Bourdain: Short Order "Offended" Me and My "Sense of Pride"

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On Monday evening, the season eight premiere of No Reservations took Anthony Bourdain to Mozambique.

The next morning, I blogged that the episode was a departure from Bourdain's usually snarky worldview.

A few hours later, Bourdain tweeted the following:

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About a second after that, Bourdain's nearly 1 million Twitter followers began calling me a twat and a moron. Had I touched a nerve? I decided to ask Tony himself.

New Times: Tony, you said Miami New Times crossed the line in permissible snark. So yes... let's start with where the line is. You've been known to make snarky comments about celebs. For instance, at the SoBeWFF, Eddie Huang (clearly a setup) brought up Paula Deen so you could snark on her. So where do you feel the line gets crossed?

Anthony Bourdain: No ill will from this end. And I am myself frequently guilty of crossing the snark line -- wherever that line may be drawn. But I make a conscious effort to avoid even brushing up to that line in a place like Mozambique, or Haiti, or Cambodia -- where people have on one hand only just emerged from crushing poverty or civil strife or genocide and yet, time and again, proudly offer a stranger (me), what little they have. Mockery is a legitimate enterprise -- but more defensible only when the target has the privilege of giving it back should they so choose.

Paula Deen is a powerful figure (far more powerful than me) with my own parent company. She's smart, media savvy, wealthy beyond my wildest imaginings and can easily avail herself of a platoon of publicists, PR experts and crisis managers should she choose to. Her folksy counterattacks have been very effective.

The Mozambicans who helped us barely have access to TV. If that. Mozambique was a particularly heartfelt show for me and for all of us who worked on it. We were well aware of the country's long and ugly and all too recent past -- as well as our own country's culpability in supporting Renamo and South Africa's efforts to quash their aspirations for independence. There -- as with similar shows where we feel emotionally invested, I see snark in a finished show as an admission of failure. when we aren't getting the show we want to get -- particularly when government minders in an industrialized nation -- or pretentious entrepreneurs try to manipulate events -- snark is my reluctant and often bitter fallback position. See Romania. (or simply a substitute for a successful show -- as when we do a BAD job: examples: Greece. Puerto Rico).

In a perfect world, there would be NO snark in any of my shows. That is never my intention setting out. It is, for better or worse, the equivalent of a desperate dick joke to fill air time -- a manifestation of unhappiness or frustration. I felt no such thing in Mozambique, where everyone was inexplicably lovely, welcoming and generous. Africa in general is a continent so plagued with problems that snark is seldom a privilege people can afford. Irony sucks when coupled with hunger, disease and oppression.

When it comes to quips, do you have any sacred cows? Is there someplace or someone where you edit yourself? If so, what is it?

Sacred cows? Yes. I don't talk about people's families. I don't, you'll notice (even though dick jokes abound), leer after women, mock indigenous foods or hygiene gratuitously. Sexual preference. Off bounds. I don't think there's anything funny about homosexuality -- though over-testosteroned dickheads' fear of homosexuality can be pretty funny. I try to remain cognizant that while I can go back to New York after visiting Cuba or China and say whatever I want -- that the people we left behind remain and might have to live with the consequences of what I say. (see Tibetan Chinese relations).

Let's talk about the Mozambique episode -- you've been to some bleak locations during No Reservations filming. Beirut during the bombing, Chernobyl, Kurdistan pop into my mind. But I feel that Mozambique felt... heavier... which is what I was trying to imply. That makes it an interesting season opener, which generally sets the tone for the entire season. Do you feel, in hindsight, that the mood of the show was more somber than your usual shows (even in, say, Haiti, which, while not a laugh riot, still had "Tony moments")?

Yes. There is no doubt that Mozambique was a more somber show. Calling it a "downer" offended my sense of propriety as far as its subject -- and frankly, offended my sense of pride in the work we did there and the people who did that work with me.

How do you handle criticism? Some people say you don't handle it well, like when you told Eater that you were pissed about Frank Bruni's piece.

How do I handle criticism? Depends. I get a lot -- much of it deserved -- as you can imagine. The Paula Deen thing brought a frightening storm of it. But I was genuinely hurt and disappointed that Bruni would join the posse. It seemed disingenuous, a bit calculated -- and it appeared that someone I knew -- and who I thought knew me and my work and what I stand for -- ignored everything I've celebrated over the last decade: good food made with very little resources by proud people often under difficult circumstances. It hurt. And it came at the same time that Fox News was beating up on me. I was surprised and disappointed.

How do you feel about being part of the 24-hour media cycle? In a sense, you drive it by actively tweeting what's on your mind and being quite outspoken, so are your Tweets strategically meant to be picked up -- or are they stream of consciousness messages out into the world? Do you ever have an "oh shit, what did I say can I take it back" moment? If so, are there any you can recall?

[Twenty-four]-hour news cycle? Hey. You play, you pay. I can't complain. Believe it or not, I'm not sitting around trying to think of ways to stay in the public eye. If I blab out loud on twitter when something outrages me, it's a barely under control instinct--not a calculated thing. It's frankly, a sign of weakness in my view. Mom always told me to be polite, never be a show off, think before you speak. Not the only way in which I disappointed, I'd venture. Just can't help it. Twitter is fun. I forget sometimes how many eyes are following. Or don't care until it's too late.

In the No Reservations post, what was the impetus of your calling it "offensively insipid"? Would you consider your tweet crossing the line since you are now a public figure and the review was a mixed one at worst?

Your piece expressed a desire for more "snark" or "irony" in a show where I strongly felt it would have been wildly inappropriate. I would greatly prefer to have personally been called an asshole. That wouldn't have bothered me. But this was a creative venture -- involving a lot of people who worked their asses off heart and soul, trying to actually do a good and sincere thing. Your glib take on the show angered me -- disproportionately, perhaps.

I'm guessing in retrospect, you might have worded things differently.

Thanks for pursuing this in such reasonable fashion. Apologies for any pain I might have caused you. We are both, I hope, a little wiser.

Follow Short Order on Facebook and Twitter @Short_Order.
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12 comments
Anon from USA
Anon from USA

Good interview.  Amazingly articulate responses from Bourdain.

Neweditor
Neweditor

Does anyone edit this crap considered journalism?

Yak
Yak

New Times hit the nail on the head. If I want compelling drama, I tune to PBS. Lets keep Food Channel and Travel Channel on the lighter side. Isn't that why they hired Bourdain in the first place?

B-Random Himself
B-Random Himself

Lola, Jennifer, and 'yawn' hit the nail on the head, I really wish there were better writers for the paper. Both the Miami and Broward new times leave me feeling sick that I live in such a location where the majority of people can talk out of their ass soo much and be taken seriously. fear-laden scarefest articles seem common, and to top it off they usually offer no actual help, advice, or facts.. It's ridiculous. It feels more like a childish rant than an actual article of worth. They must import their writers from public middle schools.

Snarksinthewater
Snarksinthewater

i too thought it was a downer of an episode. they don't all have to be pep fests, but all i saw you do was call em like you saw em. 

Rodrigo
Rodrigo

good interview, pretty cool he reacted to it

yawn
yawn

You guys at New Times are so desperate from attention from "celebrities" its pathetic. This article is whole lot of nothingness.

Jennifer
Jennifer

Agreed with Lola. Bourdain didn't have anything to learn - he tried to point out the amazing optimism of the Mozambique people and you demanded more snark because you didn't find it silly and entertaining enough. If that's what you want, leave his show alone and turn on the food network.

Lola
Lola

Wow, you guys really are desperate for attention. To try to play off of being called morons is really rock bottom. 

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