Anthony Bourdain’s War on Famous Creeps
The chef has, thanks to his partner Asia Argento, become one of the most outspoken famous guys when it comes to calling out bad celebrity men.
In recent weeks, famous men have been consistently owned for forays into sexual harassment/assault opining. The ancient proverb “never tweet” has never been more relevant. Of course, for those of us who are just watching from the sidelines, these reversals of social media fortune are the darkly funny silver linings of a particularly bleak cultural moment. The fact that Ben Affleck groped Hilarie Burton on camera is no laughing matter. But the fact that he was called out for his vile behavior publicly, on Twitter, and only after he posted a carefully worded condemnation of collaborator Harvey Weinstein, is sickly satisfying. Same goes for Geraldo Rivera, who tweeted out some truly bad sexual misconduct takes only to be shamed via a resurfaced interview in which Bette Midler accused the Fox News correspondent of drugging and groping her.
While Affleck was pressured into denouncing sexual misconduct, and Rivera appeared to have been answering the siren call of an impulsive, unsolicited opinion, Anthony Bourdain occupies a third realm of #MeToo posts. Unlike other male stars, Bourdain hasn’t been reticent to speak out; and, rather than wondering about whether men can hug their colleagues or sharing fond memories of Matt Lauer, the celebrity chef is centering survivors in his social media. In other words: Bourdain is taking on the mantle of outspoken male allyship—with mixed results.
Bourdain himself has acknowledged that his post #MeToo pontificating may very well be too little, too late. The Parts Unknown host explained in a CNN interview that he had “spent nearly 30 years in the restaurant industry, an industry and a culture that has been pervasively hostile to women.”
“In my first book, Kitchen Confidential, which basically made my career…I was so proud of having survived that I romanticized that culture. I celebrated it in a way that I think—unintentionally—validated the sort of work instincts of ‘meathead bro’ culture and certainly did not help women’s situation.”
He continued: “To stay silent has a real cost…You will be called to account for that. You will be asked what you did when you saw this.”
In an interview with Slate, Bourdain further mused on the legacy of Kitchen Confidential: “I’ve had to ask myself, and I have been for some time, ‘To what extent in that book did I provide validation to meatheads?’” He also described an internal reckoning post-Weinstein, in which he diagnosed his ignorance as a “personal failing.”
“I’ve been hearing a lot of really bad shit, frankly, and in many cases it’s like, wow, I’ve known some of these women and I’ve known women who’ve had stories like this for years and they’ve said nothing to me,” he noted. “What is wrong with me? What have I, how have I presented myself in such a way as to not give confidence, or why was I not the sort of person people would see as a natural ally here?”
Bourdain is the first to admit that his recent enlightenment has been fueled by a “personal relationship”: his girlfriend, actor and director Asia Argento, is one of the many women who accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. Argento has subsequently left Italy because of the backlash she faced, predominately at the hands of misogynistic media outlets. “I’ve seen the way Asia has been treated in her home country by the press, and it is disgusting and dismaying and discouraging,” Bourdain told Slate. “You understand why people don’t report these things. When you see what even now, today, what people say. What they would have said on Day One and what they are saying all these years later when women find the strength to be honest. I’ve seen that and I’ve really fucking seen it and of course it makes me angry.”
Bourdain’s efforts to support survivors, starting with his partner and stemming outwards, has resulted in a predictable rollercoaster of praise and backlash. At times, Bourdain’s outspokenness has arguably crossed the line between productivity and performativity, stealing the spotlight away from the women he is championing. At the same time, it’s worth noting that Bourdain appears to be one of the few famous men who’s willing to call out complicit players by name.
On October 6, he shared a Daily Beast article titled “Hollywood’s Loud Silence On Harvey Weinstein’s Sexual Harassment Allegations,” tweeting, “Nauseating, chicken-hearted enablers all.” Dodging controversy, Bourdain clarified, “I’m not talking about his victims. I’m talking about everyone else who knew and said nothing. Who are still staying silent.”
On October 11, the chef showed his commitment to taking these perceived enablers to task, tweeting his response to Hillary Clinton’s Weinstein statement. “Hillary’s interview with Fareed Zakaria was shameful in its deflection and its disingenuousness,” Bourdain posted. “Know what Hillary Clinton is NOT? She’s not stupid. Or unsophisticated about the world. The Weinstein stories had been out there for years. Mindless Hillary hate aside, this was a terrible response to questions about a ‘friend’ who’s been tormenting women for decades.”
“I have met Hillary Clinton,” he added. “I liked her. I admired much about her. This interview was a real disappointment.”
The chef had even harsher words for Quentin Tarantino, describing his as a “life of complicity, shame and compromise,” and Alec Baldwin, who feuded with Bourdain and Argento on—you guessed it—Twitter.
It all began when Baldwin gave his own creative, highly problematic take on why Hollywood’s “open secret” wasn’t outed sooner. “Well, but what happened was that Rose McGowan took a payment of $100,000 and settled her case with him. And it was for Rose McGowan to prosecute that case,” Baldwin told PBS News Hour. The actor subsequently sorta-apologized for his victim-blaming, tweeting out a statement on why he was quitting Twitter.
“It was never my intention, in my public statements, to ‘blame the victim’ in the many sexual assault cases that have emerged recently,” Baldwin wrote. “I simply posited that the settlement of such cases certainly delayed justice, though I am fully aware that those settlements were entered into [with] the understanding that settlement is wise, intimidated into believing so. My heart goes out to all such victims. My goal is to do better in all things related to gender equality. Au revoir.”
After Argento shared the statement, writing, “We won’t miss you bully boy,” Baldwin made the ill-informed decision to hijack his nonprofit foundation’s Twitter account to clap back—an account that Argento couldn’t access. Baldwin wrote, “If you paint every man w the same brush, you’re gonna run out of paint or men. @AsiaArgento,” to which she responded, “I can’t reply because you blocked me. I don’t need to paint you #AlecBaldwin, or any man. You did your own self-portrait & it’s despicable.”
Bourdain, unblocked for the time being, told Baldwin that, “You are really too dumb to pour piss out of a boot.” In a since-deleted comment, the actor retorted, “You should stick to eating worms and keep your mouth shut.”
While belittling a victim-shaming Baldwin on social media is all well and good, Bourdain faced his biggest “male ally on Twitter” challenge yet on Sunday, when the chef was inevitably called to comment on allegations against his own friends and peers. Given the “macho” industry that Bourdain came up in and his admitted complicity in that hostile bro culture, it was only a matter of time ‘til the growing list of creeps hit home.
On Saturday, a female photographer named Chelsea Lauren posted a video of Queens of the Stone Age musician Josh Homme attacking her from a concert stage. “I saw him coming over and I was shooting away,” Lauren told Variety. “He looked straight at me, swung his leg back pretty hard and full-blown kicked me in the face.”
After the Queens of the Stone Age Twitter account posted a brief apology from Homme, Bourdain shared his two cents. “Waking up in Bhutan to the Josh Homme @QOTSA shit and still in the WTF!!!??!! Phase. Senseless. And a weak ass apology.” Later, he tweeted, “It’s where you stand when the people you care about and admire do awful things that matters. Keeping head down and hoping it goes away? No…I’m not going to deny that Josh Homme @qotsa is a friend any more than I’m going to deny that what he did was reckless, stupid and harmful.” Bourdain ultimately seemed to come around after Homme posted a more extensive video apology; the chef linked to the Instagram video, writing, “It was reckless, stupid, and it hurt someone. But this is a good start at a way forward.”
But Bourdain’s fans were more intrigued by a series of mysterious tweets posted on Sunday: “and Monday, I’m afraid, isn’t going to get any better,” quickly followed by, “No. Trust me. Monday is really gonna suck.” The next day, Bourdain let his followers in to the just-published controversy, writing, “It’s Batali. And it’s bad.”
And that’s just 24 hours in the life of a male ally. Doubtlessly Batali, who all but admitted to multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, is just the tip of the iceberg. There will be more bad men, and Bourdain has set up a precedent for denouncing all of them, regardless of previous affiliation, no matter how painful. As allegations continue to avalanche, the celebrity chef will face more and more questions about how much he knew, with Twitter users attempting to square his enlightened social media presence with past complicity.