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For many years I greatly enjoyed posting restaurant reviews for Zagat. I stopped doing it a few years ago after Google bought out Zagat and it went from being a subscription-based enterprise–and so the people writing reviews were more serious because they had to pay to be part of it–to a wide-open venue. Since then I started reviewing for TripAdvisor (admittedly also a wide-open venue) and have racked up a lot of reviews the last couple of years. I am a foodie anyway and a hobby gourmet cook and so enjoy writing up reviews that I hope a few others will find useful before the reviews get buried under the steady flow of submissions on a big review platform like TripAdvisor.
But if you are a regular or even semi-regular reader of restaurant reviews in any of the many online sites that post such things now, then you surely have noticed something I see with some regularity: wildly negative reviews (and not for restaurants that clearly deserve them). Again and again I see this, especially for restaurants that otherwise receive rave ratings over and over again (and that are places I also have experienced as offering top-drawer service and cuisine). Often these terrible reviews are dated to the same dates on which 3, 4, or 5 other reviews got posted and that praised the attentive service and the flavorful, colorful, inventive food.
I have noticed that these screeds follow a certain pattern: a lot of these negative reviews are poorly written, pockmarked with bad grammar and misspelled words (not always, mind you, but often). Almost always they begin by lamenting they had to wait a bit for a table. They then claim that the waiter was absolutely rude, that food came out slowly, and that once they got the food, it was terrible, gross, very nearly revolting. And then there is this kicker that appears on just about every single one of these diatribes: “On the way home, I started to get sick to my stomach.”
Again, it’s not amazing that someone could have such an experience at a restaurant. But it IS startling that it happens on the same evenings when so many others praise the waitstaff, rave over the delicious food, and give the place 5 stars out of 5. It just strikes me as borderline impossible that someone else could have the negative experiences that often get posted for the same place, the same staff, the same food and on the same day.
I am not naive, however–I know there are “trolls” and others who prowl around online and who make it their hobby to be negative and crude wherever others are being positive and upbeat. But that’s just a weird phenomenon. Who would want to spend their lives being so overtly grumpy? Who would want to devote time to writing false testimony, to maligning people who serve and who cook and who run good restaurants? What perversity is served and sated by behaving this way?
We all know that the internet has had a democratizing (in the worst sense of that word) effect where people’s opinions are concerned. Whereas once the only Op-Ed sentiments that got published were by thoughtful journalists and others who worked for respectable news organizations, now everybody has a platform to publish whatever screed and broadside they wish on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. David Brooks of the New York Times may be a highly respected journalist and opinion writer but look at the Comments people leave on any of his columns and you will again and again read the political equivalent of a trashing restaurant review on TripAdvisor (and not infrequently filled with profanity and deep anger).
Some people enjoy being hacked off. Some people enjoy trashing things and people and, well, most anything. There appears to be no larger or more noble purpose behind it. It’s like the way Alfred described the character of The Joker to Bruce Wayne in the second Christopher Noland Batman movie: “Some men just like to watch the world burn.”
I am a Calvinist and as such I am not supposed to be surprised by human depravity or perversity. Even so, I am disturbed by these trends that so starkly reveal people’s meanness, anger, and disregard for others. Maybe they think it’s fun or funny. Maybe people who explode in Reader Comments, post cutting things on Facebook, and trash businesses on TripAdvisor are just kidding, just being cute. But I am not so sure. It might just reveal something darker about us as fallen people. It might reveal something distressing about many of our fellow citizens (some of whom have glommed onto Donald Trump’s angry rhetoric precisely because–by their own admission–that’s how they feel all the time too and they like having a public figure put their thoughts into speech).
And THAT, to coin a phrase, is what makes me sick to my stomach.