Monday, November 11, 2013

[EID Rants] He had you until "Chernobyl:" Bourdain came into town and people lost their shit

At Duly's in Detroit. Photo from Bourdain's blog.

Oh, Detroit. Remember how excited you were on Friday about Bourdain's most recent visit to Detroit airing on CNN's "Parts Unknown" on Sunday? Remember how you lost your shit every time anyone posted anything about Bourdain and almost sprained your fingers "liking" it so hard?

Remember when CNN first posted teaser clips from the episode, and you lost your shit? Remember when CNN posted a trailer for the episode and Bourdain called Detroit "awesome," and you lost your shit? Remember when the Free Press posted effectively a scene-by-scene recap of the whole episode in advance, and you lost your shit? And then, as if you could have possibly had any more shit to lose, Bourdain himself posted his own thoughts on Detroit on his tumblr blog and you lost so much shit it's amazing you didn't die of dehydration like victims of dysentery?

Those were such simpler times, weren't they? When all one had to do was write "Bourdain" and "Detroit" in a headline and get a thousand million "likes"?

Oh but you are a fickle bunch, aren't you Detroit? Any celebrity who comes into town is only as praise-worthy as the last bit of praise they doled out to you.

Everyone was all hashtag-happy watching the "Parts Unknown" season finale shot in Detroit...and then Tony dropped a bomb. The "Chernobyl" bomb. And you lost your shit again. Because, I mean, UNFAIR, right? And he also showed abandoned buildings (including the Packard Plant, the most abandonedest building of all), and it was all, "WAAHHHHHH, WE HAVE ENOUGH RUIN PORN, WHY DON'T YOU SHOW EASTERN MARKET AND THE DIA."

Now. I am not Anthony Bourdain's biggest fan. This should come as a surprise to no one. But I also understand a bit about travel media. And the thing is, whether or not you've noticed, Detroit is a hot commodity in the national narrative right now, and everyone has been writing about it - writing glowingly positive things about Dan Gilbert's investments downtown and the growing startup scene and young people and creatives and popups (which, it should be noted, Bourdain also included). And every lifestyle section and travel outlet has run their own version of The Detroit Travel Story - Fodor's, Frommer's, HuffPo, Conde Naste, Travel + Leisure, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Yahoo News, Time, Fox News, Food + Wine, Bon Appetit, and on and on and on it goes. And most of those outlets name the DIA and Eastern Market (and Slows, let's not forget Slows) as Things You Must Do in Detroit.

So CNN (stands for: Cable News Network) has this show hosted by the country's most outspoken culinary bad boy and you expect him to cover the same shit everyone else does, huh? Here's the thing: "Parts Unknown" isn't a travel show. This is CNN, not the Travel Channel. Anthony Bourdain is not personally hand-crafting a travel itinerary to the destinations he visits. The point of this "Parts Unknown" is to show these cities in a way that hasn't been done for an international cable television audience before - the good, the bad, the ugly, the unknown. I mean, it's right there in the title. RIGHT there. So sorry those of you who thought that with all the cheerleading lead-up that this episode was going to be all puppies and fucking rainbows. But guess what (and brace yourselves for this one): Detroit is not all puppies and fucking rainbows. Sure, parts of Midtown, Corktown, downtown and a handful of neighborhoods smattered throughout Detroit's 141 square miles are varying degrees of okay (some even nice!), but the bulk of this city's mass is a shithole. Spend some time driving around that huge swath of land east of 75 and north of 94 if you need some convincing. Or Northwest. Or west. Much of Southwest. East. North of New Center. Meh, most of New Center. Mostly everything not on or near the Woodward Corridor. Dan Gilbert might own most of downtown but the bulk of the rest of the city still looks like a bombed-out third-world post-apocalyptic nightmare.

Or, as Bourdain said, "The only place I've ever been that looks anything like Detroit does now is Chernobyl."

And you lost your shit. (Here and here and don't miss the BATTLE RAGING here.)

No one does self-righteous outrage quite like Detroit, and every time any kind of FOREIGNER (meaning anyone not actually from Detroit, often also including those who dare live north of 8 Mile or south of Ecorse or west of Telegraph, though no one ever uses the latter two as examples because apparently the real crime is living in Ferndale, not in Melvindale or Dearborn Heights) comes to Detroit and dares to tell the tale of it, we are all apparently Detroit-obligated to pitch an indignant fit because they either (a) spent too much time covering all the obvious places ("What about all the things that aren't Eastern Market and the DIA and Slows???? UNFAIR."), or (b) spent too much time not covering all the obvious places ("What about Eastern Market and the DIA and Slows? UNFAIR.").

Detroit has got to be the most exhaustingly exasperating city in the country. If we just really need to feel like we are the best at something, it is that. So congrats there.

To be fair, much of this exhausting indignation is spurred on by the three dozen Detroit-based media outlets (60% of which didn't exist three years ago) all trying to beat each other to the same story, which is why we now have liveblogs and Twitter recaps and sensational BATTLE RAGES headlines aplenty. And perhaps this is why we also now confuse shiny happy hashtag journalism with actual real (and often harsh) journalism. Bourdain didn't set out to validate Detroit. He set out to tell the truth about it. And the truth is that a whole hell of a lot of it looks like a nuclear reactor melted and the city was abandoned overnight and left for the cockroaches. But that there are also people still living, still surviving despite that. And the vast overwhelming majority of them aren't white yuppie Brooklyn transplants funded by Detroit Venture Partners. There are black people barbecuing (yes, Anthony Bourdain came to Detroit and HUNG OUT WITH BLACK PEOPLE...which might actually be a national television first). There are firefighters risking their lives on a daily basis for $10 an hour but still manage to have their camaraderie because really, what else is left? There are Salvadoran immigrants making pupusas and serving them out of their homes. There are the obligatory coney dogs, but from Duly's and not the oft-filmed Lafayette and American. And yes, there are white people doing pop-up dinners in artsy spaces because that's part of the Detroit fabric now too.

In other words, this was broadcast journalism, not PR.

He didn't mince words. He didn't try to spare your feelings. He didn't try to cater to fragile Detroit egos. He did call Detroiters "bold, proud, ferociously enterprising survivors," and so I ask you, is this really how bold, proud, ferociously enterprising survivors act? Detroit, you are capable of being tougher than this. Admitting reality is not the same as admitting defeat. Be proud of your fucked-up city, but know (and admit) that it is fucked up. For fuck's sake, you just made me defend Anthony Fucking Bourdain. Not everything has to be one extreme of tinkling yourself with excitement or the other of spearheading a Twitter hashtag lynching. Learn how to be stoic. People will respect you more.