When the commentariat attacks!: 14 entertaining cases of collective Internet satire
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1-2. Paula Deen’s English Peas/Rachael Ray’s Late Night Bacon
Food Network stars like Paula Deen and Rachael Ray pride themselves on uncomplicated dishes that viewers can easily recreate for their disappointed families on dinner tables across America. The recipe for Deen’s English Peas is roughly this: Drain a can of peas, add half a stick of butter, heat on the stove, and serve with middle finger raised in the air. The recipe for Ray’s “Late Night Bacon”: Eight slices of bacon, a bunch of paper towels, a microwave, and fuck off. Both were easy pickings for Food Network posters, who didn’t disappoint. On the English Peas, some offered fake compliments (“My kids were getting pretty tired of plain old veggies for dinner, so I thought I’d give this one a try. Delicioso!”), some expressed confusion (“Which half of the butter stick do I use?”), some offered substitutions (“I eliminated the butter and in place of the peas, I substituted one can of Chef Boyardee Spaghetti & Meatballs”), and still others dabbled in surrealism. (“I used my Slap Chop to combine this tasty recipe with a photoshopped picture of a nude Rachel Ray. I ate it, and for a week my poop smelled like butterscotch, and had glitter all over it.”) As for Ray’s bacon, it’s more of the same, including praise laced with concern (“tasty… but I could only finish half the paper towels”), sarcastic calls for other late-night recipes like “a glass of milk,” and even a Paula Deen crossover that adds a cup of melted butter as a side dish.
3. AudioQuest K2 Terminated speaker cable
Audiophiles may be inclined to splurge a little on speaker cables: Anyone investing hundreds or even thousands on a top-quality receiver and foundation-trembling speakers probably wants the connection between them to hit a similar standard. Enter the AudioQuest K2 Terminated speaker cable, available for the entirely reasonable price of $8,450. This may sound a tad steep to the more casual listener, but one user review raves, “I was finally able to hear an auditory gem that has been long-rumored among music connoisseurs: Aretha Franklin’s stress-fart just prior to her high A in her recording of ‘You’re All I Need To Get By’.” According to other reviewers, the price isn’t so bad when you consider that the cable was “fabricated from 1,000 Onyx Dragon fetuses,” and gives users “dominion over all animals, great and small,” the ability to read Sanskrit, and godlike powers when its fibers are woven through the fabric of a Three Wolf Moon shirt. The caveats? “My cats chewed on this cable and now they can both speak. One of them is gay and the other wants to kill me. I would have rather not known.” Another reviewer lays out the horror story awaiting anyone who uses the cable: “Sound was never meant to be this clear, this pure, this… accurate. For a few short days, we marveled. Then the… whispers… began.”
4. Three Wolf Moon
It’s rare that a comment-driven meme manages to ripple out from the Internet into the real world, but in 2009, a tongue-in-cheek customer review on Amazon.com led to a 2,300-percent sales increase of the “Three Wolf Moon” T-shirt, designed by Bulgarian artist Antonia Neshev. Thanks to the original 2008 review from “B. Govern”—which raves that the shirt “Fits my girthy frame, has wolves on it, attracts women,” but admits that “wolves would have been better if they glowed in the dark”—thousands of irony-starved Internet denizens raced to purchase and/or post their own hyperbolic reviews of the “power animal” shirt. The shirt racked up more than 2,000 customer reviews (and a 4.5-star rating!) on Amazon, but its meme status spread far beyond the online marketplace, with Three Wolf Moon showing up in tribute videos, parody shirts, and eventually in meatspace on the backs of real human beings—including Dwight Schrute—before eventually succumbing to its inevitable fate as a wadded-up ball of poor judgment in the back of a dresser drawer.
5. Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story
When 40 counts of child sexual abuse were leveled against longtime Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky in November 2011, it brought scandal to a once-revered football program and ended the career of legendary head coach Joe Paterno. When it emerged that Sandusky had penned an autobiography, creepily titled Touched, Amazon users channeled their anger—sometimes with bitter sarcasm, sometimes with raw contempt. “100% false advertising by Mr. Sandusky,” says one. “Not a single page in this book ‘touches’ on how to appropriately gain the trust of young, at-risk boys, and then use that trust to perpetrate horrifying sexual assaults on the very children who turned to you for guidance and support.” In a similar vein, there are other complaints about gaps in Sandusky’s memoir: “It’s an okay read if you’re into learning about the 3-4 defense and how to beat the Miami Hurricanes and stuff like that, but it lacks the most important detail of all: the child rapes. Why isn’t there anything in here about the child rapes?” There are a smattering of five-star raves, however, like one insisting, “The book should be in print, like Mein Kampf, the papers of the Spanish Inquisition, the Thoughts of Chairman Mao, and other such tomes, so it will forever stand as a monument not only to a child molester, but to one who had the nerve to praise himself in print as a great humanitarian.”
6. Tuscan Whole Milk
It’s unlikely that average Internet lurkers are willing to buy their dairy products online; the added cost of refrigerated shipping alone makes that a foolish investment. Since 2006, however, more than 1,300 Amazon customers have been willing to voice their exaggerated, frequently poetic satisfaction (and, on occasion, deep displeasure) with a gallon of whole milk from Dean Foods’ Tuscan line of products. After a handful of satirical reviews, the legend of Tuscan Whole Milk raced across the web with help from a pair of revered geek-culture staples: Boing Boing and YTMND. The meme eventually earned a write-up in The New York Times, not that it needed the imprimatur of the Old Gray Lady to secure greater prominence. Star Wars references (it’s obviously the favored drink of Tatooine’s Tusken Raiders) and reviews presented in the Internet’s most sacred medium—cat videos—guaranteed a long shelf life for the meme, though its most inspired iteration takes the form of a full-length re-imagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” The many hosannas and supposed benefits of Tuscan Whole Milk have since inflated its once-humble price: A gallon of the transformative beverage now costs no less than $45, though one seller is asking $1,245.
7. How To Avoid Huge Ships
In reality, avoiding much larger boats is something all captains of smaller craft must learn when taking to the seas. That hasn’t stopped the Amazon reviews for John W. Trimmer’s ridiculously titled How To Avoid Huge Ships from becoming some of the most snarkily sarcastic on the Internet. Before reading this book, how could anyone have known how to miss a huge ship that just might happen to roll down your street? That’s the tack most of the reviewers take, though a few are disappointed the book wasn’t How To Avoid Huge Shits, as they originally read it, and some complain that the book doesn’t do a good job of helping the reader avoid ships that are merely medium-sized or smaller. And one angry one-star review decries the book as “too informative”—“Read this book before going on vacation and I couldn't find my cruise liner in the port. Vacation ruined.”
8. ______ > Tebow
Nobody is entirely sure how the Bible-thumping quarterback of a .500 team in the NFL’s crappiest division became the nation’s leading sports icon, but there’s no denying that the widely beloved Tim Tebow is America’s modern-day Secretariat. (One difference: Secretariat was somewhat better at throwing a football.) When ESPN executives caught a whiff of Tebow’s demographic-transcending appeal late last year, they sprang into action, saturating SportsCenter and all their other sports-pipes with Tebow bilge: Tebow debates, Tebow “analysis,” Tebow tributes, and hastily cut Tebow music videos. Then one day, on an ESPN.com article ironically titled “Time For Elway To Think Post-Tebow,” a humble hero by the name of “QuanB8” struck a blow for the Tebow resisters. “My grandmother > Tebow,” he typed, and a meme was born. Its premise: Think of something awful, and claim that it’s still greater than Tebow. The subject matter is wide-ranging (“Finding out Carmen Sandiego was in San Diego the whole time > Tebow“) and, given that these are the ESPN.com comments, often troglodytic (“Helping the Little Mermaid with her alge-bra > Tebow“). But the phenomenon is less notable for its wit than its incredible scale. The enormous thread is still growing three months later—a living reminder of Tebow haters’ impotent yet entertaining rage.
9. The Abortionplex
The outcry over the Onion article “Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex” was so huge that it launched Literally Unbelievable, a blog that curates outraged Facebook postings from people who are still somehow unaware that our sister publication is a satirical site. If they had read more carefully, these people hopefully would have realized that testimonials like “[A]fter a couple of margaritas and a ride down the lazy river they’ve got circling the place, I got caught up in the vibe… I almost wished I could’ve aborted twins and gotten to stay a little longer” weren’t real. Then again, the Abortionplex almost immediately spiraled into a semi-plausible reality of its own via its Yelp page, which now has hundreds of reviews. Most of these lack the original article’s, uh, subtlety and tact (not to mention the humor), but the best of them are a pretty hilarious “Yes, and…” expansion on the original idea and each other. They build a weirdly specific world by praising the Orange Julius, six different kinds of cotton candy, IHOP, and lax water-slide rule-enforcement, and decrying the margarita prices, crappy service when you try to use a Groupon, house band Ben Folds Five, and how crowded and lame the place has gotten since The Onion mentioned it. The majority of the reviews, though, are a reminder that satire should probably be left to the professionals.
10. Uranium ore
It’s mildly startling to see a seller offering low-radiation uranium ore (“for educational and scientific use only”) via Amazon. But the listing is a bonanza for more than 300 faux-reviewers, who made the most of the idea with reviews that trend heavily into the realm of absurdist science fiction. The reviews from happy mad scientists who used it for time travel or uncontrolled mutation abound. The reviews also tout its many unlisted uses (“I put it on my cat's food and now it has 18 half lives”), and gripe about unintended side effects. (“I deducted one star because of the giant mutant ants.”) But the best review is the simplest: “I purchased this product 4.47 billion years ago, and when I opened it today, it was half empty.”
11. Megyn Kelly on pepper spray
After footage of UC Davis cop John Pike dousing a line of nonviolent protesters with pepper spray in November 2011 went viral—inspiring at least one brilliant Tumblr page—Fox News bot Megyn Kelly took spin-control duty, telling Bill O’Reilly “it’s a food product, essentially.” Gawker commenters seized on that meme mercilessly, finding other examples of horrifying things that are, in essence, completely harmless. On torturers pushing bamboo slivers under victims’ nails: “It’s a manicure, essentially.” On Zyklon B: “Prussic Acid is a by-product of sugar-beet refining, so it’s tasty, essentially.” On rubber bullets: “It’s a pencil eraser, essentially.” And, of course, the meme extends to Kelly herself: “I’m a new Internet meme, essentially.”
12. Kim Jong-Il’s On the Art Of Cinema
It’s difficult for anyone without a friend in North Korea or a few hundred dollars to burn to lay hands on a copy of the cinematic treatise of late dictator Kim Jong-Il. Luckily, Amazon’s commenters have done the necessary work. One reviewer runs down Kim’s directing credits, from The Diary Of A Girl Student to “lesser-known movies” like Star Wars and The Godfather. Another opines that Kim’s prose is like “delicious ice cream (of the mind)” and that reading the book is like “touching a beautiful woman in a special place and she doesn’t call the cops on you.” A commenter identified as Beck actually seems to have read the book, giving it a one-star review and attacking a substantial quote. But for those who need advice on the best way to kidnap an actress and press her into service, no price is too high.
13. Bil Keane’s Daddy’s Cap Is On Backwards
Nothing gets the snark flowing like mediocrity, and few targets are more tempting than Bil Keane’s cheerily bland comic Family Circus. Newspaper funny pages don’t generally come with comment sections, but thankfully, Amazon.com provides an outlet for frustrated Internet satirists. The results are impressive. The straight-faced commitment of the cynics posting their thoughts on the various Family Circus books works on two levels: the reviews are funny and surprisingly creative, and they also call into question the whole idea of “reviewing” a Family Circus collection in the first place. Some of the joke reviews border on eerie poetry: Under the headline “Existential Angst In Suburbia,” one user talks of Keane’s “vision of what shall become of the post 50s nuclear family when at last it is proven that God has forsaken man to a cold and lonely eternity,” while another goes to extensive lengths to describe his passion for the mother of Keane’s pasty-faced brood. Both reviews are attached to the out-of-print classic Daddy’s Cap Is On Backwards, but some of Keane’s other books (What Does This Say, for instance) have attracted their own share of snickering essays. What could have come off as mean-spirited instead is a perfect example of Internet creativity: spontaneous, unusual, and found in the unlikeliest places.