For anyone familiar with the last 10 years of Pittsburgh’s narrative arc, there were few revelations to be had watching Sunday’s Pittsburgh episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” series.
It began — and remained — firmly focused on the tug of war between the old and the new, the question of who gets left behind when a city moves forward, the disparities therein, and whether a city’s celebration of those building its future intrinsically neglects those who built its past.
Bourdain has taken this approach before in Rust Belt cities like Buffalo and Detroit, places with similar trajectories, similar industry die-offs and similar efforts underway to forge new post-industrial identities.
And while Pittsburgh eagerly awaited the airing of Sunday’s episode, the online reaction afterward revealed a split as to whether it captured and appropriately framed the city as it is — or at least as many viewers believe it to be.
There were those who praised Bourdain’s handling of the subject matter.
Others felt the city had been misrepresented.
By Monday morning, Mayor Bill Peduto acknowledged the perception divide left in Bourdain’s wake. Peduto himself has presided over the most recent stages of the economic and cultural evolution covered in Sunday’s “Parts Unknown,” although he wasn’t featured in the episode. His office declined to comment further than his tweets.
Peduto also retweeted these:
But if nothing else, Peduto’s retweets reveal the underpinnings of the current debate: Should Pittsburgh be celebrated for climbing back from the abyss? Should it be held accountable for those squeezed along the way? Can you do both at the same time?
It’s also a question of what viewers expected from a travel show that often veers into social commentary. For some, that’s what makes Bourdain’s show so good. But this time, maybe, that commentary hit a little too close to home.
Or maybe it was meant to reignite a conversation, which it did. If nothing else, it revealed the fault line anew.