Monday, February 13, 2017

Anthony Bourdain again

This New Yorker essay on Anthony Bourdain is well worth reading if you're interested in him at all. I don't have much to say beyond that, except that it raises the authenticity issue again (as discussed here). According to Patrick Radden Keefe, Bourdain "makes a fetish of authenticity." There is something to this, but it suggests more honesty than I think it should. 

If you read on you find his brother saying that Bourdain likes to "play up" a certain episode from their childhood, and Bourdain himself says that when he separated from his wife he no longer had to "pretend," and that in order to get the music he wanted for one show he "may have fibbed." None of this seems particularly terrible, but it makes his pose of radical honesty (if that's what it is) a bit hard to swallow. Here's some more evidence of posing from the article:   
For a time, he walked around with a set of nunchucks in a holster strapped to his leg, like a six-shooter; he often posed for photographs wearing chef’s whites and clutching the kind of long, curved knife you might use to disembowel a Gorgon.
This is in some ways the worst thing I've heard about Bourdain, although there is also an implication that he committed various crimes when he was a drug addict in order to pay for his habit, and he seems to have sacrificed his first marriage for the sake of traveling the world while being on TV. That might be the worst thing he ever did (he seems to think so), but it's hard to judge someone else's marriage or divorce.
When Bourdain tells his own story, he often makes it sound as if literary success were something that he stumbled into; in fact, he spent years trying to write his way out of the kitchen. 
No crime here, but more evidence to support my case. And finally:
Given Bourdain’s braggadocio, there were times when I wondered if the bad years were quite as grim as he makes them sound. “There are romantics, and then there are the hard-core addicts,” Karen Rinaldi said. “I think Tony was more of a romantic.” Nancy Putkoski told me in an e-mail that Tony is “pretty dramatic.” 
That's about it, as far as I can tell. On the plus side he is courteous and charming. His shows wouldn't be as much fun to watch as they are if he wasn't likable. But he does have this phony tendency which bothers me, especially given his emphasis on authenticity.

It occurs to me, though, that perhaps authenticity and honesty are not the same thing. The kind of authenticity he insists on is not faking a scene for the show--he wants the sights and sounds to be presented as they really are, and for nothing to be staged. But romanticism, a form of entertainment, seems to be his motivation far more than a respect for truth or authenticity in that sense. It's more a case of here are some great experiences I really did have than here is what life, or just eating, is really like in this place. It's reality TV, but it's still TV. Even a fetish for authenticity can be a false idol.


  1. Everyone "Actin' like life is a big commercial"