Every week Document has an agenda: digging up dispatches from the creases of global culture. With this information, go forth.
Happiness, love and beer: a reflection on Anthony Bourdain.
To say that I have never been affected by celebrity deaths would be a lie; I feel, very deeply, about the snuffing out of human life, about memory and emotions dissipating into the ether. But, when it comes to deep, personal, stop-in-your-tracks shock from a celebrity death, there perhaps has been no other than when I, in the early hours of the morning, groggily scrolled through my slack messages to see that Anthony Bourdain had taken his life. I had grown up with his show, No Reservations, and an audiobook recording of the memoir that skyrocketed him to stardom, Kitchen Confidential—my parents were big fans. But, I had only known him as a lawless and endlessly cool public figure—spit in your eye and stroll away, boots clacking away from you. So by the time I had rediscovered him, when he started his last and more profoundly impactful show, Parts Unknown, I was shocked to find that Bourdain’s attitude towards people in the most obscure parts of the world was one of genuine respect, love and an intense desire to share, with adoration, to the world. He spoke, sometimes gratingly, and always unapologetically of the beauty of humanity in places that have been stigmatized into disillusionment. We all want the same things in life, and politics aside, this is what we strive for: happiness, love, safety, family, and, of course, beer. He spoke, without question, without thought of career security of the matters of #MeToo, of the shit that is polluting nearly every industry in our developed world. He took to Twitter to make sure no one forgot the strength shown by Asia Argento, his girlfriend. In a world so short on legitimate male advocates, who feel no need to play “star” of the movement, Bourdain was, without question, a singular voice.
In episodes of Parts Unknown, he is often shot as the lone white guy or the quintessential American, sunglasses and messenger bag in place as his lanky six feet four inch tall frame makes it way across crowded streets, often filled with non-white bodies much smaller and shorter than his. But what also marks him is his infinite generosity of spirit, and his refusal to take up space that would, we can assume, have been handed over to him, given his status as Visiting White Celebrity.
The cloud of celebrity death.
This past week has seen what seems to be a torrent of high profile suicides. First Kate Spade—well known for her chic, non-pretentious fashions and handbags—then Bourdain’s, which sent a shockwave throughout not only the culinary world, but media total. Naturally, the first reaction to these events was to commodify and speculate, re-reading Kate Spades goodbye letter, looking for insight into why the designer took her life—who, possibly, could we blame? Pouring over the details about Asia Argento’s activities in the days leading up to Bourdain’s suicide hoping that will help us piece together the context of his suicide. But, of course, we all seem to come up with nothing, nothing concrete, nothing with any value whatsoever. Our attempt to sensationalize these celebrity suicides belies our lack of awareness to the very same events happening all around us. For instead of looking for prevention—outside of haphazard retweets of some awareness phone number, does anyone actually call these?—for a problem that has afflicted us ad-infinitum, we wait for it to rear it’s ugly head on the national stage and then seek someone to blame, with no thought to the disease that was obviously working it’s way through them.
Let’s not glamorize suicide or reduce it to simplistic scenarios, a broken heart, loneliness, addiction, marital troubles. Let’s accept that the mind is fragile and mysterious and that we can’t fully know what another person is thinking or feeling or what past traumas haunt and resurface in any moment. The mind is a powerful engine, even of destruction.
The Vice guide to playing the media industry.
In a spare-no-detail exposé fitting of Vice’s own tell-all editorials, New York Magazine confirms the skepticism of anyone who’s read or watched the journalism produced by the millennial media behemoth. I still consume Noisey, still pick up on some of the Vice-related news stories. Yet, there’s a growing disconnect between the idea of Vice, the history of Vice, and where Vice is at today. What on the surface seems to be a highly successful, progressive powerhouse, becomes far less so once you even briefly scratch the surface—or speak to anyone living in New York. Tales of high-scale productions staged at their Williamsburg office to dupe potential investors into thinking them more legitimate, of their less than savory client appeasement where Shane Smith once declared that “It also helps to eat them out and mail them drugs,” of their quiet under-the-rug handling of sexual assault and a general machismo environment. Financially, they seemed to have hit a wall with their culture of charade, with them hitting “$100 million lower than Vice’s internal $805 million target” last year, after which they also were the subject of an exposé by New York Times and a dissolved partnership with Vogue. All this, the macho swagger and bluffs, the fraternity inspired workplace, has been built by and controlled by Shane, and yet, even that position of power seems to be a front as well, where he has been foretelling his departure for years, although that has yet to materialize because when you’ve built the ultimate white-male culture around you, why leave?
“Smith had proudly boasted in the past that Vice was “a sweatshop for trustafarians” who could afford to work for little pay, and in 2014, it was still a place where an employee could find herself taking care of a more senior colleague who was wasted after a Vice party and be worried she wouldn’t have enough money in her bank account to give the cabbie cash to clean up any vomit.”
In your totalitarian dismissal of Vertigo, you may be more like Hitchcock than you think.
Our carte-blanche dismissal of art, movies, and music as just the sole property of white men may be just as harmful as the systems we are supposedly critiquing. In doing so, we are putting once again all focus on men, propping them up as the vanguard of social issues all while removing women’s agency during our pseudo-critiques of patriarchal systems. Men, of all creeds, will find any way to put movements under their guidance, their direction, drowning out women’s voices on the matter, and reducing them to irreverence. The claim that “no woman does this, watches this, believes in this” is often a front to hide behind our own opinions on a matter, choosing instead to claim gravitas, that what we are feeling must be a sign of a pure sociological direction. In doing so we lay bare our true selves, that we are perpetuating those very systems we claim to understand and thus claim to dismantle, for we are erasing the voices and opinions of the endless non-male academics and casual fans alike, who have their own point of view, their own social reality.
“Consumption of pop culture can’t be considered a political end in-and-of itself. Nor can avoiding the work of problematic (even awful) people act as the equivalent of dismantling the beliefs and abuses that allowed them to harm others in the first place.”