The Hanoi episode (S8:E1) of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown may be one of the most underrated moments of television history. Yes, memorable certainly for Obama’s visit to Vietnam and the wistful reminder of his intellectual superiority and emotional maturity compared to that of his successor, our current shameful idiot-in-chief, but mainly truly beautiful for the portrayal of an interesting and very different country and its welcoming people.
There is a moment when Bourdain remarks to Obama that he wishes every American had a passport, and indeed the American assumption of our country as the only place worth living and English as the only language worth speaking is a poison which requires an antidote of cultural experience and experimentation. Looking only within leads this country to dark places, and that is our current chosen fate, and I hate every second of it.
I lived in Kagoshima, Japan as a boy, at a time when foreigners of any kind were rare. I knew the highs and the lows of living in a homogeneous society as an outsider. I knew friendship and acceptance and cheerful curiosity, and I knew rejection and prejudice and heard outright claims of Japanese superiority communicated to me by budding young nationalists. And I’m glad I experienced both extremes.
Thanks to that time in my life, I am not a nationalist. I am not a believer in American superiority, and I haven’t been brainwashed as so many American Christians have into worshipping a Republican version of Jesus who packs an AR and hates healthcare for those who can’t prove they have earned it. I honestly don’t give a damn about guns, and I don’t need one to feel safe or manly. As far as I’m concerned, guns and gun worship can go straight to hell and I won’t mind at all.
Many things that Americans hold as universals truths, I recognize as cultural assumptions, thanks to eight years of living in a foreign country with a wildly different culture and language than the one I was born in.
I see your crap, America.
So yes, I know what it’s like to be a minority and be discriminated against, and I’m so thankful I do, because I will never face that here in my own country as so many others do, even in 2018 (and maybe more so again in 2018, frankly).
Whatever your experience in this country is, it’s not the same for everyone. People with different skin color than yours and different gender than yours encounter different challenges and face discriminations you may never even notice exist. If you don’t believe that, then congratulations, you must really love our post-factual present because it suits you perfectly.
The lesson of what Anthony Bourdain tried to show in programs like this Hanoi episode is that we are all people and we lie to ourselves when we reject the validity, value, and sheer pleasure of the experiences of people who live differently and in different places. It’s a lesson America needs, and it’s best absorbed with a giant dose of humility.
Act now to watch Hanoi. After June 16, 2018, Parts Unknown is leaving Netflix.