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Neely-Dorsey: Anthony Bourdain Discovers Much More to Mississippi in Documentary

Mississippi was the point of interest for a CNN documentary in Anthony’ Bourdain’s Parts Unknown series. I was thrilled to watch it!

I thought, “Good! Maybe someone ELSE will shed some positive light into the darkness in the minds of most people, regarding my beloved Mississippi…and maybe they will listen! Of course, I had no idea if it would turn out to be more positive than negative… But, I was hopeful.”

Anthony Bourdain is an American chef, author, and television personality. He is known for his 2000 book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, and in 2005 he began hosting the Travel Channel’s culinary and cultural adventure programs Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and The Layover. In 2013, he joined CNN to host Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.

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One of the preview ads reads: “What does a world traveler like Anthony Bourdain think of Mississippi? Besides the fact he never did consider stepping foot in the state, but then discovered some of the last truly great American institutions. WATCH Bourdain’s show “Parts Unknown” TONIGHT on CNN at 8pm (CST)”

Anthony is from New York City and in a blog post he acknowledged the fact that most of what he thought, had heard or knew about Mississippi was negative.

He wrote: “Let me be honest about this right up front: before I started traveling the world extensively, seeing many foreign countries and cultures very different than my own, I would never even have considered visiting Mississippi. As a New Yorker, with the drearily predictable worldview of my tribe, I took a dim view of Mississippi. Mississippi was the deep South. It was where they shot Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in “Easy Rider”, wasn’ t it? The history was not pretty—a fact reinforced by just about every film ever set in the state. It’s near the poorest performer on every metric of a state’s health: income, education, healthcare. ”

Mr. Bourdain was SO correct in stating that the negative, ugly images are the ones that are reinforced by just about every film ever set in the state. Actually, almost everything that anyone hears in the media is overwhelmingly negative, negative and more negative.

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At the beginning of the documentary, many disturbing images of Mississippi’s past were flashed on the screen. Sadly, these images are burned into the collective psyche of the world and are all that most Americans and outsiders hold on to about Mississippi.

It almost seems that there is a belief that there is no room left for discussion or consideration of anything else on the subject.

About the negatives, he said: “That’s all I knew about Mississippi…and it never occurred to me to look further.”

Anthony wrote in a promotional entry: “I have long since learned to find myself comfortable in as ‘foreign’ an environment as Saudi Arabia, Liberia, or Cambodia. Why can’t I get to know and love this part of my own country? Particularly when what we love about our country—what is undeniably great about America, its most powerful and persuasive export and gift to the world—comes from the state of Mississippi. It changed the world like nothing else American.”

As the journey begins, he asks, “Why can’t I love this place?”

I understand the question. It is generally such an unpopular stance to show love for Mississippi.

He begins in Jackson, the capitol of Mississippi, with a walk down Farish Street.

He spent much of the time in various parts of the Delta and in Oxford. Some of the topics that he explores throughout the documentary were: Soul Food, Southern Food, Country Cooking, Juke Joints, Blues, the Delta sense of community, Oxford’s strong literary legacy and its Square.

All throughout, there was a strong emphasis on our music and our food. Being a chef and a food connoisseur, he was definitely in the right place. Traveling in Mississippi, you know he did a lot of eating!

He loved the hot tamales and even ventured to eat a pig ear sandwich! And he said, “It’s everything we love about bacon: the texture…mix of fatty, lean…Oh that’s good!”

Of course, he only scratched the surface of all that Mississippi has to offer.

Overall, I enjoyed the show and said so. I definitely thought that it was more positive than negative.

One of my Facebook friends commented on one of my posts: “I personally was a little offended by the ‘negativism.’ He could have done a better show being more positive about MISSISSIPPI! It’s no wonder we can’t get out of the past, no one lets us!”

I replied: “I know what you mean. Overall, I was pretty pleased. It could have been MUCH, MUCH worse…as it usually is!!! I guess we can be thankful for small favors because he did highlight some good things! Few do! So you see EXACTLY why I do what I do in celebrating the South and Promoting a Positive Mississippi ..and am SO passionate about it.”

And, I thought: “How can you cover Mississippi without really covering Tupelo and Elvis?”

Elvis was not left out, though. He was mentioned when they were discussing the music.

And, near the end of the documentary when Anthony was in Oxford talking to a group of writers, he asked, “If there were a statue or monument erected to represent and symbolize Mississippi…who or what would it be?”

They all said in unison: “Elvis!”

That made me smile! Everyone knows what a huge Elvis fan I am!

Following the show, Anthony wrote on his blog: “We sure as Hell didn’t ‘explain’ Mississippi in this episode. I doubt I left the state much smarter than I entered it. It’s not a representative overview of ‘what you should know or see while in Mississippi.’ But I hope that viewers will get a taste of a uniquely beautiful place –where some of the last of some truly great American institutions are still alive. Where you can hear the blues performed where it was born—in exactly the same surroundings, the same kind of bar, as when it all began. Where you can have an irony free pigs ear sandwich that will make you weep for joy.”

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patricia dorsey

Patricia Neely-Dorsey is the author of two books of poetry, Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia-A Life In Poems and My Magnolia Memories and Musings-In Poems. Through her poems, the author hopes to protect, preserve and promote the rich cultural history and heritage of her state and region along with providing more positive images than all of the negative images usually portrayed. Patricia lives in Tupelo with her husband James, son Henry and Miniature Schnauzer, Happy. The author has been named a Goodwill Ambassador for the state by Governor Phil Bryant. Her slogan is “Always, Always Celebrating the South and Promoting a Positive Mississippi ” Her website is www.patricianeelydorsey.com and her email is magnoliagirl21@yahoo.com.

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