The Bubble

"Everyone is a critic."

Critics are ubiquitous but are rarely 24-carat credible.

These days, it seems the entire population of the world has "googled" enough things to generate a malaise of cocksure opinions on a number of subjects. If opinions are in fact like something that rhymes with flagpoles, then there is a lot of tainted information flying around this mean old world, because according to the adage, "everyone’s got one."

Yet, there are those who are actually paid to be critical. They have a background that would warrant their written opinions about said subjects and those opinions are often "ounced-over" on the printed page; as the format for most reviews has been dumbed down to a simple "star system" that we are trained like Pavlov’s dogs to look and listen for.

"Oooo, three and a half stars for the new restaurant in midtown. Count me in. Wait, what kind of food is it again?"
So many things are based on the star system that it is now necessary to have knowledge on why something might be superior to the competition, as long as you know how many stars it has earned.

Think of it like this (and think of it like an SAT question): a wealthy gentleman looks at a wine list in a restaurant, and orders the most expensive bottle on the list, because he assumes it’s the best. Meanwhile, at the next table over, a couple orders a bottle of mid-level priced wine after thorough inspection of the list and a short Q-and-A-type banter with their server.

At first glance who would you presume has A. More knowledge of wine and B. purchased the better bottle?

Aye, there’s the rub.

Wine is not priced like music, so therefore, the more expensive the wine, one would have to assume that it is of increased quality at the varying level in price. To dumb-down the analogy, you will not find a bottle of Cakebread in the discount racks of wine retailers, but it is very, very possible that you will find a copy of "Pet Sounds" and "Revolver" in the discount rack of your record store.

So in this case, it would be quite easy for the wealthy gent ordering the most expensive bottle to appear to be knowledgeable and perhaps more cultured, when in reality, he doesn’t have class, he can just afford the façade of it.

There is a difference.

Though many people envy a critic’s job because it may be glamorous or full or perks, most critics will tell you that it is often a daunting task that is equally saturated in facades.

I know, because I was one for several years.

Now I didn’t go to school to be a critic, I went for journalism, which by nature (at least back then) teaches you to be objective, and as middle of the road as possible. I find it interesting, however, that a simple journalism degree and an ability to write in complete sentences, and not knowledge of subject matter, can get one thrust into the position of, let’s say, a movie critic, when the week prior they were writing the "obits."

We’ve all seen hundreds of movies, but could we write a competent movie review?

For me, the thankless part of the gig was the façade that we had to put up. The pay was so bad at the beginning, that we would be getting a free five-star meal, but would be scrapping to get enough money for tip and parking in the city. I don’t care how confident you are, when you are scrapping through the cup holders to pay to park your car, you feel a bit like a fraud. I used to be so scared everyone from the chef to the customers would see right through my un-tailored suit and know that I had hot dogs for lunch.

So, I did like so many do … I faked it till I made it. After a few reviews and word started to spread that I knew what I was talking about, confidence started to be overcome with a bit of arrogance (which is inevitable if enough hostesses seat you at the best tables and chefs send you out special items hoping you write nice things about them).

Then one day, you find yourself saying something like "will you look at the presentation on this cheese tray" and you realize that you have become something that also rhymes with flagpole.

My wife and I were co-critics, which meant that we would review art galleries, restaurants, bars, concerts, etc. together. Obviously, one reviewer cannot eat all the food to do a restaurant any justice in a printed review in one sitting, so our early courtship dinner dates, were paid reviews. I always loved the way her eyes would twinkle while she was thoroughly questioning the meaning of the chef’s menu choices.

As a result, years after we have turned in our proverbial red pens, our table banter is continually and unconsciously critical. Even the way we order is like we are writing a review. It can be maddening. So, perhaps we are doomed to not ever truly enjoy a meal, because we are trained to be overly critical even when we don’t have to be.

Perhaps ignorance is bliss.

Here on Delmarva, there are no reviews of this nature, and no critics either. The so-called "reviews" that you do see in the glossy monthly mags and weekly rags are done for those who are paid advertisers so the star system doesn’t even fit in this market.

The area has made it that way, and if the area proprietors would rather pay for their publicity rather than earning their restaurant’s notoriety based on product quality, you can’t blame the printed publications for playing the game. No one in their right mind that owns a business passes up a signed check, even journalistic integrity is cast aside in that situation.

Perhaps for this region, rather than a star system, it should be based on the dollar sign system, and not as in price points on the menu, but rather a rating system based on how much money they spend on advertising.

Since they won’t allow unbiased reviews in this town, at least they could be honest and up front with the customer on how they are being graded.

Not to be overly critical.

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