Thursday, February 24, 2011


Here's the third installment in on our ongoing reading of the two Da Capo anthologies, Best Food Writing 2010 and Best Music Writing 2010.

The Zagats

If you've ever wondered how rampant egoism can get with critics, you're in luck. Wordy complaining aside, there's little else that critics love more than to pontificate on the state of criticism itself. It's self-validating: write about your community enough times and people will actually begin to think it matters.

Both books, then, tackle the latest threat to the club, with the ongoing decimation (a real massacre!) of print by the massive hordes online. Whose opinion can you trust now that everyone's got an opinion? While Best Food Writing lumps in a few pieces on a changing-of-the-guard, Best Music Writing offers a couple articles (well, one at least) on why that actually matters.

Best Food Writing

In "Dear Zagat," Tim Carman gives details of the ongoing irrelevance of the guide, which originally started as a crowd-sourced directory, "guiding diners by the collective wisdom of the people," but has succumbed to opaque practices (it's next to impossible to figure out who "the people" actually are) and misleading ploys (for at least some cities, the guide is sold in annual editions even though the reviews are only updated every other year). Zagat has been overtaken by the more transparent soapboxes offered by Yelp, Chowhound, Urban Spoon, OpenTable, etc., favoured by a younger generation that "value transparency among peers (if not in the comments sections of blogs), and its members are strung out on the 24-hour news cycle, which has been addicted to the latest 140-character information bomb from Twitter."

All those outlets might not be a good thing, or so Rachel Hutton explains in "Anonymous Online Reviews Affecting Twin Cities Eateries." While Hutton does give leeway that most online "chatter" about restaurants is positive, it's the anonymous reviews that are troublesome: "Anonymity...means not having to take responsibility for one's words. Opinions need not be justified with knowledge." (Of course, that could equally apply to the positive feedback that Hutton doesn't find troublesome.) There's also a bit in there about how Yelp reps offered to make negative reviews less prominent about businesses that advertise with them or to write negative reviews up about businesses that didn't.

Of course, both pieces might have been great in 2005, when these sorts of revelations might still have seemed fresh and new, but in 2010 both just seem an odd bit of catch-up, save for the fact that attending restaurants increasingly became trophies to collect over that time, and word of mouth seemed all that more important, particularly when immortalized in the online vaults of forever.  Neither piece actually gets into why that actually matters, apart from the context of the victimized restaurant owner, and while they're a good collection of known facts, that's about it.

Points: 0; Running Score: +1.  Neither offensive nor particularly insightful.

Best Music Writing

While Best Food Writing is still horrendous at catching up to all things online, the Best Music Writing anthologies have been quietly (or not so quietly) sneaking in articles from blogs for the past few years now, usually without much distinction. So when they reprint a blog post by Maura Johnston from the Idolator (“Kanye West: Back to Reality?”) about that whole Taylor Swift whatever, running all of a page and a half, along with the comments left on the post that, in print form, take up twice as much space, that’s something.

It sure as hell isn’t about the actual comments themselves, which are generally a bit snarky, a lot jaded, all inconsequential. It’s about the post and the comments as one, a symbiotic relationship spiraling into the infinite unknown. Except that, in this situation, despite the initial fuss and furor it generated, that infinite unknown became devoid of any mystery or meaning as time marched onwards, a sad chronicle about how one moment in time seemed like everything at once and like nothing soon afterwards. (At least until Yeezy came back with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.)

Where this year's anthology explodes - and I mean EXPLODES - is with the inclusion of the transcript of Christopher Weingarten's speech at the 140 Characters Conference. In a highly entertaining and witty speech, Weingarten is able to sum up the problem with both music and food writing - heck, all writing - as it moved to blogs and now to tweets, with emphasis on trends above all else, in this day and age where re-tweeting becomes more important than actually stating original thoughts, this endless cycle of information that gets passed around and around until it no longer means anything:
Crowdsourcing killed punk rock. Hands down. Crowdsourcing kills art. Crowdsourcing killed indie rock. It's bullshit. You wanna know why? Because crowds have terrible taste. People have terrible taste. Once people start talking about indie rock on the Internet, it's all this music that rises to the middle. This boring, bland, white people guitar music. It fucking sucks! I hate it! This NPR bullshit. And NPR is forced to write about it over and over again because it's the "link economy" and people are going to click it if it says "Fleet Foxes." Well, Fleet Foxes fucking sucks. It's not the music that's the best, it's the music that the most people can stand. The music that most people can listen to. If you let the people decide then nothing truly adventurous ever gets out, and that's a problem.

Points: +5; Running Score: +6. Best Food Writing needs a Jonathan Gold to catch this mutha up!

the clutterer Web Developer


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