Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown finished its second season in Detroit, and the episode aired Sunday night (Nov. 10th). I found it beautifully photographed, and the eateries he visited were all wholly unique, though some of them were not the sort of places most of us will be able to go to (like a firehouse). There was a lot of footage about the ruins of Detroit, and maybe that verged on “ruin porn,” but it didn’t look as menacing as a lot of other similar shows. All the people he showed were great examples of the resilient, can-do sort of people Detroit is known for.
Of course, it turned out to be controversial. A battle rages according to Deadline Detroit. Critics say the show fixated too much on the ruins and didn’t show enough of the good areas in Detroit, like midtown and the well-kept neighborhoods like Sherwood Forest and East English Village, nor of our tourist attractions like Hitsville USA or Greektown.
The problem with the critics is, they wanted a different show from what Bourdain produces, and what CNN hired him to do. It’s not as if he doesn’t know about more mainstream good eateries. On his previous cable TV series he came and visited the Cadieux Cafe, Polonia in Hamtramck, and an Arabic restaurant named Al-Ameer in east Dearborn. If you saw other episodes of Parts Unknown, you know these are not supposed to be chamber of commerce promo pieces. Frankly, the nice parts of Detroit aren’t really any different from nice parts in any other city. I’m not disparaging them by saying that, but, well, if Bourdain wanted nice he could have stayed home.
One friend on Facebook said Bourdain should’ve checked out the interesting scenes in Ferndale and Royal Oak. They aren’t in Detroit. Suburbanites make the claim we’re Detroiters, but … we aren’t, are we? Because if we were, we’d be IN Detroit, not merely visiting for some special event and then heading home to the ‘burbs again. Ferndale and Royal Oak, again, are nice, but nice isn’t exactly in short supply in the world.
I think Bourdain got it right, myself. The ruins ARE fascinating. There are seeds of a renewal in the city, though it’s early and perhaps what will be the big spark was in the show, and maybe it’s still to come. The show, I think, showed the best reason to not give up hope: the people who are there and who are coming to try something new amid the ruins.