The Return to All American Standards (Part Three): The 2009 Unveiling of Food Critics (Essay #9)


One of the major features of the post-Information Revolution culture has been the rise of “independent” reviewing. The rich used to effectively control reviewing and other standards until Information Revolution when a good deal of control was relinquished to remain competitive. Independence relates in a big part to the consumers making independent choices based on information acquired mostly from the web. During this time, the established media reviewers also became more prominent and “independent” but since the economic downturn, the media reviewers are losing power. The economic downturn has forced everyone to change life and business strategies. It is obvious that the business world changes so the elite can make more money and since “empowerment” does not bring more profits, the rich may wish to do without “empowerment” by returning to All American standards. If they are doing this, they have to “fix” the “independent” reviewing systems and return to the old system of “telling” the public how to spend. The process may prove to be harder than thought because the effects of the Information Revolution has been here for over 20 years. On the other hand, tight money makes consumers less powerful and it may be possible to effectively “tell” people how to live again. A few months ago, the big media, which is owned by the elite, began attacks on the integrity and the effectiveness of long-established reviewers such as Robert Parker and regional newspaper reviewers who are traditionally anonymous. American public should be aware the elite media attacks to reduce the power and independence of prominent reviewers increases the influence of the rich, and can set the stage for a return to the All American standards of pre-Information Revolution.

The system of doing what one is told to get what one needs is a common standard in the US. Americans learn a good deal about America’s standards in public schools and playing the game is one big American standard. Americans have become accustomed to the system of playing the game and getting by, in education, rather than achieving any difficult objective standards. For example, when Americans attend public schools, it is common practice to get “help” from the teachers instead of achieving honest standards. Most high school graduates are practically illiterate and the instructors advance them through the levels to conform to the system. It is common practice, for the students, to be given the answers for tests and prepare for an exam based on only those answers. That may be cheating ethically but not culturally. The high school diploma is fake but accepted domestically. The same can happen in other areas of the society when standards are needed for decisionmaking. The homemade standards serve a few great while costing everyone else and they have a big “All American” sticker warning not to question or meddle with the standard.

The “playing the game” standard was once the norm in America. The entire US was run based on this All American standard of playing the game. Everyone, nationwide, understood when “told” what was acceptable or not. They played along by agreeing thus Americans have historically been labeled as “conformers.” It is said that Americans volunteer to conform – do what told blindly – more than any other culture. Only a couple of decades ago, no smart American would talk bad of America. Good Americans were All Americans and what they were told from above was all there was. This country functioned well for the top people. American business had many Golden Eras and Golden Ages in many industries. Life was good and America looked great. The Information Revolution changed that. The Joe Nobodies could express own thoughts and be heard. A new economy and a new culture were born. That was the Internet era which had few controls. America did okay during the Information Revolution and after. Today, America, which means American business owned by the rich, is in trouble. Something American has to be done about this. Something American should intervene and save everyone before America becomes not what it is (great?) The responsible caretakers of America, who are all rich, have America’s best interest at heart and may have intervened already. They want American business to do better. They want America to do better. They know what is wrong and always take steps to fix them. They know best who and what is or is not All American. They know what to change to fix things. They know All American standards worked great in the past. America shined when things were All American. Everyone agreed America was great then (or they surely stopped to exist socially, economically, etc.) Why not go back to All American? What does truth has to do with standards? This is about America.

The 2009 Memorial Day was followed by media attacks on “independent” critics. I noticed attacks on newspaper critics known for being harsh (independent?) and Robert Parker, the prominent wine critic, who established “independence” in wine reviewing. On that day, I made a note, in the back of my head, that it had happened again. It was day after Memorial Day and something peculiar was in the media. Somebody must have been doing something that seemed wrong and the media was attacking.

Memorial Day has always been an interesting day for me. As a restaurant manager, I used to quiz my staff. Hardly anyone knew what “Easter” was. That included the Spanish staff who were Catholics and went to church. I always found these holidays amusing. An employee, who was in college, once asked me “What is Memorial Day anyway?” I thought about answering him but just walked away. I remember Memorial Day for another reason. It seems to me that every year on the day after Memorial Day some business raucous is raised in the media. It always happens on the day after, unless my memory is wrong, but does happen annually anyway. The media actions, on this day, always seem patriotic but then appear to be about big money. Somehow the issue, which comes with media attacks, is always about big money. I wonder if this is some fraternal elite American practice to follow an All American holiday with attacks on what is portrayed as un-American? I don’t know the answer but that un-American, which is attacked, is always business-related and confuses me because it is not un-American.

The elite own the food, wine, restaurant, hospitality, media and all the rest of the industries. “Independent” reviewers such as Parker grew strong under them because high status reviewing promoted their businesses directly and indirectly. This worked well during Information Revolution era until the downturn of 2008. Today, the “independent” attitude does not help those with the most products to sell. The products are the same but the consumer money is tight. The limited spending money keeps moving to where the “independent” recommends and that is not always where the elite wants the money. A less “independent” Parker would be preferable to “help” flow the consumer spending in the right direction. The 2009 attacks wore out in the media but everyone got the message that the “independents” were losing power. Shortly after, the influential Decanter magazine named a top wine executive (who runs a company with enough supermarket wines, in stock, to get the entire US drunk at once) as the most powerful man in the wine industry. Parker had dropped to number two. Will the public value Parker’s review as much? Maybe or maybe not but the corporations, which prefer to “tell” public what to buy are free not to follow Parker. He is not “the” authority. Another gentleman knows better. Lucky for them, somebody else and not Parker knows what is best. The “independent” reviewer was replaced with a member of “the elite” who understands the elite priorities better. The attacks and the crowning of a new king had All American written all over.

The newspapers in New York and San Francisco also got the message loud and clear that day. Something had to be done about those critics. Food critics may not run the world markets but they set one standard for “independent” reviewing for the public. Their power or weakness communicates to the American public how free the public can think and speak. Newspaper reviewers are the big guys who can stand up to those other big guys and get away with it. They could write “bad reviews” at will and the reactions by the big guys were not effective enough to control them. On the other hand, the new less “independent” system, created by the unveiling practice, guarantees mostly good reviews compared to the system being replaced. That is very American. Why let people who say bad things about America and American businesses keep doing what they do? Why not get responsible All American folks to represent America and American businesses better to the public? It can be done but what if the new folks are deemed biased, by the public, and nobody will listen to them? The public do not listen to the government much since the Information Revolution. Internet provides non-government filtered news and information. Government has no monopoly on some information and public can ignore. The same can happen to the reviewing of products and services. Public can find any alternate resource and ignore what is told. Then it is best to keep the independents’ system but “control” and “manage” it. If the public believes the “independent” critic, the industries have to “help” the independent writers say better things about America and American business. That will be a workable standard. The elite have enough control to “tell” the public but the public hears it from “independent” reviewers.

Unveiling of food critics is a huge step in the direction of replacing independent reviews with controlled reviews for the sake of the ownership. This year it has become fashionable to unveil the food critics thus enabling the public and PR to pressure them effectively. In general, a bad or unfavorable review can bring an unfriendly or hostile business reaction and the elite know this. The unveiled reviewer will have to consider personal social factors when deciding to write poor reviews. Additionally, if the unveiled critic can be easily spotted in the restaurant, bad reviews can be dramatically reduced. The unveiled system works similar to our high school standard. The restaurants have the right answers for the reviewers (examiners?). They just need to know when is time to provide the answers for a high score while keeping up a poor standard at other times. The reviewers also can be “trained” to know what not to write because anyone can recognize them now. Recognition is a great tool for control. This may help many businesses but only people with power can initiate and bring about changes such as the 2009 unveiling and media attacks.

Hospitality, food and wine review is a standard that can be “independent” or subject to outside forces. The present system has been successful for many years. However, “Independent” critics are not good for below par businesses especially during hard economic times. Anonymous critics have the freedom to write without worry. The anonymous critic can visit and review a restaurant effectively. It is important to remember that only a small percentage of independent restaurants operate efficiently at all times. A good number operate below objective standards in service, food quality, and beverages at all times. Restaurant owners are motivated by making money and only interested in standards that help with the money. “Independent” standards that help consumers and the industry are of little interest to majority of the restaurants. An effective critic can recognize the shortcomings but the critic needs a strong system to experience the restaurant as really is. Multiple visits and anonymity have been successful strategies. The restaurants go about their business, without awareness of being reviewed, and are reviewed more accurately. This may not be a good review but is a reliable system for the public. On the other hand, an unveiled critic is recognized easily. The restaurants can go about doing business in their own way, until a critic arrives and is spotted. Then the establishment can put on a show, of its best, for him or her. This show does not represent what the restaurant is for an average diner. It is an orchestrated effort to get a “good grade” as taught in American public schools. Fortunately, critics usually send other journalists to do preliminary research and already know what is good, bad or awful at the restaurant before arrival. This “uncalled” pre-reviewing is deemed unAmerican because the restaurant does not know a review is underway and being scored.

Today, economy is bad and businesses want an easy system to keep making money in harder times. The standards in reviewing need watching today because the pressure is in the direction of making the money flow where the rich have their interests and the consumer interests are not necessarily there. This conflict will not go away unless the economy takes a turn for the better and more money flows to the interests of the rich regardless of what the “independent” reviewers may say. The elite will continue to make attempts at ruining the “independent” reviewing standard to control public spending and will come up with newer ways of achieving this unless watched and dealt with.

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