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Est. April 5, 2002
June 14, 2018 - Issue 746

In American Discourse,
There Was Something Wrong
Someone Like Anthony Bourdain!

"The corporate bosses as well as the corporate advertisers
are kept happy. Keep the American public sedated with the
image of the 'bad guy' within.  It’s all so personal - Bourdain’s
'demons,' his 'dark side.' This justification of why he committed
suicide plays well with commentators (and their corporate bosses)
and guest appearance of experts on mental health
(often linked with Big Pharma)."

But we tell people, this is in our hand. It’s in our hand.

It’s our future. And the future of the next generation coming.

from Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: Senegal

The “children” are at it again. In the United States, we have politicians and civic-minded leaders, following the news cycle, spending their time distinguishing for the American public the “good guys” from the “bad guys.” Full-grown men, usually. At least, they appear to be adults. “Bad guys” are rarely within the US borders - and when they are, we all know who those “bad” ones are in need of deportation! Separate the children, first!

It was as if I had lost a good friend. A true adult. Someone who, if you are a person of color in this country, you didn’t have to bite-your-tongue, my grandmother would have said. Anthony Bourdain was someone who knows, and your silence at the table wouldn’t be required in order to appear civil. At some point, back then, I imagined that hypothetical lunch with Bourdain in which I wouldn’t feel as if I were the “minority” at the table.

So when asked to speculate on what might have driven author, TV chef, travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain to commit suicide, June 8, 2018, Patrick Radden Keefe, the author of “Anthony Bourdain’s Moveable Feast” for the New Yorker in February of 2017, refers to Bourdain’s “dark side.” I’m stopped in my tracks. What? Right! Here goes the spin. The message to the American public.

As I alternate between watching a tribute online or listening to commentaries on the local Wisconsin radio broadcasts, I think about all the world of people, that is, those in Paris, Rome, Senegal, Ghana, Tokyo, Vietnam, and many many rural locations as well, and who are, too, still in shock, listening to American media personalities, including those at CNN, refer to a man with “demons” with a “dark side!”

Blanket the American public in a Star Wars haze! The corporate bosses as well as the corporate advertisers are kept happy. Keep the American public sedated with the image of the “bad guy” within. It’s all so personal - Bourdain’s “demons,” his “dark side.” This justification of why he committed suicide plays well with commentators (and their corporate bosses) and guest appearance of experts on mental health (often linked with Big Pharma) - particular since Bourdain’s death follows the June 7, 2018 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that announced a 25% increase in suicides, the highest since 1999.

According to Amy Nutt, correspondent with the Washington Post, however, the increase in suicides, across age, gender, race, and ethnicity, can’t be attributed solely to mental health issues. “In more than half of all deaths in 27 states, the people had no known mental health condition when they ended their lives.”

And yet, it persisted late into the night: poor Anthony Bourdain, a victim of the “bad guy” within! American public, there was something wrong with Anthony Bourdain!

What are the celebrity media personalities afraid of? In the case of Anthony Bourdain, these commentators are dodging the national conversation that would ensue if they asked why Bourdain committed suicide. Why, if mental illness? Why, if a return to substance abuse? If neither, what then?

What are they afraid of?


I don’t remember when I first took note of Anthony Bourdain. I’m not much of a cook, and I haven’t owned a television in years. But I watched online episodes of No Reservation (2005-2012) and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, on CNN. Dave Davies (Fresh Air, NPR) interviewed Bourdain as did astrophysicist, Neil Degrasse Tyson. I try to keep up with Star Talk online, so I viewed the episode featuring a female PhD nutritionist and Anthony Bourdain. I was impressed with Bourdain from the beginning.

Anthony Bourdain didn’t just cook and eat, he was outspoken about anything and everything - because anything and everything is, he understood, political. And food is political, he acknowledged on several occasions. Whether or not communities have food or not. How food is produced and shipped. Who gets what cut of the animal, what delicate treat? And is there waste in a world where millions live in poverty?

Food is political!

Food is still “hand made” in many communities around the world.

Food as an art form interested Bourdain who traveled to communities poor economically but rich in creativity! The food is as “hand made” as the bowl it’s served in. The cloth woven by the community’s weavers and worn by everyone sitting around where a mat on the ground is as meaningful as the music played by musicians with striking or strumming handmade instruments. Food may not be in abundance but, as Bourdain found, the cordiality and the ambiance of good spirit was overwhelming.

Food brings people together! No matter where anyone stood on the social ladder. There’s no in or out.

So what or who are “immigrants”? Other people who are more similar than dissimilar, Bourdain asked, as he talked about “willful ignorance” of those calling the shots.

For a long time, Bourdain said, the drug problem was a “them” problem, and white America isn’t the “them” but “the good.” The problem of drugs has come home to roost. The blinders have been removed, one addiction and one death at a time. One devastated community at a time. There was never a “war on drugs,” said Bourdain. Never a “them” and “us.” The enemy was neither black or brown citizens nor immigrants, but American values: Get rich and don’t give a damn how you do it or who you might hurt in the process.

When he travels to West Virginia, he’s angered at finding small communities “flooded” with “highly addictive drugs.” In his memoir and in subsequent interviews, Bourdain admits to heavy substance abuse, including an addiction to heroin (See Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.) and Britt Collins interview with him about family values. He also believes he’s responsible for the death of at least one Colombian (his unsolicited speculation) because of his own abuse of drugs. So understanding the devastation of drug abuse, he called what he witnessed in West Virginia “outrageous” if not “criminal” - and he wasn’t referring to the individuals - but to Big Pharma, and, in particular the politicians who facilitate this industry and celebrity media personalities who faun at their feet. Look to who permits Big Pharma to profit on the misery and suffering of human beings!

In another episode featuring Opioid use in Massachusetts, he calls out Big Pharma’s foot soldiers: doctors. He’s not hesitant, however, to point out the places were he popped pills and f____ women, as if the abusive use of drugs and the misuse of women, were also packaged by yet another American industry. And why not?

Long before the #MeToo movement, Bourdain had come to understand that if one can’t respect more than half the human population then that individual respects no one - including himself. He openly stood by his assistant, Asia Argento, when she accused a powerful movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, of sexually abusing her. The movement, Bourdain added, was a “real reckoning” for men. For America.

In several interviews, he was forthcoming about his own complicity in ignorance. In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain says he “romanticized a culture that was not good for everybody. I validated a bunch of knuckleheads.” Eventually, he asked himself, to what extent was he, as a writer and TV producer, “complicit” in perpetuating abuse toward women?

Respect, love, democracy, equality, justice - these are ideas that just doesn’t materialize because a human born on this soil is certified an American!

No one asked Bourdain to be so self-reflective in a five-second sound bite. And yet, he did reflect on the role he might have played, unwittingly, in contradicting his own principles toward achieving a justice and equitable world for all.

And as for the slaughter of animals for consumption…

Bourdain wasn’t not boastful. Macho. Here again he admitted to finding it difficult the first time he’s asked to slaughter a pig. The second time, he says, he was even more surprised to find how it was easier for him to pick up the knife and start cutting. He had become desensitized.

Anyone viewing this episode could understand in telling this story, just how we are all implicated in rituals of cruelty, barbarity. How far is indifference to the plight of animals from indifference to the rights of human beings seeking a means to survive, to provide a home, food and water for their families and community? Despite our best intentions as individuals, Bourdain shows us, we’re in need of a global community of women, the primary planters and feeders, coming to the table - and turning it over!

In Hanoi, Vietnam, Bourdain watches as Obama, surrounded by secret service and waving Vietnamese, exits the airport. Bourdain has a place in mind, a neighborhood joint. A regular place. Tables without table clothes. Beer is served alone with a tradition dish of pork and fish and veggies. Obama shouldn’t have a problem paying for his meal, says Bourdain. It’ll cost all of six dollars!

Before Obama arrives, Bourdain is on a large cruiser with an old friend and the friend’s grown son now. The three men sit at the bar and have gin and tonic. The young adult son, looks admiringly at Bourdain.

Do you remember when we first saw each other?

You were five, Bourdain responses.

I was five, says the young man, as he holds up his cell phone with a photo of Bourdain and his five-year old self.

And I see a man, naturally at easy with people. Naturally able to connect with people. He loyal. He returns. The young man is grateful.

So now Obama.

Obama is at least familiar with Asian food, having lived in Jakarta when he was a child. Bourdain nods. But what about Americans? We’re turning “inward,” Bourdain tells him. Americans are talking about “building walls around our country.”

What’s this?

And it’s Obama. So no real adult-like conversation will be had here.

As a father of a young girl, is this all going to be okay?” he asks. Will my daughter be able to come here or go anywhere without encountering walls, enemy territories, corporate missiles?

Corporate drones?

No response.

And Bourdain’s voice over reminds us about General Westmoreland. Some of us remember him. The US general for a time during the Vietnam War. He spoke of the Vietnamese as being less than human. After all, Vietnamese don’t value life. It’s a “grotesque observation,” said Bourdain.

And if you are black and live in America and you hear an echo. You’ve heard this grotesque observation before. Africans, the philosopher Hegel, proclaimed in his Phenomenology of the Spirit, aren’t human. Don’t value life, as a result. So, let’s not worry about the history of Africa or its people. There’s no such thing!

One of my favorite episode of Parts Unknown is Bourdain and crews travel to Senegal. Just over 90 percent Muslim, Bourdain whose maternal side was Jewish, appeared right at home. In Senegal, Bourdain ate the traditional dish of fish (particular to the region) and vegetables (and I’ve lived in Ethiopia for a year and couldn’t eat everything such as the goat, for example) just as he ate Foie Gras in France or Sushi in Japan.

In Senegal, Bourdain sits at the table of a two families from different classes, two musicians, one world older and world famous, the other a young rapper, and there’s no need for him to expound on what we see. Food brings everyone together. And no matter what village anyone is from, how much French blood to African blood, no matter - everyone is part of the community because everyone is Senegalese. Everyone is at home.

One Senegalese spoke of a vision, in which a “better world” comes to the fore once more cultures have a seat at the table. The young rapper/activist spoke of how the young organize the country into action.

“‘God is great,’” the adults say, but to “leave it in the hands of God,” as some say “when they think there’s no solution,” isn’t the answer.

Each generation has it’s mission.”

Finally, in the voice over, Bourdain: As good as it’s been for Senegal, “democracy, as it turns out, requires regular maintenance. Diligence is needed. And the willingness to stand up.”

Africa is home to all humanity. It’s the “place we all come from and where we are going.” Me, you, viewer, we in America, need to remember this, Bourdain adds.

And I’m remember how a Senegalese talked about Taranga values. “It’s not how much you have but how much you give.”

Bourdain gets it!

We’re leaving Senegal, and Bourdain mentions his newest tattoo. “I’m certain of nothing.” That’s what it reads. Because it’s all clear and straight roads. Sunny days and blue skies. But we have each other. Human beings have each other. From each other we learn and learn to share and we do so by traveling. Going around the world, we always come back to ourselves. Ad we grow a notch every meal and story we share among ourselves. Travel, Bourdain says in the voice over, is an “endless learning curve.” It’s all about the “joy of being wrong, of being confused.” It’s okay. We’re home, among family.

I’m certain of nothing.”

Only the arrogant are otherwise.


There wasn’t anything wrong with Bourdain! He was reflective. Honest. Maybe too honest. But Bourdain was 61 when he died. No child. No reason to act like a child. Think like a child. What’s “dark” or “demonic” when he woke up and recognized America’s “innocence” as all funk? And not the good kind, either!

Bourdain was unique, sad to say. As a white man, he was unique! He showed white America what it could become, if it tried to turn from “bad guys” to “good guys,” from hate to love.

Maybe if America had loved him, the love of his life wouldn’t have slipped away. Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Contact Dr. Daniels.




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