Category Archives: Creativity

What goes on in the comments section below parody reviews on Amazon?

Have you ever wondered about whether or not anyone ever writes anything in that “Comments” section that’s found under each review on Amazon?  As far as most reviews go, I’ve noticed that some readers assign a vote of “helpful” if they like a particular review; however, I’ve also observed that the “Comments” sections usually remain pretty empty.

In the last year or so, I’ve been researching different aspects of parody reviews on Amazon.  And I’ve found that although users don’t typically comment on normal reviews… there are, in contrast, many comments in response to parody reviews of products like the following.

Over the last few weeks, my undergraduate research assistant, Chelsea Lo, and I have been building a data set of comments responding to parody reviews.  Our sample consists of nearly 300 comments responding to reviews written about 6 popularly-parodied products on Amazon.  Chelsea and I have found that the most common types of expressions that appear are ones which show a reader’s appreciation of the review writer’s creativity and cleverness, such as:

BEST. REVIEW. EVER.

or:

I keep coming back to giggle at this post.

or (one of our personal favorites):

I hope you got some college credit for this.

A few even took the form of mock wedding proposals:

Marry me. You are the man?/woman? of my dreams.

The next most common responses are those which pose some kind of a reply that’s directed to the review’s author. Often, these types of responses play along with joke, acting as though they inhabit the same fictional world that’s been created by the parody review writer.  For example, this commenter asks the author of one of the Three Wolf Moon T-shirt parody reviews for more information about the missing ending of the narrative he has crafted:

Hey what’s the end what happened between you and the asthmatic???? Don’t leave us all hanging!!!!! Did you end up ordering the shirt in newborn size? Hmmmmm???

These 2 types of responses account for over 80% of the comments in our sample. The remaining 20% of comments are things like: a reply to another commenter in the same strand  (“I second that impulse to “like.””); stand-alone laughter tokens, for example “LOL!! ” or “BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA“; or random popular culture references, like references to Star Wars, or to lyrics of popular songs.

We found only 2 instances of “policing behavior” (e.g., “Seriously?” , “GROW UP”  ) – and these followed some of the more political parody reviews of Avery Binders, which were associated with Mitt Romney’s now-famous “binders full of women” comment.

By and large then, Chelsea and I conclude that vast majority comments in response to parody reviews on Amazon are favorable, showing affiliation with and appreciation of their authors’ creativity and humor.

Restricted entry: online code-switching and long-distance belonging

This week’s RDM guest blogger, Antonella Gazzardi, takes us on a multilingual journey that started in Orlando’s Epcot center – and eventually found its way to Facebook.

Antonella writes:

I am interested in code-switching practices, their underlying creativity, and how they spill over into social media. I am referring to a way of playing with languages that is shared by a small community of practice I belong to – and Facebook is what allows me to be exposed to it daily. Our community consists of Italian expats who mix Italian and English in a distinctive way, which is very much tied to a specific work environment that we all shared for one year: Epcot’s Italian pavilion food & beverage facilities.

For people who must leave this environment when their visa ends and then scatter around the world, language practices that originally emerged in this face-to face context eventually leak over into social media communication, where it’s possible to reach many people across the globe with one fast, cheap, and simple click. So when a Facebook page was opened to share our memories , it was quickly flooded by comments reminiscing about those days, conveyed, of course, using the particular hybrid language that we have come to identify with our Epcot experience.

The most active participants in the FB group are former employees, who post, comment, and comment on comments, using a jargon that can only be understood if you are … one of us.   This is because some of the unique blends only make sense in that Italian-American working context.  Some of these expressions take on entirely new meanings, which are virtually obscure to outsiders – even if they are bilingual. I’ve been collecting samples of this context-specific language for roughly 8 months, and I have classified them in two major categories.

The first category is word blends and expressions that are context-specific to Orlando/Industry expats. For example, an Italian speaker who is fluent in English may quickly (and correctly) infer that “ciargiare” is an Italianized infinitive for “to charge,” since it has become common for many Italians with some knowledge of English to Italianize technology-related words in exactly the same way. These days, everybody understands “postare”, “taggare”, “hackerare”, or “spammare”, blends that bounce back and forth from offline to online exchanges.  So what exactly  is distinctive about our Facebook posts? This is where I think context, creativity, bilingualism, and code-switching all come into play in a uniquely clever way:

What is a cippettone? What does stampare mean here, if it is not the literal translation of “to print”– which it is not. What is pompa time for bananas? What does push push push and pusha babe! mean when the speaker does not specify what needs to be pushed? And, if one’s “final trip” is not the one to the graveyard, then what is it?

“Cippettone” is a blend of the English word “cheap” and the Italian suffix “-one,” which translates into a “big” whatever noun precedes it. In this case, the augmentative (“-one”) is pejorative in connotation: it refers to a very cheap patron. “Stampare” means to stamp checks, a metaphor for a priori adding gratuities to the bill based on the number of patrons. “Pompa time” is when the “pompatori” (literally, people who inflate) get into action, i.e. servers who are known to regularly make much more money than average ones. So “pompa time” is rush hour, when skilled servers can upsell and turn tables as fast as possible, which is what “push push push” and the blend “pusha babe!” mean. Of course, in so doing they make lots of money, affectively nick-named “bananas”, maybe because of their golden skin. And when their one-year work contract is over, it’s time to use  time left on their visa to travel around the United States before heading home: the “final trip.”

The second group of posts consists of somewhat less context-dependent, but still community-contingent, instances of code-switching used by expats for communicating specific types of information.  These language switches often refer back to a past event, or a memory of the time spent working at Epcot.  Here’s are a few examples from FB:

“Se per quelli che erano all’Alfredo, many years ago, ma ve lo ricordate Charlie, il cameriere brasiliano?”           (For those who worked at Alfredo’s, many years ago, do you remember Charlie, the Brazilian server?)

No way!! Il vino la sua ossessione!”                                    (No way! Wine was his obsession!)

“(…) Family numerosa !”                                                                   (Big family!)

These three comments, like many others, use Italian syntax and vocabulary for the most part, but occasional English phrases or words are dropped in that tie their authors back to this specific bilingual community. Because most of the members of the FB group are Italian, there is no need to use “many years ago”, “no way”, or “family” instead of their Italian counterparts here.

This language use is automatic, it expresses being part of a community, and it reinforces the bond shared by those who have had common experiences in this particular setting. In fact, I have found that this jargon is kept alive across continents by those of us who are former Epcot employees – but when we communicate online about things other than our Epcot experience, we very rarely code-switch.  Therefore, the mixing of codes that I have been studying is both functionally and contextually specific.

Woman Banned from Yelp! for Breaking Online Community Norms

One of the highlights from this semester has been my Lang & Tech students’ contributions to what I call “Digital Show & Tell.”  Each class session, a different student brings in some sample of internet discourse and explains to us what they find interesting about it.  We’ve talked about copypasta, Tumblr chats, CoffeeDad, Redditt’s photoshop battles, confessions on scarymommy.com, and many other weird, wonderful, creative – and very often, humorous – internet phenomena.

Today’s RDM guest blogger, Judith Bridges, chose to focus on one particular Yelp reviewer, who has been appearing on different social media sites for her uniquely irreverent approach to reviewing.

Judith writes:

My digital show-and-tell is the case of Nathalie Walker who wrote reviews of businesses on Yelp! where she went on dates, basing the review content exclusively on how the date went. If the date was a disaster, that business got 1 star. When the date resulted in a four-and-a-half-year-long relationship, that business got 5 stars.

Nathalie has Instagram  and Twitter accounts, where she posted screen-shots of her disorderly Yelp! reviews to share them with her friends. Below is an image she posted on Instagram of her first four date reviews on Yelp!:

Instagram YelpReviews

 

Soon after, she was notified by a Yelp Support employee named Pam that her behavior disobeyed Yelp’s Content Guidelines. Nathalie used this opportunity to ask Pam out on a date. Nathalie continued to share screenshots of her email dialogue with Pam on social media. Her multimodal communication practices, i.e. sharing screenshots on Instagram and Twitter of her unruly behavior on Yelp, eventually helped her date reviews go viral after Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, Yahoo, Self and other websites featured her hilarious story. She even got positive tweets from ex-boyfriends —  as well as the writer of the song alluded to in the review above.

I believe this example is notable because it shows how in online spaces, there are norms of communication, established by the online community, which regulate the discourse in that particular space. As Kiesler, Kraut, Resnick, and Kittur (2011) point out, “normative behaviors may be codified and articulated or may be left implicit, and they may be contested by some members at times, but most of the time, people will agree about behaviors that are acceptable, and those that are not” (p. 3). Rules for online communication can either be developed, negotiated and co-constructed by  users, or they can be set a priori by  moderators who regulate people’s communicative behavior (Kytölä & Westinen, 2015). When someone disobeys the set conventions in a particular online space, this behavior stands out. In some cases it can be considered trolling, but in  the case of Natalie W, her  unique approach to review writing makes her texts comical. For regulated sites like Yelp!, texts that challenge community norms are removed, but that didn’t stop Natalie W. from continuing the comedy show on other platforms, and this is likely what helped her story go viral.

Blommaert and Varis (2014) explain that virality comes from the re-entextualizations of existing signs, or “meaningful communicative operations that demand different levels of agency and creativity of the user” (p. 16). Although Blommeart and Varis (2014) focus on memes, I would argue that what Natalie W. has done on Yelp! (and sharing the screenshots on other social media) performs a similar action of taking something recognizable, giving it a new and unique twist , and re-contextualizing it across various social media sites.

It’s worth noting that Natalie W. was aware of the impact negative Yelp! reviews can have on a business, especially a small one. This is why she only left these reviews for only large companies who wouldn’t be hurt by a 1-star review, such as a football stadium or Times Square. “If someone decides not to attend Yale University because of a one-star review some bizarre Internet girl wrote on Yelp!, that person probably should not be attending Yale University,” she said.

References

Barnes, Z. (2016, Jan 11). “This woman got banned from Yelp for her hilarious date reviews.” Self.com Retrieved from http://www.self.com/trending/2016/01/this-woman-got-banned-from-yelp-for-her-hilarious-date-reviews/

Kiesler, S., Kraut, R., Resnick, P., & Kittur, A. (2011). “Regulating Behavior in Online Communities.” In R. Kraut & P. Resnick (Eds.) Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence-Based Social Design (pp. 125-178) Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kytölä, S., & Westinen, E. (2015). “I be da reel gansta”—A Finnish footballer’s twitter writing and metapragmatic evaluations of authenticity. Discourse, Context & Media, 8(1), 6-19.

McNeal, S. (2016, Jan 10). “Woman gets kicked off Yelp after posting a bunch of reviews of her dates.” Buzzfeed.com. Retrieved from http://www.buzzfeed.com/stephaniemcneal/yelp-date-reviews#.hsZwdVEK5

Varis, P., & Blommaert, J. (2014). Conviviality and collectives on social media: Virality, memes and new social structures. Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies, 108, 1-21.

Get your Pumpkin Spice here

This week, RDM shifts from the usual focus on online reviews, as guest blogger Zoë Vercelli addresses one of the hottest topics in social media today: pumpkin spice.

Basic White Girl

 

White Girl Yoga Pants

Zoë writes:

You’d think Florida was on the cusp of a white Christmas, given the recent ubiquity of fall colors, flavors and… marketing strategies. So begins Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte season, a beverage so embedded in American culture that it’s earned its own acronym, the PSL (or at least one that Starbucks hopes will catch on). Anyone in even a casual relationship with social media has probably noticed the schizophrenic oscillations between revering and mocking all things autumnal, played out in dozens of internet memes similar to the ones above. All seem to draw clear correlations between loving lattes and one’s race, gender, and socio-economic status. The PSL trope tells us that pumpkin spice is catnip for White Girls; that a PSL is a dead giveaway that you are a “Basic B*tch”; and that only the upper-middle class (or aspiring) can afford that daily grande latte anyway.

At first glance, one may associate this love/hate relationship as simply reflecting our cultural attitudes toward the Starbucks brand – which introduced the PSL in 2003 – but I believe the memes index much deeper levels of cultural associations. First, the racial: it is clearly assumed that the PSL, and more broadly the notion of pumpkin spice and all things “traditionally” autumnal, are cultural touchstones for the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant pseudo-majority in the United States. Why is that? We as cultural observers sometimes forget the tremendous role that climate plays in shaping our deeply held values and perspectives. Autumn and winter are part of our white European DNA. Don’t believe me? Try to imagine religious Puritanism arising from a hot and sultry region. The cultural construct of “coziness” is a lodestone of tradition for wintry northern European and Scandinavian peoples; the Danish call it hygge, a warm intimacy that a friend describes as “tucking each other in for the winter.” But is it fair to say that “pumpkin spice” indexes an entirely different set of cultural associations for White People than for everyone else?

Caught up in this notion are certainly our gendered attitudes toward the limited roles the aforementioned White Girl can play. In particular, the concept of the Basic B*tch indexes the painful uncoolness of the White Girl – the kind who breaks out the seasonal potpourri, cries during It’s A Wonderful Life, and also speaks fluent Starbucks (so make that PSL a venti non-fat double soy-whip with stevia to go, please). The special viciousness of other women when criticizing the Basic B*tch, if anything, belies a deeper discomfort regarding our own limiting roles, implying there are, at most, a handful of ways to be a Woman, some better and some worse. Even Hillary Clinton attempted to subtly ditch her white uncoolness recently, telling fans during a press conference that she “used to like” PSL.

Finally, simply patronizing Starbucks requires a certain amount of disposable income – a grande will run $4.50 or more – so any socio-economic correlations we sense as a culture are easy to draw. But why is loving autumn and fall flavors associated even further with class? Our cultural construct of autumn indexes concepts of leisure time, elaborate holiday gatherings, and luxurious flavors that were once exorbitantly expensive. Exotic spices such as cinnamon and cardamom were only introduced to the European palate as a result of the spice trade beginning in the Middle Ages with India, China, and (then) Ceylon, and were revered as delicacies available only to the upper class. Is it possible that over a thousand years later, our class associations with these flavors are still holding strong?

Either way, I am a White Girl who dearly loves autumn, but I’ll skip the Pumpkin Spice Latte, thank you very much. I’d just spill it on my new Uggs, anyway – and you can’t get soy whip out of suede.

 

People Hate Them on Yelp

 

A few months ago, I wrote about my interviews with owners and managers of local restaurants – many of whom were not at all shy in voicing their negative opinions about Yelp.  Part of their frustration, I think, comes from businesses’ inability to “opt out” of Yelp.   For example, one manager I spoke with said: “I wish I could remove my business from their site.”  But Yelp lists businesses whether they want to be listed or not.

I just learned about a West Coast restaurant that has been waging an anti-Yelp campaign and exercising its agency in an unusual way: by offering customers a discount if they post 1-star reviews of their business.  Yep, you read that right.  They are encouraging people to write negative reviews about their business on Yelp!

People Hate Us on Yelp

This tactic (which I mean in the Certeauian sense) simultaneously taps into some reviewers’ creativity and desire to write witty, parodic texts.

Here are some highlights:

Terrible.   They would not allow me to bring my own food from home and enjoy it in their warm and inviting dining room.

The service was way too friendly. I had to take a half day vacation due to the options. Way too authentic and reasonable too. Nothing like Olive Garden where you get all that bread and salad.

I don’t understand how this place is still even open! The place is too clean, there’s tons of alcohol behind the counter, and the food is good?

As one reviewer writes: “Brilliant way to stick it to Yelp.”  But at the same time, this tactic creates a conundrum for those reviewers who really do have a complaint with the establishment, since it may be difficult for readers to discern a “real” negative review from the dozens of “fake” 1-star reviews (many of which are ambivalent in the sentiment they express).

 

Pocket Shakespeare for your Iphone

I am always inspired by people who are creative and resourceful, and who make their ideas come alive.

About a year ago, my writer friend Jim set a goal for himself to re-read all of Shakespeare’s plays.  And while he was at it, he decided he would write a short (around 300 words) summary of each.  And if that wasn’t enough, he decided to learn the ins-and-outs of creating an I-phone app at the same time.  The exciting result of this project is Shakespeare 300.

Shakespeare

It’s an I-phone app that provides cool visuals, infographics and overviews of all of Shakespeare’s plays, so you can brush up on plotlines, characters and related trivia – while you’re waiting to get in the door, during intermission, or whenever!

Check it out for more info: http://www.shakespeare300.com/

Social media in the movie “Chef”

A couple of weeks ago, I went to go see Chef. I had read a review that described it as “food porn,” so I knew that it would be my kind of movie. It was pretty good (I mean, it’s no cinematic tour de force…but it IS a nice, light, entertaining way to spend 2 hours in a dark and seriously air-conditioned room). Plus the basic message was a pretty easy one to get on board with: Be true to yourself, follow your passion, and you will be rewarded with both professional and personal successes.

What I found most interesting about the film is the key role that social media plays in it. Social media (especially Twitter, but also Youtube, Facebook, Vine, and text messaging) is absolutely central to the narrative arc of the film. In fact, it’s hard to imagine this story working at all without all of these social media elements, which fuel both the film’s “complicating action” as well as its “resolution” (to use some terms from a very well-known sociolinguistic model of narrative structure.) And, hard as it may be to believe, Twitter actually gets more screen time than Scarlett Johansson!

There’s also a lot of metadiscursive “topicalizing” of social media. In other words, the characters TALK about social media throughout the film. Especially the main character, who comes across as though he’s been living in a bubble for the better part of this century, and is just learning about all this “internet stuff” for the very first time. This trope of the 40-something-technologically-out-of-touch-dad learning about the wondrous workings of social media from his pre-teen son did get a bit old for me after a while.

Nevertheless, it’s a cute little movie, and one that reflects how technologically-mediated our lives are at this point in time.