By Cassandra Willyard | March 15, 2012 | 3 Comments
First, a warning: Normally LaWonians talk about science. Today I failed. This post has nothing to do with science. I’m sorry.
Marilyn Hagerty, a restaurant reviewer for the Grand Forks Herald, never expected to be famous. But then a new Olive Garden opened in Grand Forks. Hagerty reviewed it. And the rest is cyberspace history.
Someone sent the link to someone else, who posted it on Twitter. The tweet got retweeted, or maybe posted as a modified tweet along with a sarcastic comment. And then some blogger spotted it. He smacked his lips with glee and marshaled all his snark. And then he wrote a biting commentary on her review. That post delighted some other blogger and so on and so forth.* A day after Hagerty’s review went live, she was on Gawker, Boing Boing and The Village Voice. The Grand Forks Herald’s Olive Garden review is now on the cusp of garnering a million page views.
Why all the attention? Because Hagerty’s review is unintentionally funny in its earnestness. She reviews the Italian chain with dogged thoroughness. I’ll post just a bit, so you get a sense of her style.
As I ate, I noticed the vases and planters with permanent flower displays on the ledges. There are several dining areas with arched doorways. And there is a fireplace that adds warmth to the decor.
Olive Garden has an attractive bar area to the right of the entryway. The restaurant has a full liquor license and a wine list offering a wide selection to complement Italian meals. Nonalcoholic beverages include coolers, specialty coffees and hot teas.
The review goes on like this for several paragraphs. 468 words to be exact. Yes, I counted. Many people found the coverage of Hagerty amusing. I did not.
I’m from Grand Forks too, you see. It’s my hometown. An Olive Garden opening in Grand Forks is a big deal. Fargo has had an Olive Garden for ages (blast you, Fargo! Always getting things first!). I remember the first time I ate there. I was maybe 16 years old, and I loved it. “Now this,” I remember thinking, “is fine dining.” Mind you, I worked at McDonalds at the time. So the bar wasn’t set all that high.
The blogosphere wasn’t just making fun of Hagerty. They were making fun of my entire town. “You’re so backward, your newspaper reviewed the Olive Garden . . . and liked it,” the posts seemed to jeer. (This interview from the City Pages in the Twin Cities struck me as particularly snotty: Marilyn Hagerty: Interview with genius Olive Garden reviewer.) And the comments, oh the comments — some of them were downright mean.
But, wait! The story gets weirder. The Grand Forks Herald, in a move so shrewd I almost can’t believe the paper is run by North Dakotans (I can make fun of my state. You, sir, may not.), decided to send Hagerty to New York City, the place I now call home. Since her arrival on Tuesday, she has been on a whirlwind tour, alternately eating haute cuisine and sampling typical New York fare, like a hot dog from a street cart. Hagerty is also giving interviews to, seriously, everyone. She has already spoken with The New York Times, ABC, and the Associated Press. The Wall Street Journal interview happens today. Meanwhile, her traveling companion, who goes by the Twitter handle @lostincentralia, has been tweeting her every move. And I do mean every move.
What doesn’t appear on Twitter ends up on Hagerty’s newly minted blog, where she talks about her New York adventures in daily video recaps. It’s a full-on Hagerty-palooza.
But there are signs that Hagerty’s 15 minutes of fame are almost up. Her earnestness, once so charming, is starting to grate. The blogosphere is a fickle beast. Just yesterday, The Village Voice ran a post titled, “I’m So Over the Marilyn Hagerty Phenomenon, but Welcome to NYC Anyway, Lady.” Thankfully, most of the commenters jumped to Hagerty’s defense.
What irks me is the vitriol — vitriol for an 85-year-old woman who never sought fame, never wanted to be in the spotlight. Why the contempt? Hagerty didn’t write that review to get famous. (Just ask her son.) She reviewed the Olive Garden because the people who read the Grand Forks Herald might actually eat there. She was doing her job.
Thankfully, Hagerty is taking the praise and the criticism in stride: “My daughter tells me I should go on Facebook and read all this crap. And I do not have time to let myself be bothered or read all that stuff. I have a Sunday column I’m doing now about a completely different subject. I don’t have time to sit here and twit over whether some self-styled food expert likes, or does not like, my column.”
Amen, Marilyn. Amen.
Image courtesy of Roadsidepictures on Flickr
*I’m speculating, here. This is how it may have happened.