My Uncle George didn't like critics. He maintained they constrained his creative energies.
If there was ever anyone who needed his creative energies constrained it was my Uncle George.
One summer, Uncle George decided to convert his suburban home's entire front lawn into a farm in hopes of aggravating his neighbors.
To make the farm flourish he covered the whole yard with six inches of horse poop. There was a truckload of the stuff dumped strategically at the intersection of the sidewalk and his driveway so that it forced passers-by off the walk out into the street.
We were shoveling the poop up onto the lawn when one of the neighbors started grumbling at old Uncle George about the lawn and the horse poop.
George gave them his famous squinty eye and announced grandly, "Thoreau wrote that 'landscape architecture is the highest form of art'. Who made you a goddam art critic?"
At one time published art critics or any other kind had to have credentials. Restaurant critics like Craig Claiborne and Mimi Sheraton and James Beard knew about food.
The best of our local critics was Chris Sherman. Chris wrote for the St Pete Times. He was tough, but he was knowledgeable and fair. Sherman knew the difference between grouper that was frozen and fresh. He could tell when the hollandaise came from a can. His facts were checked by an editor. Sherman could also write and spell and punctuate.
And when Sherman wrote a review, no matter how damning, he wrote his name at the top of the page. He stood by what he wrote.
The Internet now has more critics than there were flies on my Uncle George's front lawn.
The online critics have written some absolutely masterful stuff about my restaurant.
There was the lady that said she did not like the wooden floors. We have no wooden floors. I would love to have wooden floors.
There was the lady that said the restaurant was too far away.
One online reviewer wrote that I was mean and rich and that I owned marinas all over the world and all I did was hang out with famous actresses.
My wife wanted to know where the marinas were. She did not for a moment believe that any actresses were interested.
The new online critics don't need to know anything. They don't have to get their facts checked by an editor.
The new online critics don't even have to put their name on their work. To write a criticism online you need only make up a name, any name, and you can do it as often as you like.
Some restaurant owners purchase the services of agencies that write bad reviews about their competitors. It is a regular fact of restaurant life now that if you have to ask an employee or a patron to leave they will seek revenge online.
Like sneaky children telling hushed lies in the schoolyard, they are free to be as vicious and damaging and dishonest as they like without telling anyone their name.
"Anonynimity is the preferred cloak of the coward."
I bet Thoreau might have said that too.