National Review / Digital
Olive Garden State


The Internet has made it so easy to make fun of nice little old ladies. Kids today have no idea how much effort it used to take. In the old days a nice little old lady, or NLOL, would send a note to the society editor of the weekly paper:

Mrs. Elmer Anderson (Mabel) and Mrs. Andrew Elmosenn (Doris) visited the home of Mrs. Victor Zwiebach (Hortense) on Sunday, April 12, for an afternoon of conversation. Coffee and ladyfingers were served.

Such notes were the staples of small-town papers. When I read them as a kid I wondered how the paper knew these things; the idea they employed an army of operatives who peered in farmhouse windows and took notes seemed both thrilling and scary. You may worry about God watching you, but adding the West Fargo Pioneer to the mix upped the ante. Of course, NLOLs sent in the items themselves, often to send a barbed message to Mrs. Horace Hoarskoller that she hadn’t been invited, and could be darned sure the conversation had had to do with her and that hat she wore to church last week. The one with the red feather. In March. Why I never.

You could make fun of those things, but it would be just you and your pals. It was impossible to cast your snark nationwide. That’s where the Internet comes in nowadays, though; thanks to Twitter you can tell all your friends about . . . (are you ready?) . . . a NLOL in North Dakota who had a reasonably good experience at Olive Garden, and described it without a jot of irony. Marilyn Hagerty is her name, and she writes for the Grand Forks Herald. Her review of the Olive Garden read like one of those postmodern satires from which joy and humor have been scientifically extracted:

At length, I asked my server what she would recommend. She suggested chicken Alfredo, and I went with that. Instead of the raspberry lemonade she suggested, I drank water. She first brought me the familiar Olive Garden salad bowl with crisp greens, peppers, onion rings and yes — several black olives.

She also used the phrase “long warm breadsticks” without realizing it might be a double entendre. Hah hah! You’re an old lady who doesn’t think about penises anymore. So the review was passed around the Internet; everyone had to know about it, strike the proper pose, suffer the remixes, then cast it aside when the magnifying glass of the Internet moved on to Rick Santorum’s sweater or a cat sneezing milk out its nose.

The NLOL took it well. After being informed that the world was talking about her review, she said, “I’m working on my Sunday column and I’m going to play bridge this afternoon, so I don’t have time to read all this crap.” Her description of the sport others were having with her work? “Blah blah blah.”

And that, in essence, is the best description of the Internet’s love of “buzz.” It’s a sloshing bucket of snark, an endless stream of chum-chunks that reaffirm the reader’s self-image as someone who is aware of not only what is current on the Internet, but what stance must be taken. Something is either “Stunning” or “WTF” or “LOL” or “OMG” or “adorable,” a term used for pictures of squirrels dressed up like Star Wars characters, or NLOLs unaware how an Olive Garden review is going to look.

April 2, 2012    |     Volume LXIV, No. 6

  • Mitt Romney, the Mormons, and those who hate them.
  • Claims that the GOP is fighting a war on women’ can be made to backfire.
  • It is far from unthinkable that we will have one.
  • Some thoughts on a slippery word and concept.
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