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No Reservations

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I’ve been a fan of Anthony Bourdain’s show since the first episode I saw, back a few years ago. My wife always remarks that she finds it funny that I like his show, and Bourdain himself, so much. We both chalk it up partially to that his personality is such a contrast to mine. He sports an ethos that borderlines on that of a platinum musician, a fusion of cook and punk rocker; I’m more or less your typical code monkey. He drinks and smokes in excess, particularly in a lot of early episodes, and I more or less abstain from both.

The thing that was less obvious and contrary to the above, that I only figured out recently, is that I identify with the way he approaches…well…everything. It’s without pretense or pleasantries; the narratives presented in the show are trimmed of anything unnecessary while keeping very authentic insights and emotions at the forefront. He allows his experiences traveling to effect him on a very profound level while still maintaining his core sense of self.

It’s what separates him from practically everyone else creating travel shows. Not only are they a very frank and unabashedly honest account of their destinations, but every episode is a peek into what makes him tick, and his own path of self reflection through the people, culture, and food of a foreign place. The show is compelling because Bourdain is actually a dynamic character in his show, not simply a tour guide. The overt storylines are indeed about the travel, but the real thing that ties the series together is how he’s somehow different on the other side of each trip.

Much was made recently about Day[9]’s 100th edition of his daily Starcraft show; it was recorded sometime this summer but hadn’t really been ‘discovered’ until about a month ago. Plott’s audience had grown leaps and bounds since then, and it was such a potent taping because he shared a facet of himself that gamers rarely do, yet for him it was merely a deeper look into the exuberance with which he approaches the game. He recounted his entire life using Starcraft as his narrative center, and moved himself (and I’m sure a good portion of his audience…comon tough guy, admit it) to tears several times while speaking of pivotal experiences gained through Starcraft that didn’t merely effect himself as a player, but also himself as a person.

But this is not a piece to merely plop another glob of heaping praise for Plott’s work on an already large pile of the same. His work speaks for itself and he certainly doesn’t need an endorsement from some two-bit gaming writer; that’s not the point. I wish to point out that the reason behind Plott’s success as a TV personality, as it were, I see as being the same as Bourdain’s.

At the core, they’re both masterful storytellers just by virtue of not getting caught up in their own ego, a product of having a good understanding of themselves and what they’re about, and being upfront with their viewers about that. They’re not playing TV host, they’re just being. In order to be effective in this role, you must have the ability to bring yourself fully into the subject matter and the narrative. Even if you’re reading someone else’s composition, you still must make it your own. Consider how original jokes from a comedian’s act are never as funny when retold by your coworker; if they can’t genuinely relate to the experiences the joke came from, there’s no way they can make it as funny. It’s never the words themselves that make the story interesting, it’s how much raw humanity is being brought to the table and conveyed.

The key is that both are using their subject matter to speak to something much larger and more profound than just the face value of said subject matter.

How many other commentators have you heard utter ‘this is what I learned from this replay’ or ‘this changed the way I approach/think about…’ during one of their shows, or replay videos on YouTube? Not only has he intuitively grasped the bleeding edge notion in education that teaching is, at its core, an exercise in learning; but he’s able to translate these real teaching moments into entertaining content.

This ability to bring your authentic self to the table, and hold nothing sacred, is exactly why Bourdain is able to reach so many people through travel and food, and why Plott is able to reach so many people through Starcraft. People watch Sean’s content not because he’s a sensational broadcaster, producing ‘over-the-top television’ (term sarcastically stolen from this press release), but because people know they’re not going to be fed a bunch of bullshit, or an overblown personality facade that’s specifically tailored for radio. They’re lining up to get the genuine article. People will always prefer an authentic experience to overdone theatrics.

What you see, with people like these, is what you get. There’s no more to it. Take it or fuck off. Yet this seems to be a quality that’s all too rare in gaming. Every day there’s a new asshole popping up on YouTube, trying to be what they think is going to translate into viewership, selling themselves short to instead play ‘shoutcaster,’ an ugly term for an ugly way of delivering commentary.

How much esports content have you pulled up lately where it seemed immediately obvious that the person creating it had more passion for seeing their view counts spike than they did for the actual subject matter of the content? The lights are on but nobody’s home. What the hell do they do it for?

It’d be far to easy to wrap this entry up with a quick cliche. Something about the journey being more important. But both the saying and ending the post in that manner are cheap and superficial. It’s not the journey and it’s not the destination. It’s the humanity of a story that makes anything interesting, whether it’s travel television, or sports, or gaming; not just what happened but why it matters, how perspectives changed because of it. It’s what I strive to bring to the narrative of this blog, and I can only hope I’m delivering on that.

Whether I am or not, I’ll continue to try, whether I think there’s a demand for it or not. I suppose that’s the real point; as long as I’m getting something out of it, it’s good enough for me, and even better if you do as well. However, ff folks like the subjects of this piece keep doing what they do…I’m not particularly worried about the demand; it’s there.