Did Anthony Bourdain Diss Detroit?

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Anthony Bourdain came, saw, spoke brashly, and went on his way. He came to Detroit to film an episode of his popular CNN series “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.” After the segment aired, he had plenty to say concerning his experiences and personal judgment of Detroit and Detroiters. Detroit Free Press writer Sylvia Rector wrote the following describing Bourdain’s assessment of our rust-to-riches city:

Anthony Bourdain proves himself to be a romantic, unabashed admirer of Detroit’s history, spirit and resiliency — even as he declares it “utterly screwed” and compares it to Chernobyl…

Bourdain later wrote the following in a Tumblr post:

I love Detroit. I think it’s beautiful. I think it’s one of the most beautiful cities in America—still.

…Detroit looks like nowhere else. Detroit looks like motherfuckin’ Detroit. As it should.

…I love Detroit. I love Detroiters. You’ve got to have a sense of humor to live in a city so relentlessly fucked. You’ve got to be tough—and occasionally even devious. And Detroiters are funny, tough—and supreme improvisers.

Though some Detroiters were slighted by his mishmash of post-visit messages, I think that overall Bourdain left a very positive spin on the city of Detroit. Sure, the first half of Bourdain’s show highlighted the usual empty fields and ruin porn, and he even compared Detroit to Chernobyl. He had this to say about his dabble in the porn fields:

I, too, I’m afraid, am guilty of wallowing in ruin porn, of making sure we pointed our cameras, lingered even, in the waist-high grass, overgrown gardens, abandoned mansions, crumbling towers, denuded neighborhoods of what was once an all-powerful metropolis, the engine of capitalism.

In fact, he took things a step further and did some urban exploring inside the notorious abandoned Packard Plant, a place that has become a playground and photography backdrop for locals and curious outsiders. The result is a stunning video for those who are not familiar with the landmark.

Nevertheless, Bourdain’s emphasis on ruin porn wasn’t all misplaced – in fact, the Phoenix rising from the ashes happens to be our extraordinary story that makes this city such an exceptional place to be right now. Everyone wants to know about, talk about, and understand the Detroit story, from its long history of raging capitalistic successes to its decades of plunder, and ultimately, the city’s nosedive into the depths of blight and neglect. The story of discovery and rebirth of this part unknown starts with, yes, images of ruin porn and the lobotomized mass of bedraggled real estate. After all, unlike most anti-Detroit, media naysayers who google and write about the city’s woes from behind a computer bearing distorted information, Bourdain came to Detroit and gave the city a shot at redemption.

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