(It's a) Family Affair

February 10, 1999

Net people have long been adept at appropriating stuff for their own ends. So when Amazon.com created room for Netters to review books themselves, it was only a matter of time before some festering subculture crawled into that free space to subvert its intended use. The first radical fringe group to do so? An old hand at this sort of thing: The Dysfunctional Family Circus (DFC).

No doubt, what makes Amazon's free c-space so appealing to this humor mob is that it allows for the same punchy truck-stop mirth it developed at DFC's own site. There, every few days, a panel from Bil Keane's ever-cutesy Family Circus cartoon is posted, sans caption. The page's three editors then put up the best alternative captions submitted. Need we say the submissions aren't as wholesome as Keane's original script? Daughter Dolly looks lovingly into mother Thelma's eyes. She says something: "Eventually you will have to sleep, and then I'll scratch your eyes out, bitch. . . ."

Lately a portion of DFC's 60 or so regular contributors have taken their act to Amazon, which sells Keane's books. What's amazing is how their mock critiques get by the online bookseller, which supposedly weeds out the cranks. "I think the reviewers there must just read the first few sentences and skip the rest," speculates Greg, DFC's Webmaster, who asked that his last name not be used.

DFCers' reviews, like their captions, reek of parody, though they are more slyly worded. In an evaluation of Keane's What Does This Say?, one reader comments, "I found bits and pieces funny, but got tripped up in the frenzy of some of the more high-brow concepts, such as the mysterious Uncle Roy and how he represnts [sic] the undesirables in the world." (How would someone reading the review know Uncle Roy is not a Keane creation but a figment of DFC's collective imagination?) Elsewhere, "A reader from Nutsak, N.J." gushes that the Sing Me a Loveaby? is "the book that Bil Keane has been working toward his entire life."

It might be easy to write off the work of this roving band of Keane mockers as juvenile tomfoolery. But how much critical evaluation does Sing Me a Loveaby? really need? And aren't you tired of Keane's endless homilies to white-bread family life, a life that, as Greg puts it, "hasn't existed since the '50s, if at all"? And isn't it important to remember that things can be employed for uses other than those for which they were intended?

(Also click on Suck's report on even more Amazon spoofs.)

Research Assistance: David Cassel

-Joab Jackson

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