and many others. The best crowd-critique outbursts use comedy to transform the mundane — even when there’s ideology involved, as in the Amazon review-bombing of Bic For Her pens. Something totally banal becomes a source of creative inspiration and genuine hilarity. Sublime.
The Davis shoe responses do something altogether different – repurposing Amazon review space into just another medium for the same old party-line cheap shots. They are about as entertaining as status update along the lines of “there goes [Fox/MSNBC] again, distorting the truth!” or the childish name-calling of any given comment thread.
Do we need more of that? We do not. That’s why I’m hoping these profoundly un-clever Davis shoe reviews are a one-off, not a harbinger. There’s plenty of room on the Internet for partisan bickering — and even, I’ve heard, actual political debate. So please, keep the politics out of Amazon reviews, and store them where they belong: Internet comments sections, Twitter and your high school friend's Facebook page.
You can follow Rob Walker on Twitter; for all the latest tech news and opinion, you can also follow @YahooTech.
- Wendy Davis