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Books / eXile Classic / September 6, 2010


When Amazon started printing readers’ book reviews on the net, a window opened briefly on the mental worlds of ordinary people — or, as Harry Dean Stanton so memorably called them, “ordinary fuckin’ people.”

Everyone should have a look at these reviews once in a while, to get an idea of what actually goes on in the heads of the other people who sit in a theater with you, not laughing at all the best lines, and applauding all the stuff you hate.

Hell, it turns out, isn’t other people; Hell is other people reviewing on

And it’s good to get a glimpse into Hell every now and then. Slaps you awake.

To experience this Hell, just find the book or movie you most love on Amazon and read all the reviews. You will emerge a sadder, wiser aestheto-fascist, I guarantee.

And do it quickly, because Amazon’s remarkable venture in practical free speech is ending. In the nineties, before America’s dullard consensus had really gotten the hang of this internet thing, there really was a time when you could post honest reviews on Amazon. That’s over. First they did away with swearing and libel — the very mainstays of critical prose. Then they started insisting that reviewers use their real names, taking all the fun out of impersonating your enemies and plugging your own books.

Now Amazon’s added a feature the FBI must love: a little button at the end of each reader review, labeled “report this.” If you click the button, you get an invitation to turn in the offending review for “appropriate action” by Amazon.

Naturally, “appropriate action” means deletion. As this new feature goes to work, it will eventually grind away all the rough edges of these reviews. Soon nothing will be left but Amazon’s “top reviewers,” a few hundred bush-league Leonard Maltins incapable of blurting anything odd or new. So cherish these blurts while you can. Steep yourself in them. It’s an essential part of a dissident education. And fun, in a painful way, like swimming through a swarm of low-toxicity jellyfish.

I’ve been swimming through the reviews of the film Election posted on Amazon. I wasn’t sure why I picked Election. I love it, naturally. But I love Big Lebowski too, yet didn’t find much fun reading through Amazon reviews of it. For one thing, nearly everybody who reviews Lebowski loves it. How could you not? And there’s not much fun reading reviews by people you agree with. A big part of the pleasure of reading these things is the whip-sting of Wrong Thought.

That’s why the reviews of Election were so delectable: they were full of horrible wrongness, wrong statements by wrong people. I went through all 213 posted reviews the way kids in my high school used to pore over every page of the crash pictures in Highway Patrol magazine: for the sheer horror of it. What did Kurtz know about horror? He never read Amazon reviews of Election.

Election drew all the wrong viewers, sat them down comfortably… and then slashed them across the face with a bleach-dipped cat-o-nine-tails. When it came out in 1999, it was billed as a chirpy teen comedy, with Reese Witherspoon’s dimply smile fronting the ads. When her cornfed fans sat down with their popcorn, Election subjected them to a pitiless, contemptuous, proudly elitist dissection of the loathsome American polity. And this collision of ordinary fuckin’ viewers and Olympian chill-film makes for some wonderfully painful rat-squeaks from shocked Reese-fans who expected some sort of Legally Blonde prequel.

The reviewers you end up almost admiring are the ones who admit with grace that they didn’t get what they wanted:

“when i rented this film i thought it was going to be a cuetsy lil’ thing about highschool….WRONG! i soon realized i wasn’t watching something wholesome and family like. this movie is very, well it’s different. i don’t think i would buy the movie, but it was an interesting one to rent.”

But there were surprises, too. Small ones, like the number of people who whine about having paid a couple of dollars to rent this movie. When did it become socially acceptable to complain bitterly about a few dollars? I seem to remember a culture in which it was shameful to be that cheap. One of the effects of online discourse for the all-too-common Americans is that they’ve made it OK to be as tight as a snare drum.

tracy flick1

And one big surprise: I learned that ordinary fuckin’ viewers require every movie to have a loud, crude, smarmy moral. The most common (and I do mean common) objection to Election is that you can’t “like” any of the characters, and none of them “learn” anything.

A review titled “Immoral Garbage” sums up this argument: “All the major characters are immoral bad people doing immoral bad stuff… nor do any of the characters show remorse or grow in anyway. There is nothing redeming about this movie.”

Some of the disappointed moralists all but plead with the film to help them out a little, like poor Karl Erickson of Dallas, who sobs, “I want to see something redemptive in a movie. I want to see characters – even ONE – change for the better. I want to see people learn lessons. If there are a lot of nasty deeds being done – whether they be sexual, drug-induced, hate-filled, whatever – I want to see someone regret something they’ve done, learn from their mistakes, you know?”

Actually I didn’t know this was such an unbreakable rule. In fact I was in the habit of admiring movies that refused the whole “epiphany” business, like Raging Bull and Fargo. No doubt because I haven’t spent much time in the US for a long time, I’d forgotten that the mainstream there sees all books and movies as so many After School Specials, whose sole purpose is the promotion of public morality.

It seems that not only must the characters learn from their mistake, but there’s a limit on how many mistakes they’re allowed to make, as Karl goes on to imply: “Again, it’s not that I’m a prude, but it isn’t like Broderick’s character is any better off at the end of this movie than he was before he made the MANY mistakes he does here.”

The key phrase here is “it’s not that I’m a prude.” Karl says this twice in his review. Anyone who says “I’m not a prude” once is probably a prude; anyone who has to say it twice definitely is.

And Karl’s not the only one saying it. Jeff Benson of Illinois sums it up in one sentence: “I’m no prude, but I was appalled by the lack of morality of these unlikable characters.” I counted five reviews that contain variations on the phrase, “I’m not a prude.” Helpful hint for prude reviewers out there: don’t use this line. It’s a dead giveaway. There, you can say you learned something from this review, your character grew.

If you know Election, you’re probably wondering what could bother even the grimmest prude. If there’s one thing Election is not, it’s sexy. It’s more like aversion therapy for the lustful. The only sane negative comment on the subject came from a dude in Hawaii who asked the film’s fans, “Are u people crazy this movie sucked a big fat one ….i mean matthew broderick gets it on with a yeti!”

That pretty much sums up the “adultery” which so scandalized most viewers: Broderick lusting after one of the ugliest actresses ever featured in an American film. (And just for the record, he doesn’t even “get it on” with her.)

delany driscoll smiles

The other scene which upsets these people is one in which Broderick, less than thrilled with his plain wife’s mating cry, “Fill me up! Fill me up!,” sneaks down to his miserable basement to watch a porn film featuring ugly actors in their 30s as high-school jock and cheerleader fucking in the locker room.

This comic abomination, which would have Jackie Treehorn in tears, apparently qualifies as what one reviewer called “bad smuttyness.” A viewer in Utah calls Election “…loaded to the hilt with sex, sexual innuendos, and language that would turn your mother’s hair white.” Another simply condemns the “cussing.” (Again, Lebowski haunts this other great 90s film: “Just one thing, Broderick…do yuh have ta use so many cuss words?”)

But one thing you can say about our people: we’re verbally cagey. Several of the reviews hint at outrage that one of the main characters is a lesbian, but only one, Brandon from Kansas, had the honesty to say so: “This movie contains some sex, lesbian issues and things worse than that.” Brandon herself is one of those delightful surprises you encounter reading these reviews. She IS Tracey Flick, (even if she is a he — Flicks come in several genders) and admits it: “[Flick] has the aggression just like everyone has running out for something. Like I did running for Student Council Secretary.”

The review which best sums up all the sorry revelations of the lot is by Russell Rubert from King of Prussia, PA: “…this is less a comedy, then an all too possible headline in your local newspaper you’ll skip this travisty. It is the most disapointing thing I’ve ever seen Matthew Broderick in, with the possible exception of “Godzilla” (The remake) Oh yes, the acting is good, it better be, I’d hate to think these people are really like that. If you are in the market for offbeat, quirky fun, buy Rushmore instead.”

Yes, we love that offbeat, quirky fun, as long as it’s not actually offbeat or quirky. Oh, and of course it has to jerk some tears: “Rushmore was far more poignant [than Election].” Another critic advises, “Whoever wrote [Election] could have learned a thing or two from Rushmore. You can have pretentious, annoying characters, but redeem them in the end so we’re not completely turned off!”

The funny thing is, I hated Rushmore; hated that “quirky, offbeat” protagonist; even hated Bill Murray for lending legitimacy to a film which I knew, somehow, was in the enemy camp. Yet everyone whose taste I respect loved it. I even, uncharacteristically, wondered if I might possibly have been wrong.

Seeing all these Amazon idiots praise it by way of damning Election gave me a wonderfully smug sense that I was right all along — thatRushmore was, as I’d argued at the time, nothing but an adoring biopic about the life and adventures of a young David Geffen.

Thus the Amazon reviews serve another important purpose: their endorsement of Rushmore proves, or at least suggests, that my inarticulate loathing of it was right after all.

rushmore dickhead1

Yet another pleasure in reading these things is the joy of seeing one’s ideological enemies acknowledge a direct hit. The reviews of Election provide many such yelps of pain, like this one: “As a 38 year old male this movie offended me greatly. It was made by MTV films which says alot about the politically motivated aspects of what happens when a Music Video cable channel decides to starts making movies which are politically based and totally one sided. Its hard to believe that Matthew Broderick went from Ferris Bueller (A Hero) to a conniving, evil, audulterer (Mr McAllister). Another thing that hurt (following MTV’S political agenda) was that it glorified Homosexuality and made men look stupid, evil, and immature.”

There it is, the Bush consensus: terrified, vengeful, and hopelessly confused; blurted out more clearly by an anonymous sucker than it could ever be by its spayed official spokespersons.

Seek out these blurts while they’re around. Go to the movie you most love and read what the bad people have to say about it. As a wiser fella than myself once said, “To defeat the bug, we must understand the bug.”

This article was first published in The eXile on March 11, 2005.

John Dolan is the author of Pleasant Hell.


“Pleasant Hell”

By John Dolan

Buy John Dolan’s novel “Pleasant Hell” (Capricorn Press).

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Add your own

  • 1. Wilson  |  September 6th, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Excellent. Especially the paragraph that starts, “Election drew all the wrong viewers, sat them down comfortably… ”

    Another great dissection of American stupidity. I’m just staying out of their way while amusedly watching the whole thing come apart.

  • 2. Mrinal Bose  |  September 6th, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Thanks, John. I can’t agree with you more.

  • 3. Eric Saarsgard  |  September 6th, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    What’s with this reposted old shit? Nobody remembers ELECTION or RUSHMORE.

    Five years on, there are still “relatively” honest reviews of some things on AMAZON. But who cares anyway? People who post reviews on the site are hardly representative of any actual group of humans.

    If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were copping insincere attitude to attempt to make some kind of a pointless point.

  • 4. gazzaj  |  September 6th, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    I am not worthy of Dolan’s pinky nail. So I will respectfully bow to The Dolan.

  • 5. Grazhdanin Kajn  |  September 6th, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Where’s Eileen’s muvi sheeit? The siloviki demand more Eileen reviews. Or snapper Polaroids.

    Carrot ‘n stick: send Eileen to do a review of 1941; we won’t stick around.

  • 6. Tam  |  September 6th, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    My favorite book reviews on Amazon are the ones along the lines of : I don’t normally like books, but I thought this one was great and easy to read!

  • 7. gazzaj  |  September 7th, 2010 at 2:31 am

    Haha, that’s some great editing.

    I thought Pleasant Hell was excellent, so I shut the fuck up

    I thought it’d be obvious i’m an idiot but I guess not.

  • 8. Tyrone Slothrop  |  September 7th, 2010 at 3:47 am

    I personally didn’t like Election, but these user reviews are fucking abysmal garbage.

  • 9. noam  |  September 7th, 2010 at 5:47 am

    What happened to the war nerds proclaimed comeback?

  • 10. Don'tKnowJack  |  September 7th, 2010 at 7:32 am

    Is republishing old articles the best that the Exiled can do nowadays? Granted, the old articles were great, but it’s way past due for new material. Would $10,000 a week be enough for you guys to produce on original article per week?

  • 11. Will  |  September 7th, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Isn’t the good Dr. currently teaching at a university in Iraq? I’m grateful he hasn’t said anything to get himself kidnapped and tortured with power tools by one of those sundry militia groups that go running around, throwing people into dungeons over there. If he got tossed from that school in Canada for encouraging his students to tear into George Monbiot, and had students making anti-Dolan t-shirts in fucking New Zealand because his req. rhetoric course was too hard, I shudder to think what might befall his brilliantly subversive, curmudgeonly self in Sulaimani.

    We wish you luck, Dolan!

  • 12. GSP  |  September 7th, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Decent article.

    I’d like to see what the author thinks after 5 years and the advent of YouTube comments, Yahoo Answers, Fox News comments and other depressing online cesspools of human stupidity that make Amazon reviews look like high literature.

    Remember, even the basest of Amazon reviewers are capable of making it through an entire book…

  • 13. Zirb  |  September 7th, 2010 at 10:28 am


  • 14. buddyX2  |  September 7th, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. True when first said and whenever repeated.

  • 15. John  |  September 7th, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    What the hell? Dolan is in iraq? Where’s this come from?

  • 16. FrankMcG  |  September 7th, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    I did a double take when I saw that I’m still trying to post comments as if my opinions are interesting. They’re not. I’ll defer to real masters.

  • 17. Delahunt  |  September 7th, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    I wish someone would tend to editing the comments.

    Come on, guys. If some idiot like me exists, just edit me, which is even worse than deleting me. Editing me just makes me look like–whatever you want me to look like. I can’t even control my own anonymous comments on someone else’s site–how sad am I?

  • 18. Chester  |  September 7th, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    New content would be appreciated!

  • 19. Bollox  |  September 8th, 2010 at 4:49 am

    Feast your eyes on these reviews of “A Whole New World” by Katie Price & Peter Andre.

    US readers may be unaware of this seminal, epoch making album created by one of the greatest duos ever to grace our miserable planet. Shed your ignorance and embrace the light.

    Sample review:

    If you can imagine a soothing blend of jojoba oils, vanilla, and WD40 being poured into both ear holes simultaneously, then you will have only been able to scratch the surface of the feast of pleasure that is Katie And Pete’s “A Whole New World” Album.

    Similar in it’s ambition to Wagner’s “ring cycle” but less German, “A Whole New World” is one of the best sound combinations that has ever been recorded.

    I also found the case very useful for replacing a tile that had been missing in my bathroom for the past two and a half years. A TRIUMPH!


  • 20. zhubajie  |  September 8th, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    What did you think of “Heathers”?

  • 21. Shadrach  |  September 9th, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Thanks a lot for this article, actually never saw this movie so it inspired me to watch it. What a truly great movie it is.

  • 22. mathias  |  September 11th, 2010 at 1:13 am

    Yep thats exactly why I am reading this stuff.

  • 23. SK  |  September 12th, 2010 at 9:22 am

    Huh, a whole comment on the eXiled site. Sometimes I think my life is going downhill. But then no one ever commented on my homepage, so whatevs.

    Amazon reviews probably isn’t a good cross section of what people think. If you think a movie is alright, albeit not great, then you probably are a braindead twerp like me. If, however, you hated a me, then telling my mom how bad my ears smell was is one of the few paltry acts of sanity you can do.

  • 24. Homer Erotic  |  September 13th, 2010 at 5:50 am

    My personal favorite is what I call “the back-handed four-star review”. This is when somebody gives a book, movie, or whatever a high star-rating and then proceeds to completely trash it in an educated-knucklehead sort of way which is like fingernails scratching across a fucking chalkboard to me. If you like a book or a movie, whether its somewhat flawed or perfect, you should limit for the sake of the integrity of your mental health your visits to the Amazon page for it.

  • 25. boson  |  September 14th, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    this review inspired me to download the film. thanks dr. nolan!

  • 26. Jon Monroe  |  September 15th, 2010 at 10:31 am

    If you get depressed reading the KISS Army Annual Review of Classical Music, the trouble isn’t with the editorial staff of the KISS Army. The blame for this fiasco of horribly-common-people-reviewing-a-movie-that-was-clearly- above-them clearly belongs to the distribution company that allowed the movie to be marketed to the wrong audience.

    Another possibility that might have occurred to Mr. Snootypants is that the movie industry generally doesn’t provide “common people” with drama suitable for their tastes. We live in a country of moralists. Chances are this isn’t going to change anytime soon. The people who wrote those comments expressed their moralistic aesthetic sensibility, just as the voters for the Man Booker Prize do every year, just as Mr. Snootypants did here.

    BTW: This article really has an adolescent tone of contempt… adolescent contempt; by that I mean it sees moral enemies wherever there is disagreement, just like the supposed “commoners” who we have been invited to witness on Amazon. My guess is that Mr. Nolan stared at some Amazon reviews, and the abyss stared back at him.

    (Open to all. Comments can and will be censored at whim and without warning.)

  • 27. zhubajie  |  September 17th, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Watch Hong Kong movies. They always have a sad ending. Usually the girl dies saving her boyfriend.

  • 28. boson  |  September 18th, 2010 at 4:48 am

    just watched the movie. it is indeed a fine piece of élitist contempt for
    OFP. thanks again.
    still, some people are very hard to humiliate: eg. a lot of viewers still
    take Election as a sweet little high school play, only its sense
    of humour is a little weird,must be an accident.

  • 29. Mike Z  |  September 24th, 2010 at 12:25 am

    one of the funniest reviews ever! gonna watch this immoral crap today

  • 30. Tyr  |  September 27th, 2010 at 10:44 am

    This made me think about the time I had the pleasure of watching disgusted teen Johnny Depp fans stream out of a movie theater showing “Fear and loathing in Las Vegas” halfway through. Good times. Wonder what the reviews of that one are like ?

  • 31. Doug C.  |  October 7th, 2010 at 5:36 am

    Rock on my chums, rock on. The same simple minded moral values that trash Election gave us the election of Bush.
    “It’s okay to kill people, just don’t fuck them.

  • 32. shitforshat  |  October 15th, 2010 at 11:36 am

    If only this place was more censored, or if they would practice eugenics on retarded commenters such as myself, this world would be a better place.

  • 33. kiki  |  April 2nd, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    Wow. I had thought I’d plumbed the depths of human stupidity until I found this. You’re all idiots. It’s interesting, you rail on about American stupidity and yet the main thing wrong with America is that it has people like you in it. I mean honestly, what the hell is wrong with the lot of you. I hope someday you learn what thinking actually is.

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