A recent article from The New Yorker details a kind-of legacy of Bourdain that hinges on artistic obituary and sheds light on an oft-ignored topic in the discussion of mental health.
Helen Rosner, the author of the article “Anthony Bourdain and the Power of Telling the Truth,” brings to light a truth that she likely did not intend to emphasize at all: that the family is an important and necessary structure in life. Rosner mentions details of Bourdain’s life revealed in his own memoir such as his “anger, hard drug use, and other destructive behaviors,” as well as mentions his parents’ divorce when he was young. She further summarizes Bourdain’s own love life in his two divorces, one after 20 years of marriage and coinciding with his rise to fame, and another leaving his daughter in its wake. Rosner categorizes this summary under the “darkness” of Bourdain’s life and quickly moves on to other topics such as his depression and more recent relationships before his death that mimics a Hollywood gossip article more than a genuine remembrance.
As a reader of Rosner’s article, I was surprised to read about the constant breaking-up of the family in Bourdain’s life, largely because these details hadn’t materialized much in the flurry of media surrounding Bourdain’s death. What’s more, I think Rosner’s inclusion of these details proves that the reasons for these tragedies are not so mysterious as they are sometimes presented. Bourdain had a “lasting scar” from his parents’ divorce that his own life seems to echo, an echo that was only intensified by fame and the habits that too often come with a celebrity life. This situation might make society wonder if the question is not so much “How do we talk about mental illness and depression to prevent tragedy?” but rather, “Who is not talking about this and should be?” or “Where is the support of the family in these times?”
Obviously, anyone can cite individuals who fell to the same fate as Bourdain and did seem to have that familial support. But this fact should not distract from the point that the family is central to society for support, for understanding one’s identity, and for allowing that identity to flourish in a healthy way. It would be wrong to suggest that the lack of family has nothing to do with these tragic stories.
Furthermore, the fact that the cohesion of the family is practically a footnote in Rosner’s article is an indicator that the family is no longer seen as an important structure in society, and that conversations regarding those hurting and suffering pay no attention to the role of the family. Too often when these tragedies occur and blow-up in the media, the issue turns political instead of directing dialogue toward the underlying issues of human suffering and where society is lacking to heal that hurt.
Rosner’s article, unfortunately, proves guilty of this exact predicament. In the article, she takes a dramatic political turn that disappoints because it paints Bourdain as a poster-boy for the political issues that are clearly important to the author instead of celebrating Bourdain for the person he was or the passions he followed in life. Veiled under the misleading concept of Bourdain as one “telling the truth” this writing accomplishes nothing more than using his famed life and death to promote her own agenda and political stance. This type of writing is deplorable and is one of the contributing inhibitors to conversations about mental illness. Perhaps instead of focusing an article on Bourdain to feminist movements that are only mildly related to his life, the author could have maintained the authentic and considerate voice in the beginning of her article that praised Bourdain for his most remembered and special qualities. Maybe if reporting and journalism concerned itself more with consideration for others instead of tricking audiences into jumping on a bandwagon, society could reclaim a bit of understanding in the world and start effective solutions individuals suffering from mental illness.