Last week, 85-year-old Grand Forks, North Dakota resident Marilyn Hagerty’s review of the city’s new Olive Garden went viral. Passages such as this one triggered a chorus of guffaws from the Internet peanut gallery:
All in all, it is the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks. It attracts visitors from out of town as well as people who live here.
I didn’t have the opportunity to find Hagerty’s earnest review to be unintentionally hilarious and thus worthy of mockery, since I only became aware of its existence when legendary Internet rock critic Mark Prindle weighed in on the “controversy” on his Facebook newsfeed:
Many things on the Internet are sufficiently bizarre, naive, boneheaded or hilarious to deserve “going viral,” but this Olive Garden review just doesn’t qualify. The woman is 85 years old, lives in a small town and writes for a small town paper. Has our country become so elitist that we find her essentially bland review of a chain restaurant deserving of contemptuous nationwide mockery? If so, fuck you people.
Prindle’s critique struck me as entirely justified. Had I been the first person to encounter this review, however, I can’t say I would have felt that way. No, I probably would have just passed it along to my friends, ridiculing it all the while, without taking the opportunity to figure out what was actually going on here.
The first thing that warrants attention is my (hypothetical) initial reaction. I feel like it would have been akin to failing an implicit racism test. My regrettable response would have placed me squarely among those pseudo-sophisticated Internet users who who are always in on the gag and thus always ready for all-American boy John Krasinski’s knowing wink to the viewers at home. Unpleasant company, to be sure.
Second, and far more important, is how near-incomensurable the worldviews of Marilyn Hagerty and her critics are. It’s not as though she’s speaking an untranslatable language–such a thing wouldn’t be possible, after all–but, geographically and chronologically speaking, she’s coming at this Olive Garden phenomenon from a completely different angle. Hagerty is much closer both in terms of space and time to that generation of Americans who could appreciate the advantages of standardization in an unironic, sneer-free manner than her John Krasinski wink-loving critics are. For her, the fact that a product like the Uneeda Biscuit tastes the same everywhere it can be found is a positive development; the uniform quality of the Italian-style cooking at the Olive Garden–which she recognizes to be a chain, having eaten at an older location in Fargo, N.D.–has a similar appeal.
The interview with Hagerty that appears at the beginning of this post shows that she neither understands nor cares about the reaction to her review. That is not just the appropriate posture to adopt, but likely the only one she’s capable of adopting. At any rate, all of this prevents us from appreciating the lone positive aspect of this story, viz., the fact that an 85-year-old woman is still writing restaurant reviews for a decent-sized Midwestern newspaper. That’s worthy of some attention, too.