The tempest over Pete Wells’ review of Guy Fieri’s Times Square continues unabated. Via commenter Dr Duck, the Prick notes Mary Elizabeth Williams’ take over at Salon. She’s got it right, and it may be time to admit that the Prick revelled perhaps a little too gleefully in Wells’ attack, allowing himself to get caught up in what Williams calls “the clever, self-satisfied knowledge among readers that we are not the sort of people who sully our palates with endless bread sticks or something our proprietor calls, without any shame, Donkey Sauce.”
As Williams points out:
What made the piece so arresting, so widely shared, was not that it contributed in any meaningful way to a conversation about food – does anyone read the Times looking for guidance on whether to eat fried ice cream in Times Square? It was that it was in the Times, an institution whose identity is so deeply entrenched in politeness it can’t even bring itself to print the name of the STFU, Parents blog or Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. It was that the Times had served up bullet-riddled fish in a barrel, an impassioned cri de coeur directed at the most mediocre of targets. In other words, it was behaving like just another random troll on Yelp.
Read the whole thing – it’s worth the five minutes. I’ve been troubled by the review – and my reaction – since my first post on the subject, especially since a New York restaurateur friend posted on Facebook that he “found the jubilation, laughter and righteous sentiment expressed by many about a certain NY paper review not very classy”. This fellow knows from classy, and he gave me pause.
Of course, such snobbery can be found more widely than the New York Times. William Deresiewicz points out in a great little piece (again, read the whole thing) over at the American Scholar that a self-reflecting “upper middle brow” culture now dominates amongst the clever classes, but that adds that this culture is every bit as non-threatening and self-affirming as the “Midcult” that clever people used to sneer at. Writes Deresiewicz,
The new form is infinitely subtler than Midcult. It is post- rather than pre-ironic, its sentimentality hidden by a veil of cool. It is edgy, clever, knowing, stylish, and formally inventive. It is Jonathan Lethem, Wes Anderson, Lost in Translation, Girls, Stewart/Colbert, TheNew Yorker, This American Life and the whole empire of quirk, and the films that should have won the Oscars (the films you’re not sure whether to call films or movies).
The upper middle brow possesses excellence, intelligence, and integrity. It is genuinely good work (as well as being most of what I read or look at myself). The problem is it always lets us off the hook. Like Midcult, it is ultimately designed to flatter its audience, approving our feelings and reinforcing our prejudices.
Even if those prejudices are, as they no doubt are with a Guy Fieri restaurant, entirely sound.