Anthony Bourdain, Pixelated Guinness, and the Real Definition of Responsible Drinking

I’ve long enjoyed chef, author, and television personality Anthony Bourdain’s irreverent take on the various cities he visits in his Travel Channel shows, particularly his latest series, The Layover. Unlike some of the chirpier hosts the network employs, he takes a warts-and-all approach to his destinations, heaping praise upon the great and worthy aspects of a city while being refreshingly candid about the stuff that sucks. His loyalty lies with the viewer over the sponsor, as it should. But his recent episode on Dublin got me thinking about all the behind-the-scenes considerations that go with the various brands and businesses that make it into the show. In the case of Dublin, there appears to have been much hand-wringing over the ubiquitous presence of the city’s most iconic product: Guinness. [Update: Scroll down for Bourdain’s response.]

No visit to Dublin is complete without a few pints of the black stuff, and Bourdain certainly indulged, but I quickly noticed while watching that whenever he referred to Guinness, he used precisely that metaphor, "the black stuff," or something similar. The Guinness logo on pint glasses and tap handles was pixelated as well.

In the case of most shows that feature a particular product, that probably means that the company was contacted and asked to pay a fee to be included in the show, since its association with it and its stars can be seen as an endorsement, making it more effective than an advertisement. When the companies balk at paying, the show’s producers blur out the logo.

But watching The Layover, I began to think that the pixelation of the Guinness logo was Guinness’s choice, not the Travel Channel’s. After all, Bourdain was drinking multiple pints of the stuff and wound up somewhat drunk, and admitted it. It’s likely that the makers of Guinness felt that this didn’t quite represent "responsible drinking" and decided they’d better not be associated with Bourdain, even though they secretly think he’s great.

I get that. There are lawyers involved, brand image to consider, and booze and TV laws and standards to follow. But yet, was his consumption of Guinness in Dublin really irresponsible?

Not at all. Bourdain had a driver to ferry him to his various destinations, or he traveled on foot. In my view, the true definition of irresponsible drinking is driving drunk, or even buzzed. (Being violent, of course, is also irresponsible, but violent drunks tend to be violent people in general.) But having a few pints in a pub and then going to a chipper? That’s what people do. That’s not abuse of alcohol, it’s use of alcohol. Responsible drinking simply means not being an asshole. 

Of course getting drunk all the time is bad for you, wreaks havoc on your health, and can cost you your job and family, but that’s nothing you can see happening in two nights of drinking on a one-hour TV show. Anthony Bourdain getting mildly drunk in Dublin? There’s not a thing wrong with it. The idea that people never have more than one drink in a sitting is simply a fantasy.

And I have the feeling that Bourdain himself chafed at the restriction. In two instances I did hear him murmer the word Guinness, and the logo (but not the entire logo) is available in the screencap above. Perhaps there’s enough editorial justification for him to say what he was drinking, because it’s simply reporting the facts. Perhaps he was allowed two instances to say the word, and he reached his limit.

Despite its ridiculousness, The Layover and shows like it will continue to dance around issues like this, using euphemisms and dippy metaphors for what they really mean. In this case, the fact that Bourdain was drinking Guinness couldn’t have been more obvious, so not mentioning the name is skating by on a technicality.

That’s probably good enough for Guinness, and I guess it’s good enough for me too. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to sharing a bottle of Dogfish Head Theobroma beer with my wife for Valentine’s Day tomorrow night, possibly followed by a Stoli martini. Don’t pixelate me.

UPDATE: Anthony Bourdain informs me via Twitter that it was the network’s decision not to identify Guinness by name. Thanks!

Bourdain Tweet

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