June 2008 Archives
Look high, look low, look anywhere on the Web where user commenting is enabled, and you’ll find vitriol, hate speech, and an appalling ignorance of the difference between “Your” and “You’re.” The “empowering” of reg’lar folk with the ability to comment on Web sites has generally led to a lot of unpleasantness and just a thimble-ful of thoughtful discourse.
I recently read a fine summary of the case against comments on the blog Luminous, written by a Web developer named Michael Barrish. Barrish says:
I stopped reading blog comments long ago, recognizing, in confirmation of Sturgeon’s Law, that 90% of all comments are crap. There are many varieties of crap—off-topic, self-serving, ass-kissing, uninformed, superficial, showboating, belligerent, and of course, just plain dull—but the result is the same. Of course, 90% is not 100%, which is say that some comments are not crap at all, and that some—one percent?—are truly thought-provoking. Unfortunately the better comments don’t come with little flags indicating their higher quality, so the entire endeavor remains too much of a crap shoot (pun intended) to tempt me.
Yet there are certain sites where the comments are actually worth reading, and where the commenters themselves have formed a happy, civil community. On Serious Eats, the food site run by Ed Levine, the tenor of the comments is jolly and small-townish, with none of the nihilism, know-it-all one-upmanship, or loony vein-bulging you get on sites like Eater and Chowhound. See this old post by Ed about doughnuts, for example, in which Ed laments the state of the doughnut trade in New York, and take note of how the commenters chime in with their own thoughts and suggestions; Serious Eats is the most uncynical, undepressing food site out there.
Part of this is to do with Ed himself. The shop proprietor is a sunny, middle-aged enthusiast, the antithesis of the callow, attention-mad Webutante hater. Furthermore, as Ed has explained to me, Serious Eats commenters must register with the site to comment. Required registration doesn’t always weed out the cranks, but it does act as a deterrent to anonymous drive-by hate-comments of the “F U faggit” and “Your so retarded” variety. Plus, it fosters a sense of community and cooperation.
Another site with comments worth reading is Scott Schuman’s wonderful three-year-old blog The Sartorialist, which basically adapted Bill Cunningham’s shot-on-the-street fashion photography to the Web age. Anonymous commenting is allowed on The Sartorialist, but it’s seldom cruel or bitchy–which, on a fashion site, is really saying something. Again, this is a case where the proprietor’s enthusiasm is infectious. The commenters, whether chiming in on a man’s ensemble or a woman’s, come out in large numbers and offer a very readable mix of gush, constructive criticism, and fill-in-the-gaps ID’ing of specifc elements and accessories. They are indispensable to the reading experience of this particular blog, and that’s as great a scenario for user comments as one could hope for.
P.S. The eccentrically dressed young woman whose Sartorialist photo I link to above is my college-age cousin Fay! I was utterly astonished to find her included among Schuman’s roster of hardcore fashionistas in Milan, Paris, and London. She’s from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, for gosh’s sake.
A young fogey named Jeremiah Moss writes an interesting blog that I’ve visited from time to time called Vanishing New York. Its subtitle–“A Book of Lamentations: A Bitterly Nostalgic Look at a City in the Process of Going Extinct”–gives you a good idea of its tenor. Moss is at once an eloquent appreciator of NYC’s vestigial middle- and working-class haunts and an authentically bitter crank. I bet he’s as upset as I am that Tony Scott is remaking The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, a scuzz-perfect evocation of early-1970s New York that no one has any business remaking.
Anyway, I must have been behind in my blog-reading, for it’s taken me until now to discover Moss’s March post on a word I coined in 2005 and promptly forgot about, “Vongerichtified.” I used the word to describe what was happening to the West Village in a New York Times piece about the closing of my favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant, the Beatrice Inn: “In a neighborhood that grows ever more fabulous, expensive and Vongerichtified,” I wrote, “the Beatrice is one of the last vestiges of the nudgy, agitational, oppositional Village of yore.”
Moss, unfamiliar with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the chef whose design-forward restaurants often represent the tipping point in a neighborhood’s stampede towards hypergentrification (e.g. Spice Market in the Meatpacking District, 66 in Tribeca [now shuttered], and Perry St in the Far West Village), consulted with a Hunter College professor of philosophy (!) named Frank Kirkland on what my word meant. Kirkland, after consulting with his colleagues, came up with this marvelous mini-treatise:
“A neighborhood that is ‘Vongerichtified’ would be one whose restaurants have shifted their cuisine, their ambience, and their prices in [a] high-end direction. Sociologically this is quite interesting, characterizing a neighborhood in terms of its restaurants. Usually, a neighborhood restaurant carries a kind of ‘gemeinschaftlich’ (communal) sense. A restaurant in a ‘Vongerichtified’ neighborhood does not appear to carry such a sense.”
Amen to that, professor! With the exception of his very first New York restaurant, JoJo, none of Vongerichten’s restaurants have successfully integrated themselves into the fabric of a neighborhood. A Vongerichten restaurant is like a plasma TV that’s been wired into the wall of a Victorian townhouse: a flashy add-on that’s cool in its way but messes with the overall vibe. And is obsolete within five years.
Still, I’m more accepting than Moss of the city’s perpetual state of upheaval–yesterday’s workingman’s club is today’s baby-tee boutique is tomorrow’s haute fro-yo outlet. So it goes. Losing the old Beatrice Inn, though: That, I admit, was a body blow. I continue to feel a visceral yearning for the subterranean red-sauce joint on a weekly basis, nearly three years after the fact–a circumstance not abetted by the fact that the space, its name and facade unchanged, now houses a club where Lindsay Lohan, assorted Ronsons, and both Olsens congregate, and where bouncers enforce a door policy. Truth be told, there was no villainy in the switchover from the old Beatrice Inn to the new: the old place’s owner-proprietors, siblings Vivian Cardia and Aldo Cardia Jr., simply wanted to sell out and relax after their mother died. (I’ve since come across Aldo bicycling in the neighborhood, his waiter’s starched whites and bowtie replaced by a polo shirt; he looks ten years younger than he used to, with probably the first tan of his life.)
But my wife and I had planned on growing old at the Beatrice Inn. In the Times article on the old place, I wrote that it attracted “an older crowd, a lot of gray heads, uncertain gaits and the occasional customer who comes in accessorized with an oxygen tank.” (Actually, I wrote “...with an oxygen tank and a nasal cannula,” but the Times editors deemed the mention of the breathing tube too grisly.)
Uncertain of gait Lindsay Lohan may very well be, but does she have any sense of the gemeinschaftlich?