Social Networking Alt.

Facebook and Google+ are the primary social networking sites at the moment. YouTube videos have comments below them which can occasionally be amusing discussions too, although YouTube in particular has a tendency to descend rapidly to the lowest common denominators of flaming, trolling, pure hate speech and plain ignorance. An entertaining place is Amazon product reviews. So much more than mere consumer reports, these can be hilarious.

In Amazon reviews the mundane and tedious egotism of Facebook is absent. The usual Facebook gaze at domestic trivia – photographs of our newly decorated lounge – holiday snaps (almost always a bikini clad person by a blue swimming pool in holiday resort sunshine) – crass political rhetoric (usually emotive and unfounded situations requiring immediate response to quash the badness of the world). Often these activist alerts to action are recycled, out-dated, or unfounded. Meanwhile, social networking sites encourage this sharing in order to keep people there and exposed to the advertising.

Amazon reviews are a different space, where products are at the fore, but some reviews take on a character of their own. Once a review is harnessed to humour it develops and stimulates a large response. Some comments are simply saying how much the reader is enjoying the reviews and the product under review is almost irrelevant.

For example, ‘Veet for Men Hair Removal Gel Creme 200 ml’ currently has over five hundred reviews.  I followed a link from Facebook to the Veet review page after it went viral and was being distributed purely for the humour and exaggeration.

Here are some extracts:

“I am giving the product only 4 stars as I feel the instructions should be in larger font so that they can be read whilst crying.”

Whether this refers to crying with laughter or crying from pain I’m not sure.

“Someone put the link to these reviews on my Facebook page, clearly knowing my sense of humour well. I can honestly say, i’ve not laughed as hard since my dad caught his head on the washing line and pinged back with such force, he almost ended up in the neighbour’s garden.”

The reviews are self-consciously performative, with competitive exaggeration about the effects of Veet for men as well as the range of words and terms used to describe the male body. Most are from the man’s point of view, with the humour around men and their privates, how they describe them with a mixture of fondness and mystery, of privacy and showing off. It is a response to the idea of men wishing to remove body hair – a challenge to brute notions of masculinity. Some female writers cheered the men along in support of their struggles with masculine identities.

“This was the most fantastic product ever invented due to the hilarity it has produced for all us women!! Most definitely THE funniest reviews EVER!!!!!”

And another female supporter.

“Thank you so much you silly men who have made my mum and I cry with laughter over their de-fuzzing techniques. The best laugh I have had for a long time.”

A main theme is the excuse of men being required by their wives or girlfriends to tidy up their body hair, for surely it would be un-masculine to want to do it for himself. Masculinity is also  defined as ‘not reading the product instructions’, such as the number of minutes to leave the product to work before washing it away. They chose instead to use large amounts for extended times, even if it meant suffering some pain – after all these are men and they can suffer for their masculinity and men know the over-cautious safety margins on product literature are for wimps.  But also in the texts are men playing with masclininities, with the ability to laugh at themselves, even admit being titillated by the cool cream on their nether parts, before the pain kicked in, or the homo-erotic machismo of having a ‘chum’ apply the cream to one man’s back. He must be very secure in his masculinity that he can allude to homosexuality in humour. I think there is a celebration of the masculine in it’s nuanced and complex depths

“…I as many other before me opened the box, discarded the instructions and applied the magic cream, I mean, who but a total moron needs instrctions on how to rub a bit of cosmetic dollop onto their twigs & berrie etc? Having applied the cream all round the family vegetable plot and getting a “chum” to do the same to my back I decided to lay on my bed for the designated 6 minutes (+ 2 for luck) and let the magic work its wonders. Unfortunately I fell asleep only to wake up 30 minutes later in what appeared to be a burning building but not able to see and blinded by the tears streaming down my face from the pain of the flames licking round my undercarridge. Convinced then that the flames had totaly engulfed me and had already started to cook my entire body I leaped out of my bed and without breaking step dived through the nearest window only to land on the dog who took one look at me, panicked at what he saw, bit me and bolted out of the garden never to be seen again. Now lying naked and screaming in agony in my front garden with what appeared to be a boiling hot rancid smelling black sludge sliding down my body a passer by called an ambulance although at the time I was begging for the services of an exorcist as it was obvious to me that all of Satans little devils were trying to remove my skin with cheesegraters. Having been removed to the burns unit of my local hospital I was given pain killers and sedated for 2 weeks and on my release arrived home to find my bed sheet indelibly marked with the outline of my body burnt into it like a modern day Shroud of Turin. (…) After serious consideration I have decided to give this product 5 stars as the review is for the efficiency of the product rather than the life changing effect of not reading the instructions.”

And another long one.

“I realised all was not well. The most intolerable pain had enveloped the two old boys, and indeed the base of my passion baton. To make matters worse a small amount had dripped over into the dark side, leaving my rectum feeling like a dragons nostril for several days (…) Luckily I was in my garden, and I could hose down the fire with my recently purchased Powerhose. Unfortunately, the local community support officer was strolling by and he arrested me for flouting the hosepipe ban. Neither worth the pain or fixed penalty notice, but five stars for effectiveness.”

Notice the reference to another seemingly unrelated Amazon product purchase – the Powerhose – which happened to come in useful. This nod at the context of the Amazon reviews is subtle and amusing.

More encouragement for the boys in their run of humour.

“Praise The Lord for the gift of laughter. This is by far the funniest stuff I’ve read in a long time. Laughter is healthy, keep the reviews coming! Off to dry my eyes…”

I cannot paste any of the funniest reviews here, being a family blog, so if you wish to see for yourself go to the actual product review pages of  ‘Veet for Men Hair Removal Gel Creme 200 ml’, but be prepared, remember this is the Internet and when men start joking about ‘deforesting’ their ‘gentleman’s log cabin’ etc. there are bound to be some pretty outrageous terms : ) http://www.amazon.co.uk/product-reviews/B000KKNQBK

I saw the Veet reviews several months ago and wondered if they would be taken down as flippant and unsuitable for Amazon, but they are still there at August 2012. I’m surprised someone has not published a small book containing the whole collection, at least someone could archive the whole 500 as a website, before they are eventually routed out by the system. Perhaps someone will publish the whole set as a book, but I will not be buying it because they become quite tedious after the core reviews with the funniest accounts have been laughed at. Interestingly the more recent reviews seem to have taken on a different tone, gone are the extreme stories, instead there are mundane comments about receiving the product in damaged packaging or other slightly negative responses.

Was it all a marketing ploy by Veet? Or at least tolerated by Veet and Amazon for the attention it was gaining, a marketing ploy in itself in a social media driven world.

Clarissa Vincent

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