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My Love/Hate Relationship With Anthony Bourdain

by Sherry McGuinn 10 months ago in celebrities
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If only he'd given a shit about the animals he routinely and often gleefully, abused

Image by Drew de F Fawkes/Flickr.Com

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I watched the documentary, Road Runner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.

You remember. The chef, author, and uber-successful travel TV host who hung himself in a hotel room in France in 2018.

Now, I’ve always found Bourdain wildly entertaining. Yet, as a fan of his aging hipster, “I don’t give a fuck” attitude, Bourdain to me, is still, even after watching this film, a mystery wrapped inside an enigma. (Or, is that the other way around?)

The documentary served up some fascinating footage of Bourdain on the go to one exotic locale after another, while interacting with his production staffers. Almost without exception, they loved and admired him but didn’t hesitate to admit he could be an incredible pain in the ass. Snarky, stubborn, with a “his way or the highway” mentality. If Bourdain didn’t like the way a shoot was going or felt his needs fell upon deaf ears, he’d walk, plain and simple.

The filmmaker, Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) interviews several of Bourdain’s posse, including his long-time producer and camera people, renowned chefs, David Chang and Eric Ripert (Bourdain’s close friend and the person who found his body), painter David Chou and the globetrotter’s second wife, Ottavia Busia-Bourdain.

Notably absent was less-than-prolific filmmaker Asia Argento, daughter of horror-meister Dario, and Bourdain’s girlfriend at the time of his demise. Although her interpretation of that somewhat quaint moniker apparently differed from his as right before he took his own life, she was photographed in Rome in clinch-mode with her latest boy-toy, one Hugo Clement.

Neville chose not to pursue Argento as she’d already done damage control with the press and too, was not well regarded among Bourdain’s people.

When she finally consented to be interviewed on DailyMail TV, she tearfully said that Bourdain “cheated” on her, as well, and that being adults, they didn’t have a problem with an open relationship.

Interesting that she used that word though, no?

Inexplicably, because Bourdain wasn’t one to take on causes of any kind, due to Argento’s allegations against mega-producer Harvey Weinstein, he became enmeshed in the Me Too movement and showed the public a very different Anthony Bourdain, one that had his friends and co-workers perplexed by this dramatic shift in his persona.

Of course, they blamed Argento for his uncharacteristic behavior, and, although this was never uttered on camera, her indiscretion with another man was seen as the final nail in his coffin.

But, anyone possessed of rational thought understands that is not only cruel, but ridiculous. Granted, her behavior probably didn’t help his mental state, but he tied the noose. He slipped it over his head. And he chose to make his final exit.

It’s a shame that Bourdain didn’t become a champion for animal rights as he did for women’s rights. Quite the contrary, he was, by turns, offensive and defensive in his declarations that animals exist only to be eaten and in his groundbreaking novel, Kitchen Confidential, made the following statement:

“Vegetarians and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans … are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit.”

Okay. So that was Bourdain’s shtick. But, when he celebrated and engaged in, what I consider to be animal cruelty in his shows, No Reservations, A Cook’s Tour, and Parts Unknown…when I had to cover my eyes or fast-forward stomach-turning scenes…my affection waned. And, my disgust for his callous attitude toward the creatures he routinely shoveled into his maw, grew to a point where I could barely watch the guy.

I wasn’t the only fan who felt Bourdain crossed the line. CNN caught a great deal of flack from viewers for the carnage routinely served up to his audience in the name of “authenticity.”

Now, we will never know if Bourdain truly found it funny when another chef recounted the uproarious story of his ripping the intestines from a live duck, but he laughed. And we saw it.

He also yukked it up while a goat was wrestled to the ground, before having its throat cut and its blood quaffed like a liter of Dr. Pepper.

Even more merriment: Bourdain found it hilarious when someone smeared the blood of yet another freshly-killed deer all over his face.

In a particularly gruesome display of cruelty, Bourdain chewed on the head of a live octopus as it struggled and thrashed to escape. The goal: To eat its brain.

One has to wonder if, during those last moments when Bourdain’s life rolled in his mind’s eye like a video on fast-forward, if any of these actions gave him pause for regret. And there were so many of them. A hell of a lot more than I’m recounting here, but I’m sharing those that I found particularly nauseating.

In Saigon, we watched as a live cobra’s heart was sliced from its body and eagerly swallowed by Bourdain who proclaimed that he could still “feel it beating.”

His signature smirk in place, Bourdain likened the heart to a “very aggressive, very athletic oyster.”

Now, that’s entertainment.

In yet another episode, he shot a deer and declared that he could “do this all day.” The camera closed in on the deer’s face after the fatal bullet, to punctuate a point that escapes me.

What was the point? That Bourdain reveled in animal cruelty and death? He certainly made no secret of his contempt for them, as well as for those individuals who stand up for animals.

One of the episodes that sticks in my mind, and breaks my heart, took place in Borneo. And I’m sorry I ever saw it. It happened so quickly I didn’t have time to “escape,” and maybe I wasn’t meant to. Maybe I and other viewers were meant to see the real Anthony Bourdain, as opposed to the one that was eulogized in terms so glowing, that his canonization would be of little surprise.

I’d like to think otherwise, but you tell me. In the Borneo episode, villagers capture a pig and then attempt to restrain it by tying it up in a net. While the pig is suffocating, Bourdain participates in the slaughter of this helpless animal by stabbing it repeatedly with a spear. During this whole surreal and sickening sequence, we can hear the pig screaming.

After, we’re treated to a shot of Bourdain’s bare feet in a pool of blood.

The celebrated author said he “felt nothing” while killing the creature. What the fuck was CNN and Bourdain thinking? Wouldn’t you think that someone in a decision-making role would have said, “Hey, Tony. Maybe we should rethink this. You don’t have to do this, and we’re not going to air it.”

Maybe they were afraid their cash cow would walk. At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to, animal suffering be damned.

There has been much talk about Bourdain’s many demons. Fuck his demons. We all have them. Every one of us, but that doesn’t give us license to revel in the torture of animals.

While I watched Roadrunner, I was struck, and chilled, by the many times Bourdain made reference to killing himself. Hanging himself, in particular.

He left behind a daughter who he professed to adore. Not enough, it would seem. And that, is to his everlasting shame.

Its a shame that Bourdain’s legacy will forever be tarnished by his inhumanity towards other creatures. No doubt, many will disagree with me. Many of his legion of fans probably laughed right along with him as the blood flowed.

I’d rather remember the Anthony Bourdain who on occasion would drop his guard and allow the camera to capture a certain look in his eyes, or grim set to his mouth, or some other nuance that spoke to the fact that he was just a man and one, who in spite of his achievements, didn’t like himself very much.

In the series finale of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Bourdain’s friend and renowned filmmaker, Darren Aronofsky, who is also a PETA supporter, is featured in the episode. Together, they explore the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan.

During their trek, Aronofsky, who is vegetarian, asked his friend if he believed animals were sentient.

Bourdain’s response:

“I think pain is … pain,” He added, “If you don’t respond to that, there’s something seriously wrong with you.”

Go figure.

Sherry McGuinn is a slightly-twisted, longtime Chicago-area writer and award-winning screenwriter. She is currently pitching her newest screenplay, “The Month We Fell Apart,” a drama with dark, comedic overtones and inspired by a true story, as well as “DEAD TIRED,” a female-driven, ass-kicking thriller.


About the author

Sherry McGuinn

I'm a long-time, Chicago area writer and big-time dreamer. I'm also an award-winning screenwriter, cat Mama and red lip aficionado.

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