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A Tale Of Two Tonys

How did Robert De Niro's Manhattan spite at the Tony Awards play in Tony Bourdain's Appalachia?
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Variety reports on Robert De Niro’s stunt at last night’s Tony Awards. Do not play the video at work; he drops an F-bomb. Excerpt:

Robert De Niro had a few choice words for President Donald Trump while the legendary actor was on stage at Sunday’s Tony Awards to introduce Bruce Springsteen’s musical performance.

“I’m going to say one thing, F— Trump,” De Niro said while pumping his fists in the air. “It’s no longer down with Trump. It’s f— Trump.”

The political sentiment earned De Niro a standing ovation from the crowd at Radio City Music Hall, while CBS scrambled to bleep the audio on the live telecast. After the audience settled, De Niro got back to talking about Springsteen, who received a special Tony Award during Sunday night. The intimate show, “Springsteen on Broadway” — or as De Niro referred to it, “Jersey Boy” — features the Boss performing his music and sharing stories from his 2016 autobiography “Born to Run.” Tickets to the exclusive concert residency, which has been extended twice, are upwards of $850.

This is so perfect. A New York-based movie star denounces Donald Trump in his introduction for a blue-collar troubadour whose stories about the Working Man™ are being performed for Manhattan audiences who pay close to a thousand dollars a ticket to hear them.

The disconnect is so massive that it’s comic.

I can’t imagine that many Trump voters were watching the Tony Awards last night, so they wouldn’t have seen that virtue-signaling display. But it will enjoy a long life on social media, where it will do Donald Trump a lot of good with the masses, because it will solidify their entirely accurate belief that the cultural elites hate them. De Niro and the standing-ovation-giving audience are so vain that they don’t recognize this.

Good job, Bobby. You have hurt your cause more than you can know. If I’m Trump, I’m sitting in Singapore laughing.

I don’t care about Broadway, so I wasn’t watching the Tonys last night. I was watching the West Virginia episode of the late Tony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. Talk about a tale of two Tonys! Bourdain acknowledges in the opening montage that he’s a New Yorker, and as such, what the Trump-voting miners and country people of West Virginia stand for is anathema to everything he believes in. But he said he wanted to go spend some time with them, and get to know them.

Understand that Tony Bourdain was a smart-aleck New Yorker and unapologetic liberal who has publicly criticized Donald Trump. He no doubt would share completely Robert De Niro’s crude evaluation of Trump. And yet, after hanging out with the working class in West Virginia, in that opening montage, he says, to those who look down on those Trump-supporting Appalachians: “Screw you.”

Contrast that with De Niro’s similar remark.

In “field notes” to the West Virginia episode, which led off the current season of the CNN show, Bourdain writes:

Like any other episode of Parts Unknown, whether in Vietnam or Nigeria, or any city in the United States, this West Virginia episode is a plea for understanding of the people whose personal histories, sense of pride, independence, and daunting challenges deserve respect. It’s a walk in somebody else’s shoes.

The stereotypes about West Virginia, it turns out, are just as cruel, ignorant, misguided, patronizing, and evil as any other. Every meal might have begun with saying grace, but there was nothing hypocritical about it. People do care about each other. Friends, family, and the community are held close. The men and women who come from families of four, five generations of coal mining are not naive about the promises of cynical politicians—or the inevitable future of fossil fuel. Their identities, their aspirations, and their situation are far more complex than one can imagine, and their needs are more immediate.

There’s a reason why so many West Virginians love their birthplace so fiercely and have fought so long and so hard to preserve it. I hope this show gives you all a glimpse.

This past spring, Bourdain explained the impetus for the episode in an interview with Eater. Excerpt:

I guess for a long time I’ve been going to foreign locations like Iran, Liberia, Vietnam, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia where the culture and politics are very, very different than my own, and yet I try to go with an open mind and show some respect. And I like the idea of going to the heart of “Trump, God, and guns” country and looking at it in exactly the same way — with an open mind, as I’ve done elsewhere. It seemed only fair and only right.

I’ve gotta tell you, I was absolutely rocked back on my heels by, first of all, how beautiful it is, and how kind people were to me, and generous. I mean, in the same way that my preconceptions are upended so often around the world, I felt the same thing happening in West Virginia. In the stereotypical coal mining town in West Virginia — which is pretty much where we went, into the poorest area of West Virginia coal country — I was utterly moved and enchanted by the people and the place. And I like to think I came back from it with a more nuanced picture of what it means to be a coal miner, and why people voted for a sketchy businessman from New York who’s never changed a tire in his life.

You know, I went right at those things — guns, God, and Trump — and I was very moved by what I found there. I hope that people who watch the show will feel the same kind of empathy and respect, and will be able to walk in somebody else’s shoes, or imagine walking in somebody else’s shoes, for a few minutes in the same way that hopefully they do with one of my other shows.

The people he spent time with in West Virginia remember Bourdain fondly, and mourn his passing. Excerpts:


Williams said the family quickly learned not to worry. Bourdain wasn’t there to judge. He enjoyed the meal.

“I was sitting right beside him at the picnic table,” she said. “Very down to earth guy. That’s the one thing I saw right away. “You think this guy who has been on TV this many years would be snobby, but he was so down to earth, so nice.”

She appreciated his attitude.

“He was very concerned about letting people know the real truth about West Virginia,” she said, “not making us look bad.”

Mike Costello, a local chef who appears on the episode, said:

That kind of appreciation has resulted because Bourdain was willing to listen, Costello said.

“People of southern West Virginia feel for the first time someone from the outside media came in and told a story they were proud of. I think that tells a lot about the power of narrative and the power of open mindedness,” Costello said.

“When someone comes here with the goal of being open minded and learning about a place it shows how encouraged and empowered people can be when they’re able to tell their own story.”

I bought the West Virginia episode on Amazon Streaming last night, but I just found it online for free — for how long, I don’t know, but have a look. The intro monologue begins at the two-minute mark. It’s clear that Bourdain is tearing into his own prejudices, and was angry at himself for once thinking badly of these people. Bourdain says:

Here in the heart of every belief system I’ve ever mocked or fought against, I was welcomed with open arms by everyone. I found a place both heartbreaking and beautiful. A place that both symbolizes and contains everything wrong — and everything wonderful and hopeful — about America.

In the show, Bourdain does not back off his own beliefs, political and otherwise. What he does is humanize the people of West Virginia, and express solidarity with them across the political and cultural divide. As he tweeted back then:


I’d trade that entire Broadway audience for one more year of Anthony Bourdain’s life. He had heart. De Niro, that bunch — they just have money and attitude.

If you didn’t follow Bourdain’s work, I hope you will now. We lost a great American last week.



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