Jim “Angelina Leg Pose” Rash, The Artist Jean Dujardin and Viola Davis (whose Oscar loss last month still stings) are forever cemented somewhere on my list of heroes along with Phylicia Rashad (my all-time favorite TV mother) and a certain high school English/Theatre Arts teacher who shall remain nameless (however, if you ask me, I will tell you).
Joining that short list are two of last week’s big new stories – Marilyn Hagerty and Jon Hamm.
At the height of Marilyn Hagerty fever last week, I had to wonder to myself what the big deal was. On the surface, she’s just this 85-year-old woman who wrote a restaurant review. Of an Olive Garden. In Grand Fork, North Dakota -- or South Dakota. One of the Dakotas.
I’ve written a lot of articles that most people haven’t given a shit about. For thirty years she has as well (I admit to only coming up on three), so I imagine there’s a mutual “what the hell?” aspect to all of this – even if for different reasons.
But after reading the review itself and one of the manyresulting commentaries about it, I understood why it struck such a cord. It was a simple, yet comprehensive read and far more relevant to a broader segment of the local population than any high end restaurant that only the upper echelons of local society would or could patronize.
Like many other people in this world, I would never have seen and read Hagerty’s had it not gone viral in the first place. It would have been just another one of those well-written pieces tossed out into the ethers of the World Wide Web to be seen by only those who know it exists in the first place and where to find it in the second place.
Hagerty’s review was about a place her audience was not only excited about but would actually patronize. Most restaurant reviews I come across are of four-, five-, six- and ten-star restaurants I would not likely patronize in the first place unless it was part of my job. Since I generally like to avoid establishments whose clientele is largely made up of big names, big money and big power, such reviews are of no consequence to me. I want to dine in comfort and I find very little comfort in such high end restaurants. I hope I never do.
Hagerty’s audience may not be the same as those in metropolitan areas who might be reading The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times or The Chicago Sun-Times, but there are plenty of people in each of those areas who would sooner patronize an Olive Garden over a multi-star restaurant with a six-month waiting list and a menu that would burn through the better part of a week’s ages.
Even here in gotta-be-seen Los Angeles, no one in my rather extensive circle of acquaintanceship is dying to go to Spago, The Ivy, XIV, Beso, STK or any other restaurant of that ilk. The highest end I myself tend to go is Houston’s Steakhouse. But since they closed the Century City location late last year, Fiddler’s Bistro on Third and The Corner on Highland are what I now consider to be fine dining.
Is it possible that Hagerty’s Olive Garden review could inspire newspapers and local weeklies to expand their own restaurant coverage to include such places as Fiddler’s Bistro and the Corner in the same vain Hagerty has expanded hers into fast food restaurants? There’s an underserved market of people such as myself in the large, metropolitan areas who don’t trust what’s said on Yelp, but can’t find much more information elsewhere about a restaurant they’d like to try. Fortunately, I trust my instincts and they’re usually pretty spot on. On the rare occasion I’m off my game, I know how not to return.
I love Hagerty’s straight-forward approach. She hit on all the right points – ambiance, décor, atmosphere, service, food and price point. She tied it all into her overall experience as a customer – not someone crafting an overwritten review. Whereas an influential food critic for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times or The Chicago Sun-Times might consider themselves to be THE opinion, Hagerty doesn’t seem to have that same attitude.
This is reflected in her unwavering stance that she pays for her meals, which she never expenses for reimbursement by the Herald. This is the key. She’s not doing this for free meals and power over the restaurant community in Grand Forks. As she says, she’s doing this because she enjoys it. And according to her son in a Wall Street Journal piece, her reviews are never overtly negative.
The Olive Garden owes Hagerty a debt of gratitude, particularly their new Grand Forks location – not that she’d necessarily want it. She was doing her job. That was it. From a marketing perspective, you couldn’t ask for better branding. If they’re smart, they’ll build a campaign around her. She’s proof that not all older people (such as my own grandmother) are shying away from technology and from the internet.
I’m can’t wait to read about advertising agencies reaching out to any number of their clients in an attempt to replicate such unlikely brand awareness.
For me personally, Hagerty proves that one doesn’t need an eye-catching headline drawing people to a snark-filled piece about celebrity gossip or pop culture blah blah blah to go viral. This is the approach I have taken with this website and I intend to stick to it. It may take longer for me to gain traction, but if I’ve got to be known for something, I’d rather it be for well-written (even if long by internet standards) pieces than for nasty comments and drawings over pictures of people I don’t even know.
I don’t know how things go viral and not even sure I’d follow whatever formula there may be in order for that to happen, but I love Hagerty’s non-chalant response to the largely unwanted attention. I’ve never been 85, but I imagine that if you aren’t Betty White or Cloris Leachman, you just want to live your life. And life for her was the fact that she had another article to write for The Herald’s Sunday’s edition that week. Such things such as going viral, appearing on The Today Show, Good Morning America and Piers Morgan Tonight are rather inconsequential – especially given the here today, gone tomorrow nature of viral success.
I love that Jon Hamm is getting mouthy. Until recently, it didn’t happen all that much – if at all.
Then again, perhaps he’s always been this way but because he’s the lead in TV’s preeminent drama series Mad Men, the press is starting to pay attention -- after four years.
But if you’re going to get mouthy, be sure to say the right things. And he has.
In an interview with Elle UK, Hamm blasts the culture of celebrity in our society – particularly as it relates to reality TV stars. He specifically called out Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton as being among those whose stupidity is celebrated.
He didn’t stop there.
Hamm went on to say that “being a fucking idiot is a valuable commodity in this culture because you're rewarded significantly.”
He’s right. Kim Kardashian may not have liked his choice of words, but he’s right. And it’s not limited to Kardashian or Hilton. There’s the reviled but unfortunately very highly-rated Jersey Shore on MTV and their forthcoming spinoffs. Then there are Bravo’s guilty pleasures The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, New Jersey, New York, DC, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix, Orange County, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Dallas, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Scranton. Let’s not forget Oxygen’s Bad Girls Club, which celebrates such behavior in the title alone.
And the audiences most of these programs either match or far exceed that of the critically acclaimed and scripted Mad Men. As an actor on the show, I’d be frustrated too.
Out of the two main and the many ancillary targets, the only reported response came from Kardashian, who tweeted that "calling someone who runs their own businesses, is a part of a successful TV show, produces, writes, designs, and creates, 'stupid,' is in my opinion careless" and "I respect Jon and I am a firm believer that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and that not everyone takes the same path in life. We're all working hard and we all have to respect one another."
In my mind, and I’ll admit to a lot of bias here, but she proved Hamm’s point. He didn’t call her stupid per se. It was not a direct attack. However, she took it as such – and that is very telling. If he’s so entitled to his opinion, why offer an unsolicited response on Twitter? There were no such comments reported from Hilton or anyone else from the Reality Crass of 2012.
In a response during an interview with E! News, Hamm admitted to only knowing Kardashian’s public persona and that what he said “was meant to be more on pervasiveness of something in our culture, not personal, but she took offense to it and that is her right." Credit is due for not apologizing and not even explaining as much as clarifying an opinion he stands by.
Why she took offense at all in the first place is beyond me. I don’t watch her show or its many unnecessary spinoffs, I don’t watch Jersey Shore or its unnecessary spinoffs and I don’t watch any of the 33 versions of The Real Housewives. I have no desire to. I’ve seen clips of each and that’s enough to usurp any level of interest in seeing more. So I have to wonder if she’s aware of what she puts out on television and how’s she’s seen on it.
I imagine that the reason no other members of her Reality Crass of 2012 took enough offense to respond is because they get it. They know who they are. They know how they’re seen. They don’t care. They’re making millions – which is Hamm’s point and the source of his frustration. He toiled for many years as an actor before being cast in his breakout role in Mad Men, for which he’ll always be remembered.
He, however, doesn’t make millions. Then again, it’s not about that for him. He’s an actor, an artist. He’s making a significant mark in television history and in pop culture as Don Draper. I imagine he’s quite proud of it. Still, if all he needed to do was be a jackass on camera in order to make enough money to retire to Maui by the time he’s 40 (he’s 41 now), he probably could have.
He didn’t. He struggled and through that has earned his current success. I feel safe in saying that he’d much sooner be remembered for something like Mad Men than Jon Hamm Goes on Camera and Acts Like a Dumbass.
Does his choice then give him the right to speak as he did about the choices of the Crass of 2012? Perhaps, perhaps not. It’s debatable. But it doesn’t make what he said any less on point.
I used to watch reality shows, but they existed on a higher plane than this current crop. There was the stellar American High on FOX in 2000. NBC had a great program called The Restaurant starring Rocco Dispirito in 2003. And the home of Jersey Shore itself, MTV, even had the rather decent teen reality drama The Paper in 2008.
So I’ll never understand the “train wreck” mentality of network programmers -- the lower the bar, the bigger the mess, the crazier the drama, the better. Because they’re so ubiquitous and a lot of scripted programming requires actual thought and attention, people are tuning in to the train wrecks in greater numbers than a lot of their scripted counterparts. It’s a shame.
Perhaps Kardashian wants to be more than that. She appeared as herself in a recent episode of ABC’s scripted Last Man Standing – an episode that made me mad for that very reason. She’ll also be appearing in the upcoming Tyler Perry film The Marriage Counselor – a casting choice by Perry that drew the ire of many, including myself.
First, she has to acknowledge her contribution to Hamm’s words. Then she can go about taking herself less seriously so that the general public can begin to take her more seriously.
After the hubbub with Kardashian, Hamm then takes on Hollywood as a whole in the current issue of Playboy. Reflecting on his desire to work with people he enjoys being around, Hamm, laments on how “this industry is populated by a lot of narcissistic, mean-spirited, horrible people who get rewarded for being narcissistic, mean-spirited and horrible.”
But he’s not entirely negative about Hollywood. He acknowledges a minimal exposure to such people and admits to nonetheless feeling at home in the industry.
I can’t attest to the people in the industry since I don’t know any, but I applaud Hamm for how well-balanced his comments were.
Team Hamm all the way.
Sources: zap2it.com, shine.yahoo.com and grandforksherald.com
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