Cultural Pillaging: Anthony Bourdain and the Exoticization of Ozark Culture
By Justin Bergh
On January 8, 2002, Food Network aired the premiere episode of A Cook’s Tour hosted by Anthony Bourdain. The episode’s title sequence immediately established the show’s deliberate divergence from the cooking demonstration structure of previously successful food television shows. Bourdain, donning a leather jacket and a silver hoop earring, opened the sequence from the interior of a professional, but nondescript kitchen with the phrase, “Welcome to my world.” A series of rapid cuts ensued. All of the scenes, filmed inside the cacophonous confines of the New York City kitchen of Brasserie Les Halles—where Bourdain served as executive chef prior to the success of his 2000 New York Times bestselling memoir Kitchen Confidential—effectively evoked the chaotic nature of life inside a professional kitchen that Bourdain described in the book. Between shots of the kitchen’s various stations, Bourdain was shown in his chef’s whites, shouting orders while servers rushed quickly around him. In a voiceover, Bourdain explains the rationale of the show and his role in it:
“As a cook, tastes and smells are my memories, and now I’m in search of new ones. So I’m leaving New York City and hope to have a few epiphanies around the world and I’m willing to go to some lengths to do that. I am looking for extremes of emotion and experience. I’ll try anything. I’ll risk everything. I have nothing to lose.”
The title sequence established both the show’s uniqueness, as well as that of Bourdain himself. In contrast to the staged cooking demonstrations and the carefully cultivated populist personalities of the already established Food Network stars (of whom only about one-third had professional training), the title sequence for A Cook’s Tour overtly stressed Bourdain’s difference and authenticity by exhibiting his experience as a professional chef. Moreover, by demonstrating his success in taming the chaos of a professional kitchen, the title sequence provided a clear rationale for Bourdain’s need to move beyond the kitchen in order to seek new “authentic” food and cultural experiences around the world.
More important than his professional experience in differentiating the show—as well as Bourdain himself—from other established food media shows and their affable hosts, however, was the ability of A Cook’s Tour to continue to build upon the “bad boy” persona Bourdain cultivated so presciently in Kitchen Confidential. His consistent derision of other Food Network personalities, swearing, drinking, sardonic wit, and chain-smoking all contributed an air of authenticity to the show that rendered it unlike any other form of food media proffered by the cultural industries at the time. Consequently, through his rebellious style, Bourdain managed to separate himself from the largely homogeneous products and personalities on offer within the food media genre. Much like the branding that distinguishes products in other areas of capitalist production, as Graeme Turner suggests, “[T]he celebrity develops their capacity for fame, not by achieving great things, but by differentiating their own personality from those of their competitors in the public arena.” Bourdain, in his televised global search for “authentic” food, employed a devil-may-care attitude that built upon—and strengthened—the rebellious, authentic persona he established in Kitchen Confidential by accentuating his difference from other culinary celebrities whose fame was linked to their congenial personalities and accessible domestic cooking demonstrations.
Unlike the cooking demonstration shows in which viewers are “not only spared the real-life aspects of food preparation” but also “cheated of the full extent of the work and physical exertions required to accomplish the results,” Bourdain openly and consistently celebrated the violent and unsavory aspects of both cooking and eating. In so doing, Bourdain positioned himself as rougher, more adventurous, and ultimately more masculine than other male culinary celebrities confined to domestic kitchen settings. Bourdain’s unabashed representation of the darker aspects of the culinary industry offered readers—and subsequently viewers—of his media fare an ostensibly privileged perspective previously available only to culinary insiders. Through his demonstrated mastery of the culinary underbelly, Bourdain successfully cultivated an authentic persona that distinguished him from other culinary celebrities and filled a void within the burgeoning food media genre that others had ignored. This authentic persona not only contributed to development of his fame, but also provided the perfect vehicle through which to successfully build and expand his own brand within culinary media, eventually altering the scope, style, and importance of the genre within the broader cultural industries in the process.
Maintaining an authentic persona while occupying a conspicuous position within the commercial cultural industries is not easily accomplished. In contemporary popular culture, as Sarah Banet-Weiser argues, “What is understood (and experienced) as authentic is considered such precisely because it is perceived as not commercial.” For Bourdain, then, filming a television show distributed by Food Network and co-produced by New York Times Television inherently threatened the stability of his authentic persona, and by extension, his fame and cultural relevance. Furthermore, because Bourdain relinquished his position as executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in order to pursue a career in mass media, his rebellious, anti-establishment persona as well as the authenticity derived from his position as a kitchen insider were in danger of being usurped by perceptions of Bourdain selling out or becoming too commercial. For Bourdain, however, the televised global food expedition instead provided him with a new form of authenticity to cultivate: exoticism.Consequently, rather than lose his anti-establishment, bad boy authenticity in his transition to commercial television, Bourdain utilized his authentic persona to lend veracity to his ability to locate and recognize “authentic” Others “unspoiled” by Western commercial culture.
Bourdain, however, did not simply discover foreign, authentic cultures, he ingratiated himself with exotic Others by expressing a clear appreciation for their cultural traditions and cuisine. In a very similar manner to the way Bourdain exposed readers to chef underground in Kitchen Confidential, in his global travels for A Cook’s Tour he introduced viewers to a diffuse global subculture who lived outside the norms of dominant, mainstream commercial culture—whether forced to by their conditions of existence, or in an overt stance against the dominant economic system and value structure of their various societies. Consciously or not, all of these outsiders Bourdain sought out—above all—lived an “authentic” lifestyle, often by maintaining and celebrating their cultural traditions and cuisine. In connecting with these “authentic” Others, Bourdain managed to effectively maintain his authentic persona and anti-corporate, cool credibility. Moreover, by accepting his presence and eager, adventurous consumption of their traditional cuisine—foods that other Western people are often unaware of or deliberately choose not eat—the exotic Others he encountered reinforced Bourdain’s masculine mastery of food.
Although A Cook’s Tour lasted only two seasons on Food Network, it provided a foundational structure upon which Bourdain, along with the show’s original producers, would achieve widespread popularity and critical acclaim with their second collaborative television venture, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. A recreation of A Cook’s Tour with improved production quality, No Reservations continued to proclaim and produce authenticity through exotic cultures and food. In contrast to A Cook’s Tour, where authenticity was almost exclusively based on the relative remoteness of a culture and the foreign nature of its traditional cuisine for Western viewers, No Reservations expanded Bourdain’s construction of authenticity beyond the mere exposure of the “novel” cuisine in far-flung geographic locations. Instead, authenticity became more mutable, allowing Bourdain to “discover” and authenticate the food and cultures of Others in multiple, more nuanced ways—even within cities of the West. In so doing, different forms of authenticity began to take on distinct meanings with disparate consequences for the people Bourdain encountered in each episode of the show.
This article analyzes the cultural influence of chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain by examining the construction and representation of authenticity in his television show No Reservations. I demonstrate how Bourdain, acting as a cultural intermediary, managed to sinuously maneuver between disparate cultures, utilizing his authentic persona to affirm the distinguishing characteristics of Others in order to expose Western middle-class consumers to different, more “authentic” cultural dispositions as well as provide them with new symbolic goods and experiences to convert into cultural capital. Through his (alleged) unique ability to traverse traditional cultural, social, and economic divides, Bourdain enhanced his own authentic persona by aligning himself with and representing the various forms of authenticity he “discovered” in Others. And because what it means to be authentic varies for different people and different cultures, Bourdain’s power to expose and authenticate Others produced distinct consequences for those he deems authentic.
In this article, I focus on the “Ozark” episode of No Reservations as a specific case study of Bourdain’s identification and subsequent representation of authentic, Western Others. By reproducing traditional stereotypes of white Ozark natives as culturally “backwards,” internal Others, Bourdain effectively constructed an unadulterated authentic Ozark culture through his representation of Ozark people as self-reliant, steadfastly committed to their traditional ways of life, and generally opposed to modern notions of progress and contemporary cultural norms. Through Bourdain’s exoticization of the people he encountered in the Ozark region and his auspicious participation in many of their traditional cultural activities, Bourdain was able to further instantiate his own authentic, masculine, and countercultural persona by demonstrating cultural adroitness and a mastery of their ways. Prior to engaging in this analysis, however, I first want to emphasize the importance of authenticity in maintaining Bourdain’s cultural relevance, and, by extension, his cultural and economic power.
A Taste for the Authentic
The act of eating is, at its most fundamental level, an essential element of human survival. In contemporary capitalist society, however, the consumption of food does not merely serve as a means of physiological subsistence, but instead plays a crucial role in the formation of individual identity. As a means of individuation, consumer goods—like food—divorced from their use value, act as a marker of status upon which hierarchical social categories are formed. As Mike Featherstone argues, in consumer society “an ever-changing supply of commodities gives the illusion of complete changeability of goods and unrestricted access to them; yet here, legitimate taste, knowledge of the principles of classification, hierarchy and appropriateness is restricted.” In a society with a seemingly endless supply of consumer goods, the ability to determine which goods are of cultural value as well as the knowledge of how to appropriately use those goods is an important method of signifying an individual’s social status and works to reinforce class distinctions. Although not entirely separate from economic capital, status attained through the demonstration of knowledge of hierarchies of cultural taste is a form of cultural capital.
Social status maintained through cultural difference in contemporary capitalist society is no longer predicated on a stable, identifiable Otherness, but is instead the tenuous result of discursive social practices and power relations. The transformation of capitalism that occurred after the social and political unrest of 1960s and 1970s is largely defined by the incorporation of the countercultural ethos into capitalist production. As Mark Fisher explains, “At the same time as particular modernist forms were absorbed and commodified, modernism’s credos––its supposed belief in elitism and its monological, top-down model of culture––were challenged and rejected in the name of ‘difference’, ‘diversity’ and ‘multiplicity’.” In a very clear case of hegemonic struggle, some concessions were indeed won by—or granted to—the subordinate classes during this era of cultural upheaval, but freedom of choice and individuality were ultimately largely aligned with the act of consumption. Although the resulting form of capitalism appears more democratic since everyone is seemingly granted the “choice” of how and what to consume, it is precisely through the diversity of commodities produced—and in particular the ways in which those commodities are consumed and made to be meaningful—that battles for social power and supremacy are won and lost. This struggle over the exchange value of commodities, while ostensibly a natural evolution of popular culture based on consumer agency, plays a vital role in determining social hierarchies that, in turn, generate socioeconomic and political consequences. Cultural taste, once legitimated, establishes significant symbolic boundaries and forms of exclusion.
Cultural hierarchies of taste are not static social constructs, but instead are necessarily mutable and operate as a means to achieve or preserve social distinction. The erosion of traditional “structures of meaning” in contemporary capitalist society has compelled members of the middle-class to engage in an endless project of selfhood, whereby the ability to assert one’s own value based on the construction of a unique and discernable identity is necessarily secured through consumption. The struggle to maintain social distinction through consumption produces a “paperchase effect” whereby those whose social status is based on cultural capital are continuously in search of new goods in order to counteract the “usurpation of existing marker goods by lower-status groups.” As a result, status-seeking individuals increasingly rely on tastemakers, those whom Pierre Bourdieu refers to as the “new cultural intermediaries.” According to Bourdieu, cultural intermediaries occupy positions “involving presentation and representation” and operate “in all the institutions providing symbolic goods and services.” Due to the continuous proliferation of goods and services promoted by the cultural industries, the process of asserting one’s individual identity based on an acquired knowledge of legitimate cultural taste formations necessarily requires instruction on what and how to consume.
Whereas cultural intermediaries once served “as arbiters of highbrow taste,” in contemporary consumer society they are characterized by a preoccupation with “the translation and evaluation of other cultures.” By plundering other cultures for new symbolic goods and alternative cultural dispositions to openly disseminate, cultural intermediaries effectively expand the range of lifestyles available to consumers or audiences, while simultaneously increasing or maintaining their own social status or cultural capital by demonstrating their knowledge and discriminatory judgment. This process of cultural appropriation not only creates new methods of capital accumulation and circulation—both economic and cultural—but also provides cultural intermediaries with significant social power. As David Wright explains, “Whilst the rise of the cultural industries, and the culturalization of other types of industry, relies on the opening up of new fields of legitimization, what is more significant is not that cultural intermediaries engage in this kind of opening up but that they are able to monopolize these processes.” Bourdain, through his televised travels across the globe, unquestionably occupied a unique and influential position of cultural mediation in contemporary society. Not only did his rise to cultural prominence coincide with an increased interest in food related media within the cultural industries, but more specifically, through his ability to sinuously embody and substantiate cultural values associated with high, middle, and working classes, Bourdain established himself as a seminal figure in the processes of cultural legitimation within the culinary and media industries. Bourdain was equally at home in the exclusive bastions of haute gastronomy as he was in the remote cultural environs of the Amazon jungle. What connected these disparate cultures represented by Bourdain in mass media was his distinct ability to bestow them with authenticity. In this way, authenticity served as an important signifier of social distinction, legitimating and delegitimating particular lifestyles and cultural values in an era that enabled the breakdown of traditional cultural hierarchies. Like other cultural intermediaries, however, Bourdain’s cultural status was fraught with precariousness.
Popular culture is the product of continuous processes of transformation and resistance. Much like the status-seeking consumers who rely on experts to acquire proper knowledge of what and how to consume in order to align themselves with legitimate taste formations, cultural intermediaries must also maintain and constantly exhibit their superior cultural knowledge in order to reinforce their own cultural status and power. As cultural intermediaries have established themselves as an essential element in the process of consumption, cultural capital is not the only benefit they stand to gain. The ability to influence what and how other people consume produces tangible economic consequences, and thus the more people one is able to influence, the more valuable one becomes to corporations within the cultural industries. The value of distinguishing oneself in a specific field induces incessant competition among various cultural intermediaries, as the magnitude of one’s cultural influence ultimately determines the amount of economic capital they are able to accumulate. And because the social influence of cultural intermediaries is dependent on their ability to consistently present Western middle-class subjects with novel goods and cultural dispositions, contemporary cultural intermediaries must also concern themselves with the process of cultural delegitimation or reevaluation. For if the power of identifying and promoting new tastes and styles for cultural intermediaries lies in their ability to convince middle-class consumers to literally buy into the necessity of cyclically asserting their own individuality through “proper” forms of consumption, they must also—either explicitly or implicitly—contribute to the cultural devaluation of previously popular styles and tastes as well as other influential cultural intermediaries in their field.
For Bourdain, authenticity was key to his cultural distinction within the culinary and media industries. In addition to his global quest for authenticity, however, Bourdain also maintains his authentic persona by identifying and deriding artifice. “The notion of authenticity,” as Regina Bendix explains, “implies the existence of its opposite” and therefore “identifying some cultural expressions or artifacts as authentic, genuine, trustworthy, or legitimate simultaneously implies that other manifestations are fake, spurious, and even illegitimate.” Artifice, for Bourdain, was always associated with commodified, mass-produced culture. Denigrating the artifice of mass culture served to both delegitimize other culture intermediaries due to Bourdain’s identification of their various inauthentic qualities as well as delegitimize specific forms of mass consumption practices. In addition to publicly voicing his discontent at various times with celebrity chefs Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray, Paula Deen, and Rocco DiSpirito (among many others), Bourdain had a particularly enduring public feud with celebrity chef and fellow culinary travel television host Guy Fieri. In but one example of his many pubic declarations of contempt for Fieri, in a 2011 magazine interview, Bourdain overtly discredited the work done by Fieri and his television production team:
“I look at Guy Fieri and I just think, ‘Jesus, I’m glad that’s not me.’ You work that hard and there’s not a single show of yours that you’d want to sit down and say, ‘Hey, I made that last week. Look at that camera work. It’s really good, huh?’ I’m proud of what I do.”
In addition to his open devaluation of the quality of Fieri’s television show, in a radio interview in the following year, Bourdain publicly derided Fieri’s—as well as his audience’s—association with mass consumption:
“I’m fascinated by the Guy Fieri terror-dome they just opened up. 600 seats, something like that? Six hundred seats! And a gift shop. And all of these poor diners, drives and whatever, douchebags waddle in there. First of all, he single handedly turned the neighborhood into the Ed Hardy district, which I’m a little pissed off about.”
By delegitimizing other culinary cultural intermediaries, like Guy Fieri, as well as their various media productions and audiences, Bourdain was able to reaffirm or increase his own authenticity by contrasting himself with the artificial commercial proclivities of the other celebrities in his field. This uninhibited, enthusiastic disparaging of other celebrity chefs evoked the rebellious characteristics that originally established Bourdain’s authentic persona and helped distinguish him from the numerous other cultural intermediaries operating in culinary media. Moreover, in expressing his anger at Guy Fieri’s “terror-dome” and the damage it’s done to the “neighborhood” of Times Square, Bourdain continued an ongoing critique of the gentrification of New York City he had long publicly lamented, as exemplified in this passage from his edited collection of essays entitled The Nasty Bits:
What happened? Times Squre was, particularly for a young man with a criminal bent and a few bucks in his pocket, a wonderland of urban exotica . . . Where feral young men with butterfly knives tucked in their waistbands used to play video games and pinball among the chicken hawks, selling beat drugs and planning felonies, it’s now stores selling Warner Brothers action figures and stuffed animals.
Bourdain’s anger at the destruction of the “authentic” and gritty New York seemingly aligned him with the working-class people who were displaced from their neighborhoods in order to increase the city’s flow of capitalism by attracting tourists like the “diners, drives and whatever, douchebags” he described, yet such a critique also importantly contributed to the authentic persona he continued to cultivate for himself.
Bourdain’s open disgust with the rapid transformation of lower Manhattan may indeed be linked to a genuine remorse for those residents who were displaced in the area’s corporate transformation, but his nostalgia for the city’s darker, more “authentic” past also effectively reinforced his masculine rebelliousness and adventurism. He made this clear throughout the remainder of the essay by contrasting the contemporary landscape of every neighborhood in lower Manhattan with the danger and excitement that he used to find there, concluding: “It’s been awhile since I felt that adrenaline-juiced exaltation, that ‘I can’t believe I’m still alive!!’ feeling that made me proud to be a New Yorker.” Such a statement provided constructive evidence of his bonafide, vice-laden past. Moreover, his detailed enumeration of the commodified artifice to be found in every contemporary lower Manhattan neighborhood provided his audience¾in a method characteristic of his role as a cultural intermediary¾with the requisite knowledge of what kind of places and behavior to avoid in order to remain authentic themselves.
Merely identifying, deriding, and contrasting himself with inauthentic people, places, and cultures was not sufficient to maintain Bourdain’s distinct authentic persona. Characteristic of the role cultural intermediaries play identifying and promoting new symbolic goods and dispositions for status-seeking consumers, Bourdain’s ability to maintain authenticity was also largely accomplished through his cultural adroitness and ability to connect with—and represent—Other people and Other cultures. Bourdain’s own authentic persona was both harnessed to authenticate the food, people, and places he encountered, as well as reinforced through his appropriation of the very authenticity he conferred on an Other’s select forms of novelty. The constant translation and evaluation of the cultural goods and values of Others not only provided those that consume his various media productions with information about new forms of legitimate taste, but was also essential in preserving his own distinct authentic persona. In a contemporary culinary media landscape littered with critics, television shows, and celebrity chefs all vying for greater influence over cultural taste related to culinary consumption, it was through Bourdain’s ability to maintain his authentic persona by locating authenticity across racial, social, class, and national boundaries that enabled him to occupy a distinct and influential position in contemporary popular culture.
Locating the Authentic
The articulation of food and travel is not new. In contemporary consumer society, however, food has taken on an increasingly prominent role in the promotion of travel. Distinguishing traditional food magazines from other genres like travel, lifestyle, or even news magazines is increasingly difficult. The consumption of novel foods while on vacation is no longer a convenient benefit or a mere necessity of travel. Instead, mass media regularly highlight “the best food destinations,” and trips are often planned primarily, if not solely, on the reputation of a location’s culinary offerings. As Lucy M. Long argues, “[F]ood itself can be a destination for tourism, not only a vehicle.” One does not, however, need to travel to a remote country in order to consume the products of an exotic or “authentic” Other. Instead, “culturally competent, cosmopolitan-minded consumers,” “food adventures,” or “culinary omnivores” are able to establish cultural capital through the consumption of exotic foodstuff in the authentically exotic dining establishments of metropolitan cities or by locating authentic purveyors of unique or exotic food native to particular regions of the West.
Although the majority of Bourdain’s televised travels are set in “exotic” foreign locations, in this essay I analyze an episode that takes place in the United States. This is due in large part to the fact that, as Erik Cohen explains, “The alienated modern tourist in quest of authenticity [. . .] looks for the pristine, the primitive, the natural, that which is untouched by modernity.” To his credit, Cohen acknowledges the socially constructed nature of authenticity, yet asserts that the pursuit of authenticity is nonetheless taken as a given and consequently achieves an “‘objective’ quality attributable by moderns to the world ‘out there.’” If authenticity, at least in modern Western society, is ideologically associated with unfamiliar, “primitive” lands, it is thus not inconceivable to assume that by merely traveling to foreign locations Bourdain inherently encounters cultures considered authentic from which to appropriate in order to substantiate his own authenticity and cultural capital. Limiting my analysis to an episode filmed in a Western location is thus a deliberate attempt to investigate cultural authenticity as identified or instantiated by Bourdain and the No Reservations production team by locating the “authentic” Others within the West.
In the opening scene of the “Ozarks” episode, Bourdain assists a resident of West Plains, Missouri, in the “cleaning” of a squirrel. “Around here,” Bourdain proclaims in a voice-over as the scene unfolds, “you learn early to clean a squirrel . . . and this wasn’t, not so long ago, an option, it was something you learned to do because you had to.” Following the squirrel “cleaning,” Bourdain––accompanied by accomplished novelist Daniel Woodrell (a West Plains native), Gordon (the aforementioned squirrel hunter) and Judy Harden, a local woman dedicated to preserving traditional regional recipes––dines on squirrel potpie. While Judy readily admits that she first experienced the dish only three years prior (after obtaining a 100-year-old recipe from a woman in her eighties), Woodrell, in contrast, proclaims, “A lot of people eat squirrel . . . when I lived in Arkansas, it was practically the state dish.” Here, reclamation via oral tradition by a matriarch is not authentic enough. Instead, Woodrell inscribes the act of eating squirrel—and the Ozark culture of which he claims it is a part—with an authenticity located in the present by insisting on the existence an identifiable and exotic culture for whom the act is not exotic, but a natural part of life for those who choose—or are forced—to live outside the norms of mainstream U.S. consumer society.
The preparation and eating of “indigenous” cuisine immediately established the authenticity of Bourdain’s local guides as well as the Ozark region as a whole. Further, Bourdain’s willingness to participate in the skinning and gutting of a squirrel, in addition to his subsequent consumption of the wild animal not generally considered edible, added to his authentic persona based on stereotypical notions of masculinity and bravery. The consumption of meat is a traditionally masculine form of eating in Western culture and is symbolically tied to man’s domination of nature and other animals through the act of hunting in order to provide for one’s family. The conception of meat as a masculine culinary good—even in modern societies in which consumers are likely divorced from the brutal aspects involved in the procurement of the meat they consume—remains prominent in contemporary culture, as Lisa Heldke explains:
“Among its many meanings, meat is a macho food. What is so macho about meat? First, eating meat requires killing animals. Killing is often dangerous business, filled with the possibility of injury to oneself. (This remains true for the slaughterhouse workers today, working under modern, and thus supposedly safer, industrial conditions.) Thus, killing animals is man’s work—a belief that comes to us in various forms, from potted archaeological accounts of ‘man the hunter’ to contemporary images of male slaughterhouse workers and deer hunters. In Euroamerican cultures, if we imagine women involved in the process of making meat at all, we tend to envision rather romantic, even bucolic jobs for them; gathering eggs, killing chickens, our stuffing sausages; anything bigger or more dangerous is left for the men.”
The gutting of a freshly killed squirrel in all its unpleasant detail in the opening scene thus worked to reinforce the masculine, even exotic nature of men in the Ozarks. Bourdain, through his unflinching participation in the act, reaffirmed his own authentic masculinity. Moreover, by enthusiastically eating meat from an animal not traditionally consumed in Western cultures, Bourdain further strengthened his own authenticity by demonstrating his willingness consume an animal many—if not most—of his viewers would find repugnant. Thus, participating in the filmed gutting and consumption of a squirrel is rendered masculine, exotic and authentic, not through the preservation and duplication of a traditional recipe by a woman, but because a man killed the wild animal and two men stripped it of its fur in order to consume its meat. Judy, as the scene’s only woman, fulfilled the traditionally feminine role of duplicating a recipe in her home kitchen in order to feed men the meat that they themselves acquired.
For Woodrell, too, confirming the Otherness of Ozark culture—in direct opposition to Judy’s acknowledgement of her unfamiliarly with the traditional dish and unusual source of protein until her recent discovery—has symbolic and material benefits. As a bestselling author whose novels are based on his interpretation of Ozark residents as largely poor, rural, and steadfastly committed to maintaining a way of life independent from modern notions of progress, the representation of his longstanding participation in Ozark culture in the opening scene reinforced Woodrell’s cultural authenticity and authority. As an influential cultural intermediary himself, Woodrell (who earned an MFA from the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop) is clearly committed to presenting and perpetuating his version of Ozark culture on No Reservations. The promotion of Woodrell and his work on the show exposed him to a broader audience and increased his potential to further accumulate cultural and economic capital. In fact, the episode of No Reservations set in the Ozarks coincided with widespread critical acclaim for Winter’s Bone, a movie based on Woodrell’s novel of the same name, both of which were set in the West Plains area of the Ozarks. Much like Woodrell’s other work and the representation of Ozark culture featured in No Reservations, in both the novel and cinematic reinterpretation of Winter’s Bone, Ozark culture is characterized by poor, but hard working and self-reliant individuals attempting to survive—by whatever means necessary—abject poverty and the depravity that emerges in the midst of such desperate circumstances. The representation of rural Ozark culture on No Reservations as stereotypically recognizable, but completely outside the dominant cultural norms of contemporary U.S. culture, was mutually beneficial for Bourdain and Woodrell, as both men gained cultural capital by appropriating each other’s unique form of cultural authenticity and commercial influence while simultaneously reinforcing their masculinity as well.
Representations of poverty-stricken rural Southern white culture were particularly salient in popular media at the time the episode was filmed and aired. In addition to the critical success of Winter’s Bone, the scripted cable series Justified, set in Harlan County, Kentucky—a rural, coal-mining region of southern Appalachia—was both critically and commercially successful, garnering four Primetime Emmy Award nominations and ranking among the ten highest watched cable television series in 2011. Like Winter’s Bone, the characters of Justified adhered to traits stereotypically associated with rurally isolated Southern poor whites, including violence, vigilantism, alcohol and drug use, self-reliance, resourcefulness, and a suspicion of outsiders and the law.
These stereotypical characteristics associated with Southern poor whites have mutable social and cultural meanings, but have proven to be an enduring method to either deride or celebrate difference in U.S. popular culture. Referred to as “crackers” both colloquially and in official documents in the British colonies prior to the Revolutionary War, poor rural whites were subjected to public scrutiny, violence, and legal discrimination due to their lack of geographic fixity and reputation for skirting established codes of moral conduct and societal laws. As Matt Wray explains,
Lacking access to the land required for upward social mobility, many poor white colonists opted for geographic mobility and, in defiance of colonial authorities, pushed aggressively and violently into the western trans-Appalachia frontier . . . [C]rackers had reputations for being ill-mannered, arrogant, treacherous, and cruel, stealing from Indians and propertied colonists alike.
Like the “hillbilly” stereotype that would largely replace the use of the term “cracker” by the early twentieth century, attaching the label of “crackers” to poor whites was a method of demarcating boundaries of whiteness. Based on perceived differences in ethnicity, manners, class, and intelligence, poor whites were deemed naturally inferior to land owning and law-abiding white colonists.
In the early twentieth century, crackers and their vagabond outlaw lifestyles no longer evoked the same menace among white members of the U.S. upper and middle class. As the term “hillbilly” suggests, the poor and working-class white Southerners ceased to be threateningly mobile and were instead largely geographically tied to the Southern mountain regions of the U.S., most notably the Appalachians and the Ozarks. This shift in the popular representation—and general circumstances—of poor and working-class whites in the rural South reflects a larger cultural and social ideological transition, as Beverly Skeggs notes:
Locatedness, a geography of placement, becomes a way of speaking class indirectly but spatially; through geography and physicality. Just as the middle-classes have changed their interests and perspectives from fixity to mobility (although remaining located to become mobile), the working-class have shifted historical locations from once being the dangerously mobile, threatening to contaminate the respectable through their movement and proximity, to now becoming firmly fixed in order to be identifiable and governable.
In this way, the hillbilly identity attached to Southern poor and working-class whites serves as means of distancing them from upper- and middle-class whites, but also situates them as a useful resource for cultural exploitation. The hillbilly image has consequently “endured because of its semantic and ideological malleableness—a changeability rooted in its core ambiguity as a representation of a ‘white other’ that both celebrates and denigrates the American past the folkways of the southern mountain folk.” Thus, the hillbilly stereotype—and the “backward” tendencies associated with it—simultaneously acts as a means for blaming the poor for being poor, but also provides a nostalgic link to a past rooted in and self-preservation and closeness to nature. This dual function of the hillbilly stereotype closely resembles what Renato Rosaldo refers to as imperialist nostalgia, or “a particular kind of nostalgia . . . where people mourn the passing of what they themselves have transformed.” According to Rosaldo, “In this ideologically constructed world of ongoing progressive change, putatively static savage societies become a stable reference point for defining (the felicitous progress of) civilized identity. ‘We’ valorize innovation and then yearn for more stable worlds, whether these reside in our own past, in other cultures, or in a conflation of the two.” This tendency to “yearn for more stable worlds,” I want to suggest, is even stronger when contradictions arise that threaten to rupture the dominant ideological and economic structures of society, and thus the privileged existence that these structures secure for members of the upper and middle classes.
In times of economic and political uncertainly, when the established conditions of existence for the majority are tied to institutions seemingly on the brink of collapse, there exists a general tendency among citizens to either attempt to shore up the collapsing systems which structure their way of life, or to turn against modern notions of progress in an attempt to reclaim a more “pure,” “natural,” or even “authentic” way of life that was largely lost in the fervent transition to modernity. The hillbilly—as a paradigmatic image of a person (often a man) living a natural life outside the confines of modern economic and cultural formations—has offered a useful public representation of an alternative way of being during such times of crisis. As Harkins explains, “The hillbilly image/identity reached its apex during the Great Depression and blossomed across the cultural spectrum from novels to film to comic strips and cartoons. In an era of economic and social upheaval, the ‘hillbilly’ represented both fears of societal collapse and devolution and a celebration of an indigenous American folk and folk culture.” It is no wonder then that during the Great Recession of the last half of the 2000s that a renewed cultural focus on the Southern poor and working-class whites emerged in popular media.
Whether a coincidence, a response to an already burgeoning cultural interest, or a harbinger of things to come, the airing of the No Reservations episode neatly packaged the Otherness of rural Southern poor and working-class white culture for its audience. In the Ozark episode of No Reservations—which aired as the national economy was beginning to stabilize following massive government bailout of the U.S. financial system—Bourdain repeatedly forced the stereotypical representation of hillbilly culture onto the local people he encountered in order to demonstrate and capitalize on their unique form of cultural authenticity.
After a night spent drinking with locals in a Joplin, Missouri, dive bar hosting a sanctioned arm-wrestling tournament, in the episode’s next scene Bourdain and Woodrell set out for another excursion into the Ozark wilderness. The scene begins with the two traveling by boat up a scenic remote Missouri river, with the boat’s driver and local guide preparing the two for the suckerfish gigging planned for later that night:
Bourdain: Now suckers, or suckerfish, what do you call them . . . suckers? What . . . what are they like that I would know? I mean are they . . . they’re bottom feeders?
Boat driver: They feed off of insects on the bottom, they’re not like a catfish that sucks rotten stuff off the bottom. I think you’ll find when you eat the suckers, they taste a whole lot better then even a smallmouth bass does.
Woodrell: Why is it so many people don’t seem to think a sucker as a eatin’ fish?
Boat driver: They haven’t eaten one.
Woodrell (laughing): Okay.
Bourdain (voiceover): The way they tell it, these tricky to catch little (expletive) lurkin’ right under the surface in shallow, fast running water, are a prized delicacy that most in the country are just too damn dumb to appreciate, much less know about. And the way that you get them is, well . . . you’ll see. You gotta wait until dark.
The local knowledge of the guide imbued the scene with cultural authenticity. He possessed the knowledge and ability to locate, catch, and cook a fish that mainstream U.S. consumers “are just too damn dumb to appreciate, much less know about.” By “siding” with the Ozark fishermen and valorizing the hidden gems of a culture that is either unknown or largely disparaged in cosmopolitan areas, Bourdain reinforced his outsider persona. Moreover, the ability to live off the land in ways that other people are unable or unwilling to do provided the guide with cultural authenticity based on his unique brand of perseverance and self-reliance in a society largely dedicated to convenience and maintaining a comfortable distance from the more unsavory and potentially dangerous aspects involved in the acquisition of meat. Once the trio reached their destination, the uniqueness of the guide and his friends—who are already set up on shore—is further demonstrated. During shots of men frying fish and sliced potatoes, Bourdain and Woodrell marvel at the ability of the men’s ability to cook:
Boudain (voiceover): We’re joined by a swarm of locals who clearly know what they’re doing when it comes to frying suckers. You score the fish just right to tenderize the tiny little bones that run through the flesh. You batter ‘em, and deep fry ‘em. Then serve ‘em with hush puppies—some of the lightest, airiest, and tastiest I ever had, by the way—and some fried potatoes and red onion, and maybe a slice of bread.
Daniel (to Bourdain): Well this turns into one of the top five restaurants in the Ozarks all of a sudden.
Bourdain: This fish is as good as advertised. Man, these hush puppies are great, right? Ripe.
Daniel: I’ve certainly had a lot of hush puppies that were, like marbles.
Daniel (holding up a hush puppy): This is perfect.
Bourdain: Yeah this is a situation that would defeat a lot of professionals . . . tryin’ to make a light hush puppy.
Daniel: Mm hmm.
The men not only possess an uncommon knowledge of the palatability of a fish indigenous to their region, they also demonstrated an autodidactic ability to cook that “would defeat a lot of professionals.” Although two women are present in the makeshift outdoor fish fry, only men are shown actually cooking the food in the filmed scene. The men thus engage in what Jeffrey Sobal refers to as “doing masculinity,” an iconic masculine approach to cooking and eating in which a man “hunts or fishes for his own game, minimally cooks it over an open fire, and eats the meat with few accompaniments in the outdoors in the company of other like-minded men.”  The women—when briefly shown—are huddled around the warmth emanating from men’s cooking equipment, eating and making conversation. Once the sun began to fade behind the Ozark hills and the group finished eating, the men headed out on the promised gigging excursion.
The danger of attempting to kill wild animals—in this case fish—is quickly apparent as Bourdain, Woodrell, and the other men headed upstream in multiple boats. The men are cloaked in complete darkness, the kind of darkness only possible when far removed from the contemporary infrastructure and lights of civilization. If the tenebrous sky and the inherent instability of traveling in short, flat-hulled aluminum boats against the current were not ominous enough, the utter lack of skill possessed by both Bourdain and Woodrell further complicated the mission. As the camera crew attempted to capture the scene with little ambient light—the only lights visible on the screen were not camera aides but instead mounted to the bow of the boats and aimed directly into the river to illuminate the shallow water—Bourdain threw his spear wildly into the water. The handle hit Woodrell, spinning him around. Woodrell lost his footing and fell headfirst into the back of the boat, violently, from the bow of the boat where he was perched next to Bourdain. With true panic, the production crew and other boaters scrambled to come to Woodrell’s aid. The boats eventually made it to shore, where Woodrell was ushered into an ambulance and driven away. Although clearly unplanned, the scene added to the authenticity of the episode. Bourdain and Woodrell, while obvious cultural interlopers unprepared for the gigging excursion, nonetheless demonstrated a willingness to endure hazardous conditions and risk their lives in order to participate in a local custom. Moreover, Woodrell’s injury (later revealed to be a broken shoulder) increased the masculine bravado of the men that gig on regular basis in order to provide sustenance for themselves (and presumably their wives and children).
Woodrell’s injury, however, did not deter Bourdain from further participating in potentially dangerous activities with Ozark men in an effort to represent the Otherness of their culture in the episode. Yet, the forced representation of “hillbilly” stereotype is quickly made clear. In the scene following Woodrell’s injury, Bourdain went duck hunting with two locals, Alan and Toby. While in the duck blind, Bourdain asks Alan, the man that brought him to the blind, “What kind of duck makes the best eating?” To Bourdain’s apparent surprise, Alan responded that he does not enjoy the taste of duck. In a voiceover following the exchange, Bourdain, with a haughtiness tempered by sarcasm, proclaims:
I now know what I must do. What I was put on this earth for. I will teach these young hunters how to properly prepare a duck breast. To not waste that which god hath put on this earth. Which is to say, like, make a duck breast with crispy skin, rendered fat, and perfectly red-pink meat. This I shall do o’ lord.
The trio successfully managed to shoot a few ducks before leaving the blind. The scene then cut to the lodge where Bourdain and his crew were staying. Alan and Toby join Bourdain in a non-professional kitchen for what Bourdain—in a voiceover setting the scene—called “an impromptu lesson in cooking”:
Bourdain: So, here’s an experiment gentlemen. We’re gonna find out whether the wild version of ducks, instead of farm raised, you know, are they, can they be delicious? Let’s find out if we can make something delicious with just salt and pepper. Duck fat is a very hot substance, so gentlemen, remember this please: When cooking duck, always wear pants.
Bourdain: At this point you want it to go slow. Pan not too hot. They’re just gonna sit there for a while. If you cook it right, that fat kinda goes into the meat and it all becomes juicy and delicious.
Bourdain: Which bird was this, the mallard?
Alan (nods): The mallard.
Bourdain (looking at the pan): I’m pretty sure you did not give your life in vain.
Alan: Yeah, I’m hoping to uh, glean something off this.
Bourdain: Yeah, well we’ll see. It’s a noble experiment.
Unlike the men in the previous gigging scene, Alan and Toby lacked the proper knowledge and skill to fit the masculine, self-reliant hillbilly stereotype. In fact, although they demonstrate a certain masculine willingness and ability to kill wild animals, the fact that they do so for sport and not sustenance stripped them of any cultural authenticity or insight they may possess. The men use modern weapons and decoys to lure ducks close enough to their comfortable blind to allow them to shoot and kill purely for pleasure. Bourdain, however, competently used their morally dubious behavior to his advantage. In a move not so different from early manifestations of the hillbilly stereotype, Bourdain highlighted the moral and economic “backwardness” of the men’s behavior in order to demonstrate his own moral superiority and cultural competence.
Once the duck is finished cooking, Bourdain removed it from the pan and placed it on a cutting board to let it rest. After providing further lessons to the men on the importance of letting the breast rest to finish cooking in its own juices, Bourdain demonstrated the proper way to slice the duck:
Toby: He’s done that once or twice.
Toby: Cause I can guarantee you, you can grab that knife and it would not go anything like that.
Alan: I might cut my pinky finger off.
Bourdain plated the sliced duck breast and displayed it for the camera and his two pupils:
Bourdain: Well, that’s two forty-eight-dollar orders of duck right there. Okay let’s see how it is. You tell me.
Alan: That’s like eight hundred times better than any duck I have ever tasted.
Bourdain: It doesn’t suck, right?
While producing good food out of what one is able to kill, catch, or forage in nature—and passing on the necessary skills for others to do so in the future—is ostensibly the goal of this “noble experiment,” the scene cannot simply be read as a benevolent act on Bourdain’s part. His demonstration of skill displaces any notions of the kitchen as feminine space and cooking as a feminine act. This not only reinforced Bourdain’s own masculinity, but also situates the act of cooking wild game as a cool, conscientious, and ultimately manly act. Any disconnect between the stereotypical Ozark man and the hunting practices of Alan and Toby is thus erased. The two—by eagerly learning from Bourdain and willingly tasting an animal they had so openly shared their derision of—displayed a commitment to acquiring the knowledge and skill to live properly off the land. By teaching the men the cultural and economic value of the delicacy that is well-cooked duck, Bourdain also increased his own cool and authentic persona by demonstrating¾and gaining the men’s confirmation and approval of—his mastery of their ways. Although he may not have been a cultural insider in the Ozarks, Bourdain clearly valued the anti-consumerist traditions of self-perseverance and a commitment to maintaining a lifestyle close to nature stereotypically associated with Ozark culture. His ability to represent and engage in these traditional activities, connect with Others, and even contribute to the erudition of Ozark natives all worked to enhance his own cultural capital.
While it is perhaps unlikely that Bourdain, through his sojourn in the Ozarks, identified and disseminated a new lifestyle formation for many astute cultural omnivores in his viewing audience, he did manage to further his own cultural distinction by demonstrating his “wide range of cultural interests.” Moreover, and in a more pernicious sense, by engaging in the everyday practices of poor and working-class Ozark citizens, Bourdain managed to exploit their culture for his own gain. By representing the aspects of working-class Ozark culture capable of appropriation in order to accumulate cultural capital (as well as, of course, economic capital), Bourdain—as well as the Travel Channel and the show’s producers—benefitted in a way that members of the culture from which he/they plundered are inherently incapable of. While certain aspects of poor or working-class rural culture are easily appropriated, members of the culture remain ineluctably fixed.
 Christine M. Mitchell, “The Rhetoric of Celebrity Cookbooks,” The Journal of Popular Culture 43, no. 3 (2010): 525.
 Graeme Turner, Understanding Celebrity (Los Angeles: Sage, 2009), 5.
 Andrew Chan, “‘Le Grande Bouffe’: Cooking Shows as Pornography,” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 3, no. 4 (2003): 52.
 Sarah Banet-Weiser, Authentic™: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2012), 10.
 Canadian journalist James MacGowan accused Bourdain of selling out as early as 2002. See James MacGowan, “The Bad Boy Celebrity Chef: Anthony Bourdain on Life, Celebrity, and Going to the Dark Side,” The Ottawa Citizen, February 9, 2002.
 Cool, here, is what authors Dick Pountain and David Robbins describe as “a rebellious attitude, an expression of a belief that the mainstream mores of your society have no legitimacy and do not apply to you. It’s a self-contained individualist attitude, although it places high value on friendship within a tightly defined peer group.” See Pountain and Robbins, Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude (London: Reaktion Books, 2000), 23.
 Mike Featherstone, Consumer Culture and Postmodernism (London: Sage, 1991), 17.
 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984).
 For more on the various conceptualizations of the transformation of capitalism after the countercultural movement, see Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (Winchester, UK: 0 Books, 2009); Jim McGuigan, Cool Capitalism (New York: Pluto Press, 2009); Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997); and Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991).
 Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism, 8.
 As cultural studies scholar Marie Moran argues, “Whatever identity is ‘chosen’ or emphasised in the context of global corporate capitalism, whether ‘personal’ or ‘cultural’, it is one that must be bought…[T]he proliferation of ‘identities’ in contemporary capitalism masks an ultimate sameness at the heart of the logic of capitalism, which demands that all human needs and wants are met in the same way, by purchase on the market.” Marie Moran, Identity and Capitalism (London: SAGE, 2015), 146.
 Greg Dickinson, “Memories for Sale: Nostalgia and the Construction of Identity in Old Pasadena,” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 83, no. 1 (February 2007): 5.
 Beverly Skeggs, Class, Self, Culture (London: Routledge, 2004), 136.
 Bourdieu, Distinction, 359.
 Skeggs, Class, Self, Culture, 148.
 Featherstone, Consumer Culture and Postmodernism.
 David Wright, “Mediating Production and Consumption: Cultural Capital and ‘Cultural Workers’,” The British Journal of Sociology 56, no. 1 (2005): 111.
 Sharon Zukin, “Socio-spatial Prototypes of a New Organization of Consumption: The Role of Real Cultural Capital,” Sociology 24, no. 1 (February 1990): 37-56.
 Regina Bendix, In Search of Authenticity: The Formation of Folklore Studies (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), 9.
 Ingela Ratledge, “Anthony Bourdain’s Celebrity Chef Smackdown,” TV Guide, August 18, 2011, http://www.tvguide.com/news/anthony-bourdains-celebrity-1036482/ [accessed February 13, 2016].
 Sirius XM, “Anthony Bourdain [EXPLICIT] on Guy Fieri’s “Terror Dome” // SiriusXM // Opie & Anthony,” YouTube video, 1:35, September 28, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD-e9eLhW0Y [accessed February 13, 2016].
 Anthony Bourdain, The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bone (New York: Bloomsbury, 2006), 184.
 Ibid, 187.
 Akihiko Hirose and Kay Kei-Ho Pih, “‘No Asians Working Here’: Racialized Otherness and Authenticity in Gastronomical Orientalism,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 34, no. 9 (2011): 1482-1501.
 Lisa Heldke, Exotic Appetites: Ruminations of a Food Adventurer (New York: Routledge, 2003).
 Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann, “Democracy Versus Distinction: A Study of Omnivorousness in Gourmet Food Writing,” American Journal of Sociology 113, no. 1 (2007): 165-204.
 Erik Cohen, “Authenticity and Commoditization in Tourism,” Annals of Tourism Research 15 (1988): 374.
 Ibid, 374.
 Jeffrey Sobal, “Men, Meat, and Marriage: Models of Masculinity,” Food and Foodways 13, no. 1-2 (2005): 135-158.
 Heldke, “Exotic Appetites,” 72.
 The Ozarks episode of No Reservations first aired on March 28, 2011. A month prior, Winter’s Bone received international publicity as it was nominated in four different categories (including Best Picture) during the live telecast of the 83rd Academy Awards, which aired on February 27, 2014.
 Other scripted or reality shows featuring stereotypical Southern white characters were either on the air at the time, or soon followed. Shows specifically related to the outlaw or “hillbilly” culture include Moonshiners, Clash of the Ozarks, Hatfields & McCoys, Hillbilly Handfishin’, Swamp People, and Duck Dynasty.
 Matt Wray, Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 34-36.
 Skeggs, Class, Self, Culture, 50.
 Anthony Harkins, Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 220.
 Renato Rosaldo, “Imperialist Nostalgia,” Representations 26 (1989): 108.
 Ibid, 108.
 See, for example, Slavoj Žižek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), 93-98.
 Harkins, Hillbilly, 220.
 Sobal, “Men, Meat, and Marriage,” 139.
 The presence of women in the scene verifies the heterosexuality of the men. If the men were alone, the open homosociality could turn into a threat to their heteromasculinity. Keeping “their women” in the shot, but silent, puts the women “in their place” and secures the men’s mastery of the scene.
 Wright, “Mediating Production and Consumption,” 111.
 Skeggs, Class, Self, Culture.
Justin Bergh is an assistant professor of communication at the University of North Alabama where he also serves as the student media adviser. He received a PhD in Communication Studies from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and an MA in Communication from the University of Arkansas. His research is broadly focused on critical media studies, particularly how media influence the construction of individual and cultural identity.