Anthony Bourdain has a point. The chef and host of the Emmy and Peabody-winning CNN series Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown is dismayed by the coverage of his recent and misfortunate foray into Canada to do a program on Newfoundland and Labrador.
His most recent point is that a National Post version of a Canadian Press story about alleged controversies related to the program was extremely dumb. He alluded to the story on social media and wrote, “Yet more lazy, click-hungry [insert word for ‘manure’] with misleading header completely unsupported by text of article. Truly discouraging.”
The larger, more important point is that he’s discouraged by his experience dealing with Canada and its media, and Newfoundland in particular. As well he might. Talk about a cockamamie controversy.
First, Bourdain and the show took incoming fire because the show’s Twitter feed – not Bourdain’s – used the word Newfie in a promotional tweet for the show. One can imagine somebody on staff trying their best to quickly summarize context and offer some colour. Once upon a time one could imagine the people, media and politicians of Newfoundland and Labrador taking this with humour and grace. Not any more.
There followed thundering denunciations of Bourdain for this heinous misdemeanour. Not that the word had actually passed his lips, mind you. It was just an occasion for umbrage. High dudgeon was expressed by some on social media and local media jumped on that. No less a personage than the usually sensible Seamus O’Regan, a St. John’s MP and the federal Minister of Veterans Affairs, endorsed the umbrage with this tweet: “We don’t like it.”
Next, after the show aired, umbrage was taken at the presence on it of two Montreal chefs. There was small-minded spite expressed on social media. Bourdain, clearly losing patience at this point, defended what he sarcastically called the “Frenchie” chefs, saying they were the ones principally responsible for his journey into Newfoundland culture and cuisine. This, too, drew the vexatious wrath of the easily offended and the media, and Bourdain wrote his “truly discouraging” comment.
Listen: Fact is, in the matter of Newfoundland’s culture and food, Bourdain did the heavy lifting with encouragement and support from chefs Dave McMillan and Fred Morin of the Montreal restaurant Joe Beef, both of them major enthusiasts for Newfoundland food. Bourdain was then subject to abuse from people whose heavy lifting amounts to wielding the TV remote or lifting a finger to type sarcasm on Twitter.
Newfoundland occupies an outsized place in the Canadian culture. This is largely thanks to television, which has long since adopted the province’s distinctive dark humour and verbal agility as the default Canadian comedy style.
Now it seems that the collective sense of humour, and indeed any sense of proportion, has been lost. Possibly it can be located in downtown Toronto, near where Rick Mercer did his final show for CBC. Wouldn’t be surprised if that is exactly where it is.
But is Newfoundland interested in getting it back? There’s the rub. The spirit and humour of Newfoundland having become so ubiquitous in the culture, a person is genuinely and seriously disappointed in the abuse heaped on Bourdain by some of its inhabitants.
And it’s not merely a matter of a few cranks involved, the sort of people one imagines go about Newfoundland with a face that would stop a clock. Something’s gone awry. Earlier this year, after yours truly wrote that the Canadian Screen Awards gala on TV was boring, the usually sensible Mary Walsh took to social media to take umbrage. Walsh noted that I get paid to write this column. In the annals of attacks on yours truly it was pipsqueak stuff, but complaining that I get paid was more like offended-in-hicksville than Mary Walsh. Talk about “truly discouraging.”
These are strange times we live in. Trial by social media is all the rage. We have a federal government that needs a Minister for Apologies. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador might as well rename itself the province of Newfoundland and Umbrage and appoint a Minister for Outrage. Ask Bourdain and he’d probably agree.
Bourdain’s hour-long program was an exuberant and idiosyncratic exploration of the cultural and culinary heritage of Newfoundland and Labrador. A delight to watch, and Bourdain’s the good guy in all of this. Now he’s fed up, and he’s entitled to be.