Saturday, June 16, 2007

The food's crap but don't quote me

This is quite shocking and rather chilling. One has to bear in mind reading it that Australia has quite restrictive defamation laws, but it does seem that if you have a shit meal in a restaurant, you will not be able to say so here.

I remember, some years back now, the actress Charlotte Cornwell suing a paper for saying she had a fat arse. At the risk of being sued myself, I think it was fair to say that she did have a meaty butt, but she argued that she was in the business of acting, not of having an arse, and that while comment on her acting was fair enough, comment on her arse was not. She sought to draw a line between fair comment on her work and unfair comment on her personally. I think it's a fine line, and courts should probably be careful only to decide on cases that are clearly one side or the other. However, restaurants' business is to produce food. With all the monstrous posing that goes on, that might be obscured, but still.

But reviewers can be turds. They can quite purposefully put the knife in; they revel in their (presumed) power to make or break a restaurant, film or book (probably a realler power so far as films are concerned than restaurants, and only then with films that are aimed at a more discerning viewer: Shrek 3 will be a hit regardless who says it's rubbish). And food writers do have a culture of viciousness, in which each tries to outdo the next in the waspishness of their review. Even so, I don't think they should be sued for giving their opinion, even if it stretches the envelope of fair comment. I sympathise with the restaurateur, whose business went under, but restaurants do come and go, and I tend to think the bad reviews are outcomes of bad food, not of the wish of reviewers to destroy reputations. Yes, they'll attack with relish when they find something they don't like, but it has to be unlikeable to begin with.


At 5:26 pm, Anonymous theminotaur said...

There were lots of theatres on Broadway who could claim that their shows were made or broken by Frank Rich's reviews. In general, the NY Times theatre critic is supposed to be god that giveth or taketh away. And yet Cats as well as many more pieces of crap by Andrew Lloyd Weber went on for years despite Frank Rich's scathing reviews. It's easy to blame the critic, but in most cases the old Russian saying is true: don't blame the mirror if your mug's crooked.


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