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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

The Myth of Anthony Bourdain


TV’s supposed intimacy creates illusion around mortal man

I’ve read a plethora of articles in many publications that laud Anthony Bourdain’s adventurous lifestyle, career in the culinary arts and his almost dogged persistence to learn the stories of so many vastly different people and cultures. Bourdain’s death has left many rattled, especially those who were devoted fans of his shows The Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” and CNN’s “Parts Unknown.”

I admire Bourdain for that just as much as all of the people writing Instagram posts and news articles about him in the wake of his death, but all of this coverage has made me think about the intersecting identities of Bourdain.

With the way in which Bourdain died, I question whether we really knew him beyond the man we saw on TV. And as I delve further and further into the rabbit hole of coverage after his death, I’m not sure we totally did.

Of course many of us were not in his life personally, but TV and other entertainment vehicles push the viewing audience to feel as though we really know an actor or a host of television show. I talk about this all the time but there is truly a distinction between the image or the “myth” of the person and the actual person.

Bourdain has become Odysseus and we are all Homer. We are weaving this epic poem about a man we didn’t know intimately.  In many ways Bourdain is a myth, and the coverage his death is given is somewhat mythic in itself.

Of course, he gave us a look into his work in the forms of cookbooks and an understanding of his past struggles in his many books, Kitchen Confidential being his most well known memoir. But we still didn’t know him, at least not personally.  

Bourdain, as we a viewing audience knew him, became a caricature of himself. And I think this “myth” of Bourdain is why we are all so surprised and shocked by his death, especially the way that he died, by suicide.

Similarly when Robin Williams died, we were all in such disbelief that a man that made us laugh for so many years could and would take his own life. I had this concrete image of Robin Williams in my mind, based on television and movie roles, that was easily disrupted by the truth of his lived experience.

And I think that while Bourdain spoke of his troubles in the past in Kitchen Confidential, he still became this figure in our minds that rose above. He was the cool jetsetting chef that went around the world, defeated the odds and came out on the other side.

I recently watched an episode of “Parts Unknown” with my mother where Bourdain was visiting Uruguay. He spent the entire episode gushing about the beauty of this country.. He looked so happy and at ease. He was talking and laughing and having a great time, and I remember thinking “he has the coolest life”.

That was all TV perception. Sure, Bourdain was probably having a fantastic time in Uruguay but that was highlights of one trip spliced together into a neatly packaged, narrative driven hour long or so episode.

TV makes us believe what it wants us to believe. The entertainment industry does that on a daily basis. We see what producers want us to see. We see what networks want us to see and we believe it to be real. We don’t see it for the construction that it is; we don’t see that it is a myth.

I think we should celebrate Anthony Bourdain’s life and celebrate the shows that brought him into our homes and our hearts, but I think we should do this with the caveat in mind that the man that we saw on television isn’t always the truest representation of that person.

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