The Internet has brought us a lot of mixed blessings, but I would submit that one of the least mixed has been the opportunity for users to post opinions on a wide variety of topics: current events, products, services, entertainment, and so on. Sites such as Yelp and Cyndi’s List are specifically designed to give ordinary consumers a forum for reviewing businesses and other commercial institutions, while students can go to ratemyprofessor.com to complain about their English teacher; pretty much any news site now sets aside space for readers to weigh in on every story – including correcting information or posting relevant videos – and special-interest sites usually offer forums where fans of stamp collecting, vintage Volkswagens, or My Little Pony can share ideas and insights about their favorite subjects. The term “commentariat” used to mean the elite class of pundits and editorialists who got to pronounce on big issues, but now that privileged group can include anyone who goes online.
Of course, before the Net, people could have their letters published in magazines or the local paper, or phone in to voice their views on radio talk shows, but today those platforms have been opened almost infinitely. And yes, message boards can be hijacked by psychopathic trolls throwing up bizarre and inflammatory crap that annoys and wastes the time of everyone else. For the most part, though, Comment spaces have exemplified the democratization promised by the World Wide Web’s earliest advocates. They have also revealed how many people besides professional reviewers are capable of smart and funny writing: from examples I’ve seen, the Comment revolution has produced a mini-Golden Age of literary wit and wisdom.
From the movie site IMDB, on the shlocky 1970s movie The Legend of Boggy Creek:
My favorite part: a guy gets so scared that he jumps headfirst through a door (!?) and the narrator explains he went unconscious from “shock.” Uh, I’d say breaking a door with his head is more likely why he went unconscious, but whatever.
On a YouTube fan video of the resuscitated Van Halen:
Dave looks like a gay used car salesman…Sorry, guys, too little, too late.
Also from YouTube, on the trailer for a German film about World War I ace Manfred von Richthofen, “The Red Baron”:
What, no Snoopy?
Of course, for unintentional humor, there’s always the conspiracy theorists who don’t see the irony of posting their paranoid fantasies about state suppression on heavily-trafficked news sites Here’s one from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s news coverage of the current election campaign:
Are Canadians ever going to open their eyes and see what a cesspool of corruption their country has become? Nah, Canadians will remain blind, lazy and dumb for a long time. Canadians are a laughing stock, I mean they have a joke like Harper run their country… LOL. Canadians deserve a Prime Minister that spits in their faces.
Amazon, of course, is built around user reviews, many of which become reviewed themselves. Here’s one on the popular Divergent:
There is absolutely, positively NO ROMANTIC TRIANGLE!! FINALLY, a Young Adult, Urban Fantasy/Dystopia novel that does NOT center its ENTIRE PLOT around a forced plot triangle. Excuse me while I faint from astonishment.
As a writer I’ve been Commented on many times. On Amazon.ca, somebody bequeathed one star to my memoir Arcadia Borealis:
Trying to be artistic, the author engages in complex and run-on sentences when his target audience would be better served by simpler prose. As it stands, if you’re an executive who was once a stoner, then this book will bring back many fond(?) memories. For the rest of the Earth’s 99.99999999999999999 percentile, this book becomes a tiresome journey into the subculture of losers in the northern steel town of Sault Ste. Marie.
And apparently Daymian666 (not his real name?) didn’t like what he read in a review of my Led Zeppelin FAQ in a Houston Press blog. I categorically deny Mr. 666’s allegations:
Clearly, the author has ingested way too much semen during his life time, both from oral consumption and anal absorbtion. But hey, everyone is entitled to there opinions, even mental retards who some how survived their abortion. My two cents.
What’s fun about all these is that they make no pretense of offering formal reviews, but instead offer the kind of immediate, instinctive reaction anyone might have while watching TV or reading a paper. The great majority of Comments, I’m sure, are pretty bland observations that don’t contribute much to anyone’s enlightenment, and the genre of Commenting isn’t about to produce a Pauline Kael or H.L Mencken, let alone a William Shakespeare. In an earlier blog post, I also noted how the pervasiveness of Commenting has devalued the value of full-time critics like Roger Ebert – when everyone gets to broadcast any half-thought opinion on anything, perhaps opinions themselves cease to matter much. But in the aggregate, Commenters are keeping the dispensers of “official” information – journalists, musicians, filmmakers, authors, educators, corporations – on their toes as never before. Knowing that whatever expression gets generated will be instantly subject to hundreds or thousands of people’s offhand putdowns, casual cracks, or savage insights, means that those who express themselves have to think just a little more carefully about what they say. Feel free to comment.