At the end of last week, a restaurant review “went viral” because that’s the world we live in now. Writing for the Grand Forks Herald, Marilyn Hagerty reviewed the new Olive Garden in Grand Forks. She went, she explains, in the middle of the afternoon, six weeks after it opened, because prior to that the lines had been too long. For the most part, the review is actually just a list of facts about the Olive Garden: how much their lunch special costs, the fact that they have a full liquor license, and that there is seating near the entrance for people who are waiting for a table. It’s all very matter of fact.
At length, I asked my server what she would recommend. She suggested chicken Alfredo, and I went with that. Instead of the raspberry lemonade she suggested, I drank water.
Right. Later, Marilyn says that when she returns to the restaurant on a hot summer’s day, she will get the recommended raspberry lemonade. All in all, she gives the restaurant a rave review and the whole thing has the faint whiff of parody that accompanies anything done with genuine earnestness these days. If someone seems to actually care about what they’re doing, it’s got to be a joke. In any case, the review got picked up by blogs or whatever, and has hundreds of thousands of views, which means that the whole thing is now a genuine “news story.” Or so claims the news. Here is a nationally broadcast television interview with the reviewer, Marilyn Hagerty, about her experience at the Olive Garden and what it’s like to “go viral”:
Oy oy oy. (One could make the argument that CBS This Morning is hardly news, but it is watched by millions of people and purports to deliver some form of informational content. It’s close enough.) Talk about parody! This entire segment feels like it was made for the Onion News Network podcast. “What does it feel like to go viral?” QUIT YOUR JOB AND GO LIE DOWN IN YOUR BED AND TURN OFF ALL THE LIGHTS.
I’m sure this isn’t a new phenomenon. The news has long struggled to fill its airtime with information about the world we live in without bumming everyone the fuck out. People can only take so much of what is actually going on and then at a certain point you apparently do need to interview the owner of a dog who thinks it’s a piano or what have you. So, it’s hard to argue that the Internet is somehow responsible for this. Although it does seem like what used to be fodder for a Jay Leno desk piece is becoming increasingly less comedic and more “news-worthy.” But the worst part about the LAMESTREAM media’s attempts to cover the big on-line stories is the ways in which its generous air of positivity and “light news content” doesn’t jibe with what it’s actually reporting. There is something dark and sinister about the viral success of The Olive Garden review. It wasn’t popular because it’s charming or displays a previously undiscovered talent. When Marilyn Hagerty happily describes that people sent her emails telling her that she was pathetic, she taps into the black heart of the Internet. And the scrambling attempts of the interviewers to remind her that she isn’t pathetic at all and that most of America appreciates her work is itself pathetic, not to mention wrong. I’m not sure that we have the time or the attention span to get into the painfully disheartening reality of a world in which people feel compelled to write a what has to have been grammatically impossible message to a complete stranger out of the blue to tell her that she is pathetic just because they casually scanned something she wrote during their lunch break at their own much-hated jobs. We talked about this last week. I think it’s a real problem. But the cruel email messages aside, the more painful truth that those cruel emails suggest is that we are all feeding on this same yucky energy, like the citizens of New York in Ghostbusters II, getting into screaming arguments in the street without even realizing that it was because of the haunted slime coursing through the sewers below them.
When I say that the news shouldn’t talk about the Internet, it’s not just because it’s not actually news, although that’s definitely true. It’s because unless we’re ready to tell the whole story, then it’s not actually true. At the very least, even if you are reporting on something that hardly deserves it, at least tell the real story. Which is that people are bored and small-hearted and even if they do not hold any hatred in their heart for the humble restaurant reviews of an aging and seemingly kind midwestern woman, they certainly enjoy feeling superior to others at every opportunity, because life is so full of the opposite. Most of us, on an all too regular basis, feel the opposite of superior, which is a heavy weight to bear on top of all the other things we have to deal with (death, loneliness, AmEx bills). But so if you work for the news, don’t trot the Marilyn Hagertys of the world out onto the big stage unless you’re ready to actually shine the real light on them, which is a sort of dim, greasy, ultraviolet thing that points out all of our blood and semen stains, like some kind of Very Special National Subconscience webisode of Room Raiders.
Either that, or people just really like Olive Garden getting the critical respect it has long deserved.