With Panchito diverted to delusions of relevance, even the most codependent readers are probably turning more and more to alternative routes to restaurants on the series of tubes. And my advice would be to babble in fusionspeak: Caveat diner. My e-pals have so far been unanimous on a new place I would otherwise have tried in my underserved neighborhood, and it looks as if Menupages is underwhelmed as well (sample comments from both: “Manage [sic] of restaurant seems chaotic,” “Awful and expensive,” “Hope it lasts,” “WIGB? Not even on someone else’s tab”). No wonder the joint already has graffiti in its windows. But much more telling was what happened when I emailed a new friend who has gluten issues about a place that was being flogged almost to a Ko-level frenzy on the blogs. The day after she emailed back to say she had gone there before I even mentioned it, only to find it had only pasta and no pizza, one of the big boys reported it was . . . serving pizza. Even as a kid, I knew you can’t eat candy every day without sacrificing brain cells. Change that alert to Daily Cretin.
The bloviating over the shrinking of newspaper food sections reminds me of the glory days of e-rectum, when a thousand cretins who would not know a pica pole from a spatula felt qualified to weigh in on how stories came to find their way into newsprint. All due respect to the esteemed Serious Eater, but my experience has been that the food sections are not targeted first. Idiots are going through with chainsaws and leveling every expensive (read experienced, or, if you insist, older) byline in sight. (Anyone notice the San Jose Mercury News is advertising for a food writer as I type?) And while I doubt Sulzberger is quailing at the blogosphere, I am finding it has made flacks more omnipresent if not more powerful, something even I would never have predicted. The internets have given “print” incredible exposure, and not just on blogs. Mostly, though, food sections have always existed for one reason, advertising, which is why DI/DO is not being folded into the A section or Bizday; Metro and Sports are. Funny that no one is talking about the end of cookbooks in a world where countless recipes are just an Epicurious search away. Like newspapers, they will probably always be with us. Only the delivery system will change for both. Unfortunately, an iPhone makes a lousy litter box liner.
Yet another sign that new media may turn out to be more corruptible than its predecessor: The food blogosphere was in one long Super Bowlgasm all week, and most of those sites do not even have enough serious advertisers to make sucking up defensible. (What’s that old saying about buying the cow when the milk is free?) You would think every cook in America, serious or vicarious, had nothing better to think about than a hackneyed nachoburgerchilistravaganza in front of the teevee. And what’s next on the table? VD — all chocolate, all the time. It almost makes a Food Network magazine sound like relief from the lockstep online. I wonder if Al Gore realized when he invented the internets that he was just creating a bigger black hole for a calendar so cliched February makes you want to swear: Fuck aphrodisiacs and the “romantic dinner for two” they rode in on.
Until I needed health insurance that would not strangle me like NYTimes Cobra, I never joined a union in my life. I always paid the dues and abstained, never more adamantly than after learning on my first stint on 43d Street exactly why my salary was depressed: the Guildsters were not about to allow equal pay to a youngish college dropout in a building full of gray sheepskins. Even so, I find myself decidedly on the side of the striking television writers (and Broadway stagehands) right now. Down the line every creative type is going to be working for the Pharaoh unless someone makes it stop, as I just realized on getting an offer from Fine Cooking that seemed hard to refuse. I did a single feature for the magazine, nearly a decade and a half ago, and because I had insisted the contract gave me the copyright and the editors one-time use, I got a nice little check every couple of years, whenever recipes were being rebundled. Then the publisher decided a buyout would be more economical, and a smallish chunk of change was dangled in my direction. I declined, figuring it was not enough to cover rebundling into perpetuity. And then I stupidly agreed to an online buyout only, assuming the recipes would just be out there like everything else in the free beyond. So of course the magazine is now charging for access to its web site and database. And guess who will never get a cut? Don’t be surprised if this strike converts even comedy writers into scripters of “Saw XIII: The Kitchen Story.”
For a magpie of typos, this is harvest season on the series of tubes. The other day I spotted “Chinatown Brassiere” on one site and “terrior” on another. And then there was the commenter who insisted a restaurant reviewer should possess both an ability to write and “a good palette.” Actually, when you’re painting word pictures, the latter should be enough.
On the other hand, it’s fascinating to see blogs, especially the conglomerate kind, morph as they attach themselves to advertising’s soul-sucking teats. Already Big Food is able to slide shills designed to look like posts into some blogs (Hong Kong should sue over the appropriation of the name of one of its assets for processed crap), and the next menace looks to be ads off to the side that rudely interrupt your reading to drop virtual chicken or sausage into the “editorial” well. What’s that old computer term — GIGO?
New media is condemned to repeat the mistakes of the old in another way. When you sign up contributors and the material is recycled from their own chirpy narcissism, who is going to keep coming back? There are 8 million blogs out there. And HBO didn’t get where it is with reruns.