Thoughts on the Passing of Anthony Bourdain

I am not someone who is a fan of food programs and travel programs on television. When I got home Friday morning, turned on the computer, and began seeing reports that Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide, it surprised me. I was even more surprised at how much of an emotional impact the news had on me.

I was familiar with and had watched a few episodes of “No Reservations” when Anthony Bourdain moved from the Travel Channel to CNN so I watched the first episode of his new show out of curiosity. I was hooked. “Parts Unknown” was more than just a food and travel program, it was a program about the people, cultures, and societies that he encountered. He took me to places that I’ll probably never go and introduced me to people I’ll probably never meet. I learned something from every episode of Parts Unknown and I’m grateful to him for that. I didn’t know him personally, only through television, but I’ll miss Anthony Bourdain and what he brought to my life.

“This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.”  – Edward R. Murrow

Anthropology is defined as the study of human societies and cultures and their development, and I can’t help but think that “Parts Unknown” was an exercise in Anthropology. Through his television show, Bourdain used food to open up discussion about society and culture, exploring how current or recent events, History, and traditions have shaped and are shaping our society and societies around the world. Murrow told us that television could be a weapon in the fight against ignorance, intolerance, and indifference; Bourdain used television as a weapon in that fight. When he introduced us to people, sometimes in the world’s hotspots, other times to people we may be opposed to, he did so without judging them. Every episode was thought-provoking. He showed that while we may have opposing views or opinions, we also aren’t all that different from each other. Through “Parts Unknown,” Bourdain challenged our opinions of others, showed us that we can live and work with people different from us and that we should care about how what we do and what we have done effects others. Reflecting on what Edward R. Murrow had to say about television in his RTDNA speech in 1958, I’ve come to the conclusion that “Parts Unknown” was and is an example of the best that television can be.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  -Martin Luther King Jr.

Earlier this week, I was reading articles about a documentary film premiering this week about Fred Rogers. As Mr. Rogers on PBS, Fred Rogers also used television to battle ignorance, intolerance, and indifference. Fred Rogers and Anthony Bourdain were very different men, but in their unique ways, they taught us to treat others with compassion, dignity, grace, and respect. They taught us to be open to new people and new experiences. Our President and the majority in both houses of our Legislature are for a large part people who aren’t curious, people who aren’t interested in learning, people who exhibit intolerance, and people who don’t care about how their actions affect others. More than ever, this country needs more people like Fred Rogers and Anthony Bourdain. I don’t know what darkness or what demons he fought or what brought him to take his life, but we were better off for having Anthony Bourdain in this world. I hope he knows that.

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1 reply

  1. I too was disturbed by his passing. I can confidently say that I have seen every episode of “Parts Unknown” and “No Reservations”. I watched him for most of the same reasons you did but I loved the poetic style in which he presented the show. There was comedy, thoughtfulness and an attempt to understand the culture he was exploring. I also enjoyed the playful digs and jabs at other “foodies” as they were witty but not hurtful. I have heard him on satellite radio shows and he was truly a deep person. Starting jiu-jitsu at middle age is an accomplishment in itself. I am selfishly sad that he is gone. It was “smart entertainment” that is hard to find on television these days and it leaves a hole. I am also sad that his daughter has to deal with something that no one understands. Depression is an enemy a lot of people don’t know how to battle, so therefore their loved ones are also left defenceless.

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