And yes, it has been a while since I rapped at you, but that Awl piece today about the Pete Wells Per Se review has been getting some love on the internet today, and I am not sure why. I've been a fan of the Awl since its inception, wrote for it one time, and a fan of Alex Balk since TMF/TML. This piece, though, I do not get. As it happens, I'm teaching a class about criticism at the day job this semester, and mentioned Wells' Fieri review as an example of why negative reviews are more fun to read than the other kind. But this piece? IDK. I have not read much of Matt Buchanan's stuff. He is admirably well versed in the recent history of NYT restaurant reviewers, though I was sad not to see Grimes in the conversation.
As impressive as it is to see this knowledge, it bears on an argument that is rendered basically incoherent by its embrace of a single word -- the subhed is "The ceaseless downshifting of 'populism' in dining."
There are at least two completely different was that this does not make sense, which is something in itself. In both cases, "downshifting" is just not the word Buchanan needs. In a literal sense, to "downshift" is to shift from a higher to a lower gear. It's not a great word to use figuratively, because you might downshift a) to accelerate to pass a slower car or b) to use engine braking to slow your vehicle. Given the evident prominence of Uber in Buchanan's opus, it's likely he does not drive stick, and the nuances of this word escape him.
That said, if you get out of the car, and imagine that he is using "downshift" in the more literal (figurative?) sense of actually shifting something down, the article gets more confusing, because what is getting "downshifted" is "populism." If we assume that "downshift" means something like to "diminish" or "reduce," in the same way that men like Mike Gundy use "downgrade" when they mean "denigrate," it only gets more confusing. Is a diminished populism one that is more or less populist than the original? Eventually the piece gets around to something like the idea that maybe it's not so cool that a Michelin-starred chef getting involved in a fast-casual chicken sandwich place makes them William Jennings Bryan 2.0. Indeed, it is messed up to live in a world where a heavily capitalized salad chain can identify Greenwich Village as a "food desert," but it would help if we knew ahead of time if a "downshifted" populism was more or less elitist than the regular kind.