an embarrassment of kitsches

Your rags betray your vanity

Your rags betray your vanity

‘Multiculturalism’ suits them to perfection, conjuring up the agreeable image of a global bazaar in which exotic customs can be savored indiscriminately with no commitments required.                         —Christopher Lasch, Revolt of the Elites (1995)

The battle’s din subsides; CNN’s swarthy erstwhile good guys have all gone home to beat their wives. Skulking asthmatically through the suk between protection racket badlands a gangly, mysterious stranger with the untrimmed, languid mug of a bus bench masturbator declares the blast radius liberated as he assesses the remaining impediments to liquidation, consolidation and free love.

They should’ve given him the Qaddafi treatment.

The consummate, bloviating hail-fellow hipster who’ll pretend to know about anything and gives a shit about nothing, in each country he visits it’s the same schtick: fatuously lament the local misfortune between mouthfuls accompanied by disconcertingly age-incongruous pornographic moaning, lob an “and how does that make you feel?” or two with the narcoleptic gaze of a burnt-out psychoanalyst, then inquire primly about the timetable for Americanization. Nary a child-like denizen of these backwaters slated for development realizes they’ve lain their Sunday best before a predator, and when they slaughter their enemies with US ordnance he shudders as though Mr. Whiskers just dragged in a decapitated rodent. For chrissake, people—have a little class, will ya? I’m tryin’ ta eat over here.

Ours is an age propitious for the lily narrator who’s seen everything and experienced nothing, but once had a drink with someone who did. Let him assure you no good can come of principles, if your aim is to keep in victuals.

Regime mouthpiece Anthony Bourdain is Karl Marx’s last laugh, a typical effete and soon-to-be incontinent (but still partying) leftover of a once puerile, now senile revolution that refuses to clear the stage and—herpes notwithstanding—always has a happy ending, and endless rationalizations for prudence. Galavanting, dainty-sampling, conflating impudence with pluck under that jaunty canopy of special providence for drunkards, fools and the United States of America—where enjoyment of the finer things vindicates imperial prerogatives and televangelical lucre as surely as going slumming sends shivers down the asscrack—he never seems to tire of recounting how very much yonder humble folk meant to him. A missionary of mass-market libertinism in humanitarian guise, he combines the scolding and verbally chastened impulses of progressivism with insatiable lust for colonial spoils. A hippy-dippy paver of paradise, ever on the lookout for unsullied authenticity to add to his collection of taxidermied heads, he’s a blue-state Paula Deen with as much regard (and as much use) for the niggers as a payday lender. And he looks like a big gay squirrel.

No fewer Indians dead for today’s cowboys being bi-curious, Bourdain’s interview questions of local denizens are always lower-div clichés, three steps short of poignance and five steps beyond real engagement. In the end, I didn’t know what to do about all the poverty I saw, but I sure ate good while I felt bad about it. He’ll use your history as a prompt for glib establishment tautologies, your city as a backdrop for a trustfund odyssey journal entry, the most hackneyed stereotypes about your culture and a dozen words of your language for a thin veneer of erudition between fits of sleep apnea brought on by the dreadful exertion of deciphering your pitifully accented ESL. The jingling in his pocket plays to local mercenaries, airtime whores and the shucking bourgeois sleeper cells that furnish him obsequious Squantos and Queequegs for guides, but never to the salt of the earth, whose testimonies he’s happy to peddle wistfully through an interpreter, but who lack the truly ground-down sense of thrift and proportion his handlers have in mind for them.

One can well suppose how this sausage gets packaged—A: Hey Pepe, who’s the gringo? B: Pipe the fuck down and put on a shit eating grin, will ya? Can’t you see he’s being followed by cameras? Which are as good as apostles, or Angles of the Lord; on whose shoulders they alight separates hip from square, living from dead, but they can only lead you if you want to be led. This week, we’re here with the guy who’s been doing the thing that speaks so poignantly to the universal Us and where We’re all going…. Well why in the hell didn’t they put him on TV years before? And isn’t that universal We just the old, royal one? This isn’t a two-way street, after all. You’re telling us what to care about.

When Nir Rosen mocked Lara Logan’s rape in Cairo, it was despicable because he and she are playing the same game, only she has to play it with a twat between her legs, while he gets to take his own assignments (“Imperialism,” he told the Senate). Same isn’t true of Anderson Cooper.

In the words of another plagiarist luminary artificially accorded relevance beyond any reasonable expiration date, The times, they are a changin’: of her travels, Rebecca West gave us a thousand-odd pages devoted with desperate passion to a single area of the planet. Kerouac regurgitated his faggy soul in its tipsy entirety, little though anybody wanted it. Orwell took up arms with his hosts. Jon Stewart may’ve been a sycophant who played an iconoclast on TV, but he did it four nights a week, and even Brian Williams deserves credit for admitting he’s a phony. But Bourdain is a new low, a middlebrow parakeet, a geopolitical ambulance chaser whose every insight turns out to be precisely CNN’s vapid conventional ordure, served up in affected tones suggestive of some scintillating intellectual morsel. The world according to Anthony Bourdain is an abortion, a tree falling in the woods—an undifferentiated clump of cells that only the trend-setter, the marketing hack and the affluent solipsist’s ADHD nanosecond of consideration renders extant. And as this gas bag orbits his handlers’ parcels, he regurgitates his inch-deep cognitive intake in blithe, self-important banalities as homogenous as his digestive output.

By itself this carnivorously pontifical agenda-setting is quite unremarkable; what makes Bourdain’s every blasé pledge-drive du jour so egregious is the feigned humanity, withdrawn in the space of an Instagram share once he’s on to the next paternalistic holiday in the sun.

He checks in with the Congo to report whether anything’s changed since Conrad, and concludes that it hasn’t. Nope, still, uh… dark. Blame King Leopold, that’ll keep the heat off our sponsors! His Morocco is nothing but the footsteps of Burroughs and sundry lesser man-boy love pioneers, to whose mughrebi meanderings he devotes the entire episode. He presents the haunted ruins of Leptis Magna as a veritable oasis of civilization in the Libyan dregs; his only complaint is that the cocks have all been chiseled off the facades by Mohammedan prudes. He gives Iran the predictable recalcitrant-child treatment: thankfully, there are a handful of brave ESL speakers holding out there, dreaming of TJ Maxx and the caramel macchiato. His Lebanon is a blur of caricatures, titillating nightlife mashups juxtaposed with exotic houses of worship and gratuitous stock footage of multi-confessional war dead. The feminism of Beirut literata Joumana Haddad in Parts Unknown is reduced to little more than…. parts unknown, the unemployed forbidden fruit of some deposed oriental despot’s harem, all lipstick and leggings and horridly uncouth death threats from jealous cleric cousins lurking somewhere off-camera. When he temerously characterizes the country’s deadly fissures as hip vibrance, she asks whether his lurid enthrallment has anything to do with the fact he’s just visiting, and the piece of shit deflects by asking “Am I not supposed to love this place?” Well you’d better ask it first, Tony. This isn’t the gay princess cruise you take it for. Where Flaubert got off light with syphilis, today they might pull your fucking fingernails out with a pair of pliers. (Now that I’d tune in for!)

Apparently monolingual (his copy-hacks don’t seem to realize raconteur is French for blowhard, anyway), Bourdain’s every encounter is a one-way street. Each new attempt to relate to those foreign “friends” he so self-servingly calls upon is terribly awkward to behold, even when he’s visiting English-speaking realms. But friends these guilelessly hospitable or attention-whoring dupes undoubtedly are, in the same sense that vile showbiz backstabbers are so adept at namedropping and mutual exploitation. His every word and gesture is smoke. Anthony Bourdain has Muslim friends the way Donald Trump does. He’s got as much chance of breaking bread with the locals unaided by fixers and coming away in one piece as the camel has with a needle’s eye. Underneath the mealy ideals is a sugar daddy impresario indulging crimson fetishes on the cheap as he moralizes behind hired protection. And did I mention he looks like a big gay squirrel?

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