OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Roll over New York review - Make way for Danny Yee

Center for the Humanities Newsletter Photo
Lisa Ede

Bob NothingElse and Danny Yee are making inroads into "high" culture by not waiting for the New York Times Book Review to publish their words. Instead, they're posting book reviews - thousands of them - on the World Wide Web where many thousands of fellow citizens and readers make a regular habit of reading them. The phenomenon, said Lisa Ede, is challenging usual cultural authority.

"When on January 3, 2004, I typed the words 'book reviews' into Google, the first five sites that Google presented led to The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, the American Library Association's Booklist, Bookwire - and Danny Yee's site," said Ede, a Research Fellow, professor of English, and director of the Center for Writing and Learning at OSU. Danny Yee is an IT - Internet Technology - expert at the University of Sydney, in Australia, who has published reviews for more than 700 books on his personal Website. In 2002 alone, the site registered at least 900,000 hits from readers.

Ede's research project, "Citizen Reviewers: Popular Culture, Technology, and the Circulation of Cultural Power," will investigate the citizen reviews, which she characterizes as "thought-provoking sites of rhetorical performance. They also represent potential challenges to hegemonic cultural forces that currently authorize, disseminate, and evaluate cultural production."

While many of the reviews are on personal Websites, some are published on sites such Amazon.com, where more than a thousand readers have posted reviews of Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible. Amazon also has encouraged customer reviewers to link multiple texts to the site. Ede's study will include discussion of one writer, Bob NothingElse, who not only posts numerous reviews but offers text links such as one to Bob NothingElse's So You'd Like to Inadvertently Become Known as a Wry Intellectual Guide.

Ede's study focuses mainly on the personal website reviews, not only of books but also of films and music, all of which are proliferating rapidly. "Thanks to the development of online technologies, citizen reviewers are challenging conventional distinctions between high and popular culture and between those who are granted the authority of 'expert' reviewers and ordinary readers and writers."

After beginning the study, Ede learned that a young man who has an ongoing powerful impact on Web culture lives in Corvallis. Paul Bausch is one of the co-creators of Blogger, the software that really fueled "web logging," or blogging, which is defined online as "a mixture of what is happening in a person's life and what is happening on the Web, a kind of hybrid diary/guide site." Bausch also maintains a number of websites, including Bookwatch, which reports which books are being most discussed in blogs throughout the United States, and ORBlog, with information about blogs maintained by Oregonians. Bausch is proving a valuable source of information in Ede's study of the web-commentary phenomenon.

Ede is particularly interested in the extent to which such forms of popular culture may represent resistance to cultural hegemony, and what might be learned by scholars regarding capitalism's ability to "co-opt and commodify such potential resistance by studying diverse forms of popular culture, from films, television, and music to online fanzines."

With this historically unprecedented direct access to a huge audience, no one need wait for fame and influence. "Individuals with a desire to 'make their mark' on the world can do so via now the World Wide Web. Online technologies are enabling ordinary individuals to claim new forms of cultural power and are challenging ideologically grounded assumptions about who can -- and cannot -- produce knowledge."

Ede's most recent book is Work in Progress: Writing and Revising, 6th edition.