I LIKE THE INQUIRER‘S CRAIG LABAN, and I respect his work. That’s why I approached him about a year ago to see if he’d ever be interested in reviewing restaurants for us.
And I believe that, all things being equal, a publication should strive to keep the identity of its restaurant critic anonymous. Until now, we’ve always extended the Inquirer the courtesy of respecting LaBan’s anonymity, as the paper and other media outlets have respected that of our reviewers.
But now Craig LaBan is front and center in a news story — as staff writer Steve Volk so expertly chronicles in “High Steaks,” about the legal throwdown between the critic and Alex Plotkin, of Chops steakhouse. As a result, I’ve decided to show what LaBan looks like.
I do this because, as Zack Stalberg, former editor of the Daily News, points out in Volk’s story, anonymity for LaBan has become something of a gimmick. He shows up in disguise to public book readings, making those of us who have extended the courtesy of anonymity to him complicit in his publicity stunts. Moreover, most everyone in the restaurant community knows what he looks like anyway. (In fact, we’re not the first to out his image; the Chestnut Hill Local and a magazine named Real Philly have already published photos of him.) But mostly, we’re running a shot of LaBan because this whole debate about his anonymity just smacks of so much self-importance. Listen, the guy eats meals and writes about them. He’s not Valerie Plame, okay? If Volk’s compelling story leaves us with one big-picture takeaway, let it be an acknowledgment that with all the problems in this world and city, none of us should take a couple of steaks quite this seriously.
FIRST, LET’S GET THE DISCLAIMER out of the way. We like kids. We’re pro-kids. We’re not channeling the spirit of Paul Lynde in Bye Bye Birdie, wringing our hands about “these kids today.”
Instead, with this cover and in Tom McGrath’s terrific essay "Bad Parents," we’re laying blame where it belongs: The problem isn’t with the kids. The problem is with us.
By that, I mean this current generation of parents. We screwed up, guys. Tom Brokaw was right: There was a Greatest Generation, and they were our parents. They raised us in precisely the way McGrath prescribes: by modeling character for us. And by being unequivocal when it came to ours.
But all that changed. Perhaps owing to the natural inclination of one generation to rebel against its predecessor, we stopped making demands of our kids, except where it came to their achievement; we started confusing what they did with who they are. It was a mistake our parents wouldn’t have made.
I know this because my folks were part of that Greatest Generation. (In fact, McGrath references my dad in his piece.) Okay, so Dad wasn’t exactly a military hero, having protected the shores of Seattle from Japanese attack in World War II. His style of parenting was laissez-faire, yet laden with messages about right and wrong. I thought of this while on the tennis court the other day. On the court next to me, I witnessed a certifiable brat-in-training. This pip-squeak kid — he must have been nine years old — stalked the court, berating his instructor (“What the fuck is that?” he shrieked when the coach’s shot landed too short for his liking) while strutting like he was the next coming of John McEnroe. Behaviorally, he kind of was. But here’s the rub: His proud papa was right there, beaming from the sidelines. Would my dad have let me talk and act like that? Hardly. And not because he was a harsh disciplinarian. No, because through the eloquence of his example, he exhibited respect, reasonableness and a moderate demeanor. He was, in short, an adult. That’s what’s changed, and it’s what McGrath so skillfully teases out: Once upon a time, our parents weren’t our peers.