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:
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?
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?
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")?
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.
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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?
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?
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.