Here’s the original article by today’s lucky contestant:
This week on Bad Writing, we will be focusing on a utterly misguided mess of an article purporting to offer a recap of the reality television show Bar Rescue. The mildly entertaining series is similar to the structure of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares: a no-nonsense expert storms into a struggling business to humiliate its owners and employees for most of the hour, only to miraculously affect a complete turnaround in a brief and rather superfluous final act. The formula is akin to the Bill Bixby/Incredible Hulk drama that played out each week on that seminal show: the drifter wanders into town, wrecks some stuff, takes a commercial break, then fixes everything. Host Jon Taffer plays the leading role quite well, effectively straddling the line between friendly adviser and screaming tormentor. It requires a certain ethos that he affects with great ease, and we get the sense that he really does care about the subjects he’s completely humiliating each week.
The viewer’s investment in these reality shows transcends the connection with that of the traditional television drama. We want to know more, and often the momentary update that concludes the show just prior to the end credits is not enough to satiate our curiosity. What happened to the bar or restaurant after the taping? How quickly did it close? What’s the status of the owners’ lawsuit against the producers of the show? We have the opportunity to observe these effects and to even play a role in them ourselves. Most recently, Kitchen Nightmares featured an episode on a restaurant in Arizona with two owners so stubborn that even the always contentious Chef Ramsay gave up in defeat, eschewing his bombastic style to conclude the episode with a dramatic moment in which he quietly decided that they simply didn’t deserve his help. But the action didn’t end there. Following the airing of the episode, a legion of viewers and curious fans took to visiting the restaurant and harassing the embattled owners, offering a sort of interactive post show exercise in which their reputation was further destroyed. So it becomes something of a habit for a curious viewer to search out the developments of the subjects of these shows. Unfortunately, these searches uncover one of the seediest elements of the darker corners of the internet: the television recap. These unnecessary, completely superfluous articles are invariably composed of shockingly bad writing, just the sort that we like to eviscerate in this column. But it’s not all about humiliation here: as always we’re going to turn this recap around and set it up for success.
This week we’ll be looking at particularly bad article by Diane Zoller-Ciatto from Examiner.com. It’s an awful article, devoid not only narrative structure but even proper grammar. Her bio describes her as “a baby boomer…(who) hopes that she continues to grow and always look to the future of what she will be and do next.” Here’s a thought: how about something other than writing? Open a knick-knack store, take up a musical instrument, play some golf – anything other than continuing to debase the grand history of the written word with the sort of hopelessly mangled prose found in this article. But that’s being unfair – we’re here to help as well as humiliate. We are going to help her fix her writing as well as hopefully educate in the process, but based on her embarrassingly ineffectual recap of Bar Rescue, this just may be the greatest challenge we’ve ever had here on Bad Writing.
Zoller-Ciatto opens with a line that doesn’t offer much confidence for the reader. The first line of a work sets the tone, imparts some sense of the author’s aims and ambitions. We may consider famous first lines from Dickens to Tolstoy, those enigmatic tokens that remain forever in literary consciousness. It may be unfair to hold her to those standards, but at the very least we might ask for proper grammatical structure. Here’s her first line: Tonight’s episode of “Bar Rescue,” creator Jon Taffer went to Fairways Golf & Grill in Murfreesboro, Tenn. on this episode titled, “Hole in None.” That’s right: her recap goes wrong from the very first word, or lack thereof. We need a preposition at the beginning of this sentence to even meet the basic qualifications for proper structure, but even then there’s a clear lack of focus here. But let’s give Zoller-Ciatto the benefit of the doubt – perhaps it was just the editor’s fault. We may picture a grizzled editor chomping at worn cigar in tiny cluttered office where his windows overlook the chaos of the main floor of Examiner.com: writers clanking away on typewriters in tiny cubicles, mail runners pushing past carts of envelopes and folders, reporters in stetson hats shaking down potential leads on rotary phones. Then the editor, mug of coffee in hand, opens up his door and shouts out into the chaos: “Zoller-Ciatto, where’s that goddamned Bar Rescue recap? We need a lead for page one, for crissake!” In this sort of manic environment, one might forgive the occasional mistake, journalistic integrity be damned.
But the very next line of the review reads as follows: As Jon watched through the hidden cameras in his car with Steve Blovat, a professional health inspector. End of sentence.
Briefly: we begin a sentence with “as” in order to give some context to the action clause that will follow. So, for example: As Jon watched through the hidden cameras in his car with Steve Blovat, the teenage girls began to undress. Or perhaps: As the television recapper began her sentence in her den, the burglars entered through the bedroom window. We set the scene and then follow with some related action or explanation. We don’t simply cut the sentence short. But Zoller-Ciatto’s misuse of this particular preposition continues later in the article when when we are met with the following sentence: As Steve was thoroughly shocked at the display of filth in the kitchen, he has never in fourteen years of being a professional health inspector; seen anything of this proportion. Here the sentence components have been completely reversed, with the action being revealed before the set up. It’s like being given the horror film jump scare, then showing the heroine nervously creeping down a darkened hallway. Steve should be pushing open the kitchen door, then finding the filth. Unless Zoller-Ciatto belongs to the Burroughs school of cut-up prose, this is an inexcusable error in grammatical judgment. But we are faced here with an even more significant issue: the odd placement of the semi-colon toward the end of the sentence. It’s actually an interesting trick, one that had me checking my monitor for debris. Because even if we were to inhabit the grammatically challenged aesthetics of a bad writer like Zoller-Ciatto, there is simply no reason for that semi-colon to exist.
The various characters introduced don’t fare well either. Jon brought in Steve because of all the dirty places, this just may be the worst, writes Zoller-Ciatto several lines later. At first I was shocked at what I thought was another misplacement of a semi-colon, but this time it actually was just a speck of dust of my monitor screen. But there are subtler problems here at work with the placement of this sentence. This information about Steve the health inspector belongs earlier in the article, preferably with his introduction. Jon Taffer usually employs a few advisers for his rescues, perhaps a chef and a mixologist, but the inclusion of a health inspector to the cast from the outset is an interesting thematic wrinkle to the formula that doesn’t bode well for the dignity of the bar’s owners. It’s as if we’re being told: this one’s going to get bloody, folks. So why not establish this tension earlier in the article? Furthermore, the introduction of numerous characters in such a short piece requires supplemental information for narrative coherence. The reader just can’t be expected to keep track of multiple names of characters appearing haphazardly. Consider this sentence: As Richard defended Kevin’s cooking, Jon and Brian were aghast that he could do it with a straight face. Who are all these people? This is a short recap of television show, not epic Russian literature. Keep it simple.
Zoller-Ciatto soldiers on: When Richard came to pick up food, nothing was ready, and he got to see first hand, just how incompetent Kevin was. Just a thought: let’s go a little easier on the commas. Perhaps Zoller-Ciatto is aiming for a Proustian dynamic to the piece with all these clauses, but it simply doesn’t work here. The errors continue to pile up: tenses change mid-sentence, new characters continually appear without explanation, the term “beyond belief” is used repeatedly. (Although the latter may in fact be reference to the Elvis Costello song, which I would certainly appreciate if I could understand its relevance.) Honestly – and I know I say this every week here on Bad Writing – this is without a doubt the worst article I’ve ever seen in my thirty-five years writing this column. But we’re here to help Zoller-Ciatto improve her work and insure her future success. Maybe we can all even learn a little something as well, about writing and about life. Up next: we turn this column around.
We’ve brought in an expert of our own here on Bad Writing to help with the turnaround. It would seem that if Diane Zoller-Ciatto truly wants to improve the quality of her writing and widen her readership, she could alter her television recapping to a more refined style. So we’ve brought in an expert on the work of acclaimed essayist Gore Vidal. We here on Bad Writing have spent all night working and preparing an entirely new essay for Zoller-Ciatto’s television column in Vidal’s style. Of course it will require a bit more work than perhaps normally employed in order to incorporate Vidal’s stylistic trademarks: pedantic prose laden with strident but archaic patriotism and suffused with homosexual undertones. But we believe in you, Diane Zoller-Ciatto – you can do this. Here are some excerpts from our revamped review of Bar Rescue:
“…Whether or not this wretched excuse for entertainment conforms with the Jeffersonian ideals that once informed our republic is immaterial to the larger reality that the corporate masters behind this drivel have somehow in the intervening two centuries become our puppeteers. Political idealism has been rendered an outdated notion, if not entirely co-opted and castrated, to say nothing of a once literate populace who would have quickly rebuked the flickering madness of so-called reality television in favor of a quiet reading of Conrad by the fireside. Ultimately, this sort of entertainment is a lie, a sad example of the decline of our once thriving republic in which one can find innumerable comparisons to the latter days of Rome. We are fed these tiny morsels of supposed sustenance while our corporate puppeteers continue to corrode and corrupt the vituperative Jeffersonian values of this once venerable nation. Perhaps in this sense we can view this episode of Bar Rescue as a metaphor…
…The homoerotic relationship between Taffer and health inspector Steve Blovat is strongly implied throughout the episode but ultimately left unrequited. Still, one is reminded of Flaubert’s depiction of Charles and Emma’s fractured marriage…
…The dynamics of the show exist in inverse proportions to those of our own crumbling republic; that is to say that instead of a new bar and deep fryer, we have been given by our corporate masters a corrupted political system…”
And so on. But the rest is up to you, Diane Zoller-Ciatto. So hopefully on your next recap we will find better grammatical structure, narrative continuity, and references to Jefferson and the gay intelligentsia of Ancient Greece. Thanks for reading this week’s episode of Bad Writing, we’ll see you next time.