[25 March 2008]
As you’re probably aware, these days, Amazon.com sells a lot more than just books. But did you know you can buy almost anything on Amazon.com? Did you know you can buy uranium ore, wolf urine, an artificial insemination kit, a UFO detector, a $40,000 relaxation capsule? Did you know you can even buy a tank?
Some of the things you can buy on Amazon are so bizarre, and their photographs so surreal, that some visitors to the site have been unable to refrain from indulging in a spot of harmless mischief —with highly entertaining results. Take, for example, Amazon.com’s offer of a “Fresh Whole Rabbit”, delivered intact to your doorstep (so unappetizing is the picture that it appears to have been removed from the site, though the equally repugnant-looking Elk Carcass is still on offer, a steal at a $1,225).
Customers agreed. “Nothing says “EAT ME” like a picture of a skinned rabbit carcass!” commented one reviewer. Another added: “I bought this thinking it would make a wonderful gift for my neighbor’s young son. Ordering was simple, and delivery was flawless. So you can imagine the shock and awe not only on my face, but also my neighbor’s three-year-old son, when he opened the package to find a DEAD rabbit.”
Others soon joined in. “A lot of my friends like to shop online, so I added this to my baby registry,” claimed one customer. “My best friend received one at her shower and she loves it! So when I got TWO at my shower, it wasn’t the disaster other duplicate gifts can be!” “The rabbit barely costs anything to care for. I recommend adorning it with a feather boa and keeping it near air vents,” added another. And one wag added the simple advice: “I recommend buying ‘used’ when the option is available.”
Go to the page section entitled “People who looked at this product also looked at…” According to Amazon, people who looked at the Fresh Whole Rabbit and the Elk Carcass also looked at a sample of radioactive Uranium Ore. Now, click on the page for Uranium Ore, and you’ll find 115 gleeful customer reviews, and some amusing customer images to accompany them. “My wife and I purchased this product for the expressed purpose of breeding an atomic superman,” comments one customer. “After a daily regimen of ingesting a tablespoon of this powder mixed with green tea along with her prenatal vitamins, my wife developed serious morning sickness and perished during childbirth.”
Go a little further down the rabbit hole, and you’ll discover that customers who looked at the Uranium Ore also, at least according to Amazon.com, considered shelling out $19.999.95 for a JL421 Badonkadonk Land Cruiser / Tank, $31.95 for 32 ounces of Wolf Urine, and $39,995 for something called a Relaxman Relaxation Capsule. The verdict on the capsule? “I have been locking the wife and kids into the chamber from 7pm to 7am every evening, and boy am I relaxed. This really works.”
Some might describe what’s going on here as culture jamming, a phrase popularized by critic Mark Dery in his seminal 1993 book Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing and Sniping in the Empire of Signs. The kind of culture jamming Dery describes, however, generally involves everyday people expressing their contempt for advertisers through simple acts of vandalism, sabotage, and creative forms like imaginative spoof ads.
Image from Popes on Ropes.blogspot.com ©1997 Abrupt
While Amazon may not be the most popular company in the world—any organization that reaches a certain size is going to attract a number of boycotts and anti-monopoly suits, and Amazon’s database is 42 terabytes, and growing—but the tone of these spoofs isn’t one of contempt or sabotage. They’re more playful than that. In many ways, they seem to be irrepressible responses to the sheer impersonality of Amazon.com, and to the surreal poetry that results from the automated juxtaposition of its products, not to mention the absurdity of some of the products themselves.
So when someone stumbled upon a UFO detector on sale for $94.95, he or she simply couldn’t resist reviewing it (“Sure, keep laughing. It’s all fun and games until they show up at your house. Let me tell you something else, tin foil does not work”). Tin hats off, too, to the inspired soul who lined things up so that “people who viewed “Artificial Insemination Kit” also viewed “Heinz Spotted Dick Pudding, 10-oz cans (pack of six)” (“goes great with poppy cock!”).
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/customer-feedback/