Photo credit: Imgur.com
They serve ethnic food for two reasons, Guy Fieri says: people from all over the place work here, and people want to eat food from all over the place. This tautology reminds me of Guy Fieri’s face when he’s eating a taco. It’s such a round face.
The cheeks are so full, the chin so in line with the dome the wraparound shades flip over when it’s time to go to Flavortown, that to watch him take a bite of food on his show is to witness a rare aesthetic purity. Fieri eats off a kitchen countertop like Ted Williams swings a baseball bat. Each bite is a question: How could anything fit in there?—and an answer: He explains how in frustrating detail after every swallow.
For me, the way I am, I need to know that information. I don’t want to know most of the information the show provides. Where he’s eating, the story of each diner or dive—that we rarely see a drive-in makes a third of the title a morbid anachronism, the seed of the cyst of the show—doesn’t matter, not to me. I’m only a little interested in the food, what goes into making it, or even the people who make it. I’m definitely not as interested in these things as Guy Fieri is, because I can see something he can’t in every episode: I can see another man close his eyes in ecstasy after taking a bite of food. I turn up for that.
I’m interested in the story of the food as it becomes Guy Fieri, a man who loves food and loves loving food. I come back for that, as much as I like to watch him try to put into words the place that one bite sent him inside his brain moments before he opened his mouth again to speak.
You could ask him, you know, Do you love eating the food more, or talking about what made you love the food you just ate? But why would you ever ask him that question when you could watch him eat? Because he clearly loves what he does.
And you can fuck right off if you’re coming here to beat up on a man who does what he loves for a living.
What I’m saying is he can’t only do the thing he loves the most for the show to work: if it’s talking about the food he loves most, he has to eat it and make the face first; if it’s eating he loves, he had to see how it’s made first; if it’s seeing how it’s made he loves, and I don’t think it’s that, but for the sake of argument, then he’d have to show us the chef, the restaurant and the town, and if it’s the meet and greet he’d still have to do the rest of the show for the people he loves introducing to us to matter to us at all.
But somewhere in all that there’s a happy man with bleached hair and a joy he can sometimes put into words. Imperfectly. Satisfactorily, I don’t know, I never had any of the food Guy Fieri’s fawned and cooed and raved about. He gets paid to do this on TV.
Somewhere else in there in some relation to his ecstatic truth is his audience. People want to see a guy in a bowling shirt with flames on it make orgasmic faces over pho.
People who are male, ages 25-35, shitloads of them. How many times does this audience hear the voices of people of color on TV? How often do those voices belong to people serving white men?
They serve ethnic food for two reasons, Guy says, but he doesn’t say who “they” are or what “ethnic” is. Of course he’s trying to help. Suppose he’s doing what he can in an unjust and cruel world that’s losing its mind. If he didn’t know, he wouldn’t have to remind us why he’s talking to “them” in the first place.
Knowing that, what has he done?
Between the bite and the talk about the bite, Guy Fieri pauses. It’s in that pause the mystery of the show’s enduring appeal hides and preserves itself.
In that pause, Fieri can start to describe the flavors he’s experienced. If he can’t find the words, he can take another bite and gather his thoughts and try again after that.
They’re tense moments, these pauses. You see the chefs lean anxious as the stock rock they can’t hear changes chords and Guy prepares to speak. Here they are together and what is there to say about the product? When else will there be anything to say about the product? What else?
You want it to be good, you know. The show does too. Maybe you’re like me and you look into Fieri’s eyes between the bite and its explication, and you see in his eyes a mirror, and in that mirror Ghost Hunters cutting to a commercial break right as there’s a sound off in the distance. Maybe not.
The show is for all of us I’m saying. Right? It’s for me and my brain sickness and the chefs and their work and Guy and his. What the show needs and couldn’t exist without, as and through those moments of pause is Guy’s showmanship. If he can’t hype what he’s there to eat, what does any of it matter?
The setup is the same every time—by-the-numbers, we see the ingredients, the process, the plating, the bite— everything Fieri the host needs to show us, in other words, is context for the debriefing, and the character of the thing that emerges from all these moving parts is his and only his responsibility to put us face to face with: the bite in its totality.
If one does not understand the steps it takes for a chef to make each dish, what Fieri says post-bite will remain a closed book. The transition from ingredients to dish to speech is comprehensible only in the context of Guy Fieri’s entire being-in-his-world. If they were incomprehensible, these moments of pause couldn’t be tense for us. What would be at stake if they couldn’t be? Guy Fieri would be a fraud, an impostor, pretending to make the face, pretending to laugh at his own jokes, staring down each food item he carries to his mouth knowingly and helplessly.
I wouldn’t call him that. It’s clear he means the things he says about the food he eats. Maybe he believes it all. It’s less than clear that what he has to say about the food he eats has any relation to what we see written on his face with each bite.
How can he talk about the experience of eating something he loves when the language he has at his disposal keeps it at a distance from him?
He’ll talk about what we saw went into the making. He’ll have this to say about the local produce and that to say about the grass-fed beef, the farm-to-table yadda yadda. Awesome, he’ll say. This will become relevant after he bites into the complete product and tells us how the flavors mixed. Of course he’ll say awesome then too.
You can’t say one thing and mean another without engaging in self-deception. We saw too: awe, he was full of it. A fulsome awe. Sure!
The problem is we can’t begin to account for the existential splits inherent in any attempt at testimony of an ecstatic truth unless and until we begin from the premise of a unified whole. Consider the possibility that the thoughts Fieri thinks between bites are a language unto themselves. A language within and/or among a language or languages. I want a show where Fieri opens his third eye and projects a three dimensional sound sculpture over the counter instead of trying to put words into it, or put it into words, whatever.
I want a show where he bursts into tears.
I don’t want what I’ve got: a sense of the eternal and a language wholly inadequate to its expression, a language that splits experience up verbally in analogous ways to how people divide, deny, negate and violate it behaviorally.
In that pause, Fieri becomes the food and the food becomes him. When he’s talking, often with his mouth still full of the taste he’s set out to describe, he’s talking about himself. The part of him he’s talking about tastes like how he’s describing, we must believe, if we are to take his testimony as true.
What I want is a human account of human beings in human terms. Seen for his whole being-in-himself, Fieri is a complex of things. The processes that comprise him are processes of things. To understand these things is not to understand these processes. To understand these processes is not to understand him.
In the twenties and thirties, Carl Jung’s patients described collective archetypes of cruelty and violence which they experienced in their nightmares. Jung believed these archetypes were the unconscious’s response to the violence and cruelty of waking life, which he, the scientist, could observe in the test tube of the individual patient. As these patients compensated in waking life to the nightmares waiting for them on the other side of consciousness, the night shift reorganized itself around archetypes of order, proportion and rationality. These new archetypes represented a kind of axis between the self and the larger psychic world. Jung called them mandalas.
This is what people confuse with the aesthetic of Nazism. Violence is not an aesthetic. There is such a thing as a grotesque and absurd piling on of nightmares until enough of the dream world is violated for a pattern to emerge, but it is not an aesthetic.
To be sure, psychic violence didn’t start with the Nazis—probably as old as cities. What I want to know, and what this has to do with Guy Fieri, is where the violence begins.
Because I have seen it: I’ve seen Guy Fieri eating a noodle in reverse. I’ve seen him eating to the tune of Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt.” If the worship of death comes after the revolt of the collective unconscious, I am complicit in causing this revolt.
It’s impossible not to be. Collective guilt is for everybody, first of all, and second of all the division between the unconscious and the rest of experience, if it exists, exists for this exact purpose: we are supposed to compensate in waking life to troubles in our dreams to make the troubles go away.
Mine is the third or fourth generation to share the world with televisions. What makes this revolt different from what came before? It’s hard to say, extremely hard to say, because the revolt has been continuous and simultaneous with the feast of death instead of preceding it, as perhaps it was possible for Jung to theorize in “The Fight With The Shadow” in 1946. “Why ever” is a better and sadly optimistic question.
What do you want from me?
What are you looking at me for?
Do you want to feel better about watching Tim and Eric in 2007? You were warned. I was warned. Now it’s everywhere and I am exhausted. Ready Player One is coming out in one hundred Diners, Drive-ins and Dives marathons. There is an audience for all of this, an audience of 25- to 35-year-olds, many of them male, many of whom remember, I’m sure, the hypersaturation of footage of 9/11 which went on for days after the attack.
It went on for days!
There is apparently no limit to how much stupidity and overstimulation people will tolerate for the sense of the product of a rational universe.
I’m complicit, too. I drank from that well and am infected with its germs. The essay I’m writing, you know, I don’t want to give the appearance I haven’t made up my mind about what it’s going to be. I hope the stuff I make doesn’t contribute to the problems I describe but I have one too many white penises than I need to not be a little worried about that.
And I have no idea how any of this garbage relates to the unconscious. I’m writing in a language I understand in terms I control. It’s as recognizable to me as the world is recognizable, and sometimes the world is unrecognizable, and it has been increasingly unrecognizable. I know the violence won’t end and I can’t imagine it ending. If I can figure out where it began, I’m thinking, maybe I can begin to hold at least myself accountable.
Because if there’s one thing this past year has made painfully obvious, it’s that men must hold each other accountable for being pigs. It shouldn’t be anybody else’s job, and the reason why is part of the problem. If the conversation doesn’t start there for men, it can’t really go anywhere for them either, and the Me Too movement has laid bare the shortcomings of those who refuse to participate. This is not the same as a conversation about justice, which would center on the people who experienced violation.
The violation of experience is a different subject entirely. It’s that order of violation I see burlesqued when I see that noodle pop out of and flail around Guy Fieri’s lips, and then over and over again. That’s what I want to have a conversation about, not about the kind of person you’d trust with authority, but about the kind of person you’d leave alone with your dreams. I don’t know anybody. After all, I’ve been quoting pretty liberally from R. D. Laing, and he lost his medical license for coming to therapy drunk twice.
And don’t take Jung’s word for it either. In the same essay, Jung says anything that exceeds a human size in waking life takes on similar dimensions in the unconscious. If he hadn’t given intellectual and philosophical legitimacy to Nazism earlier in his career, it’d be easier to listen to him.
I’m content with giving the last word on Guy Fieri to Andrew Zimmern. In 2012, Pete Wells gave Fieri’s restaurant a negative review in the New York Times. Zimmern, in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, explained: “If this was a mom-and-pop restaurant tucked away in a tiny little brown stone on the lower eastside even the New York Times would’ve gone in and ignored it because why write a bad review. It serves no one. If you don’t want people to go, just don’t talk about it.”
Zimmern says the exception to this rule is “when someone comes into the marketplace jumping up and down saying look at me, look at me, look at me.”
More importantly, he says, Fieri is “the most important and the most polarizing figure in the food scene. He is one of the most powerful people in the food business, like it or not. Tons of people watch his show. Advertisers flock to him. He is like Paula Deen: a huge, huge star.”
The interview is dated November 21, 2012. On June 21, 2013, Food Network announced they would not renew Paula Deen’s contract after Deen admitted to using racial slurs in a social media post. And you know what, while we’re on the subject of huge mega stars turning out to be trash, Fieri has a disgruntled former producer with some dirt. Homophobia. Leering. Check the receipts.
“So what they do and what they say is much more important than what, you know, poor shmucks on, you know, cable channels like myself think,” Zimmern continues. “Or some of the other people on Food Network. Guy Fieri is a huge mega empire. So when he does a five hundred seat restaurant in Times Square, New York City, the most important food city in the world, you are saying, ‘Look at me, look at me, look at me.’ “
In the review Zimmern’s talking about, Wells asks Fieri, “When you cruise around the country for your show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, rasping out slangy odes to the unfancy places where Americans like to get down and greasy, do you really mean it? Or is it all an act? Is that why the kind of cooking you celebrate on television is treated with so little respect at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar?”
Zimmern goes on: “And I wrote in my blog today in mspmag.com that not only is Wells obligated to review it, he owes us that, because so many millions of people out there are going to say, Hey, when I’m in New York, I should go there. The role of dining critic is twofold. Number one: to canvas the restaurant scene and to tell us ahead of time so we can figure out where to spend our money what’s good, what’s bad. But the New York Times dining critic is someone who’s a custodian of food culture.”
Wells again: “Is the entire restaurant a very expensive piece of conceptual art? Is the shapeless, structureless baked alaska that droops and slumps and collapses while you eat it, or don’t eat it, supposed to be a representation in sugar and eggs of the experience of going insane?”
“He has to write that review,” Zimmern says, “and I think he did a brilliant job of it. And I thought that he did it in a way that we all would have in the sense that you, you shake your head—what’s he going to do, a traditional review like he did of the Bernadenne when it reopened, saying, oh, this course was, dah dah dah? You know… I’m… “
Here Zimmern trails off.
“I’m not surprised at the fallout, though.”
The Today Show gave the story to Katy Tur. CBS This Morning gave it to Carter Evans.
“Because everyone makes fun of Guy, and then when someone does so publicly everyone has to rush to his aid. I’ve been really consistent,” Zimmern concludes. “He’s a friend of mine, I like him, he’s a great dude, a great dad, he’s a great husband, and he won a contest on Food Network as that guy you see on TV. He has to be that way.”
Do we have to be this way?
My father-in-law cuts the truffle cheese in rectangles. The slices crumble into rough shapes along the dark veins of truffle stuff striating the block. I don’t know anything about what I’m about to eat. I don’t know where it comes from or what went into making it other than milk and truffles. Milk of what? Truffle what, oil, powder, dust? How long was it aged? How was it aged?
I know it’s expensive and it’s not something my father-in-law would share with anybody. I knew this last year, before I was his son in law, the first time I rated high enough for him to share his truffle cheese with me after Thanksgiving.
And it was more than I expected out of life, to eat that cheese with my wife’s family. I would have laughed if you’d told me, two years ago, that I’d be sharing good cheese with my wife and her parents. I would have laughed and hated myself even more and that would have ruined any chance of all of this coming to pass. But it did. I was there.
I remember it was rich, spicy, nutty, but deep and smooth and creamy the very same amount it overwhelmed my palate with stinky cheese stink. I remember how I knew it’d make me swell up as I ate it, and I remember swelling up.
I’d had a full Thanksgiving meal, I remember, and my mother-in-law said I didn’t have to eat any more if I didn’t want to, if I was too full, same as I am now, watching my father-in-law pile slices of this cheese off the wedge and onto the plate. He sets the knife next to the wedge. Same as last year, I don’t listen to my mother-in-law, and as I eat the cheese, everybody’s looking at me.
They want me to say something about the cheese. I remember I said something about it last year, but I don’t remember what it was.
Was it different cheese last year? What a terrible question, the absolute worst question to ask them right now, and you know, normally it’d make me smile to think something so awful, but I can’t smile with them looking, and my problem anyway is how’s *this* cheese?
How is it, my wife asks.
Good, I say. And I’m thinking of the person I was last year, sitting in the same chair as I am now, waxing poetical about the umami this and the mature and sonorant that. I’m thinking, You were tired and full then. “Good” after that with the same eyes on you is a backhanded compliment. No other interpretation is possible in this context.
But it was true. It was good cheese.
In years past, maybe I’d said all there could be said about it. But looking around, Jesus, what a grim scene as I try another slice of truffle cheese: I am not up to the task of describing what’s face to face with my sense of smell and taste, and that’s fucking pathetic. A waste of good cheese, and ill portents if sentences are what I want to give my life to.
Because why would anybody share their good cheese with me?
For the same reason they’d ask me to write a eulogy.