As this year is ending, there has been quite a lot going on in my life, but if there is one thing for sure, Anthony Bourdain has said it better:
I’m not a pundit, an activist, an advocate for anybody. My political views are my own — and I try — really try, to keep them to myself. The last person I want to hear talk about politics or the nation’s conscience or obligation to the world is some Hollywood ****tard. Some well-paid douchebag who lives in a compound in Malibu has, to my mind, very little of value or interest to say to anyone who’s worried about the price of milk.
Neither you (nor I) should have to be preached to by Sean Penn or Leonardo DiCaprio — from between the legs of a beautiful actress — (even if I agree with them much of the time). Ditto, anyone lucky enough, like me, to have a job writing and making self-indulgent television.
That said, there are certain things one cannot help but notice when making food and travel television. One tends to notice — as in Laos — when one has to be careful about where one steps on the way to one’s meal. Or (as in Laos and Cambodia when the people one encounters at meals are missing limbs. To not mention these screamingly obvious features — how they might have occurred and how they remain factors in every day life, would feel … bizarre.
It is no slight, for instance, against those Americans who fought along side of the Hmong people — to mention the final outcome of what happened there. Just as it is useful and appropriate to remind people that the Hmong, our allies, who lost so much in that struggle, still exist. Nothing ”political” about acknowledging history. Particularly, when you are about to sit down and eat with it.
On a slightly different front, my crew and I spend a LOT of time in countries where the government’s attitude towards human rights is not what you (presumably) or I or the residents of a comfortable, well fed community in say … the Berkeley area, might find appropriate or acceptable. If — as has been suggested by some viewers, we have an obligation to avoid ANY country where human rights are routinely violated or where equality of the sexes is not respected, the list of shows we would NOT have shown you at all might include China, Laos, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Russia, Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia and on and on.
If you wanted to put a really fine point on it, you could argue that even Colombia or sybaritic Brazil, don’t stand the test of Political Correctness. I doubt, for that matter, that even we do these days. So … what then? Take this argument to its logical extreme and we’d end up making shows exclusively in Sweden and Iceland.
”How can you make TV in China and NOT mention the oppression of the Tibetan people?!” – Goes one argument. And it’s a pretty compelling one. But once committed to shooting in a country, one becomes very aware of those one will leave behind. The people who open their homes to our cameras, who guide us, drive us, feed us — they LIVE in the places I’m talking blithely about on camera. If I start asking them questions like ”So …How was that re-education camp?” It could put all involved with us in a very tough spot long after me and the crew have gone and are comfortably back in New York.
It’s a fine line we have to walk sometimes. But what you should know about the leader whose biquitous and unsmiling portrait hangs on the walls of every home and business in Country X will always be mentioned — and the fact that it’s on every wall should tell you plenty.
Conversely, I believe it to be useless, counterproductive and just … willfully ignorant to demonize everyone in a country because one finds their national policies or cultural beliefs repellent. The very last thing any of us aspire to do when making ”No Reservations” is show you a definitive portrait of a nation, a culture or a religion — or even a city. It’s not the ”Best” or ”Worst” of anything. It’s not even the ”typical”, necessarily — though we try and show everyday foods and life as much as we can. This is as true of the Saudi Arabia show as it is of … the Cleveland show.
So, to keep things short, governments aren’t equal to people and leave the fear of the unknown behind 🙂