Paula Deen, the Food Network celebrity, has been fired for her use of the racial slur “N” word. Did she use it on television? Did she utter it publicly and insultingly, like Michael Richards, former star of “Seinfeld,” did a few years ago?
No. But to some, she’s still a racist for this reason alone.
Dave McCormick, author of a column at myslightobsession.com entitled, “Headlines Wrong: Paula Deen Held to a Double Standard” [see 6/25/13] sums it up beautifully:
Let’s start with the facts. Paula Deen was being questioned as part of a deposition. A deposition that was invoked by the accusations of Lisa Jackson. You are under oath during the deposition. Paula was asked if she ever used the “N-word.” Deen answered “Yes.” Lisa Jackson had her own deposition where she said she never heard Deen make racist remarks nor was she sexually harassed by Deen. Now, the Food Network has elected not [to] renew her contract, essentially firing her, with what seems to be without hesitation or a few minutes of thought.
McCormick goes on to point out that fellow Food Network celebrities Guy Fieri and Anne Burrell have not been fired or publicly reprimanded by their boss for similarly offensive remarks about gays or allegations of sexual harassment. So why Paula Deen and why now?
I have a theory.
Paula Deen is a bit of a rebel. For years, she celebrated the glory of butter, fat and fried foods. While some sincerely don’t enjoy these foods, many do so but are afraid to publicly admit it. They engage in secret eating at Popeye’s or Fatburger when nobody’s looking, or enjoy some high quality comfort food, but rarely if ever want to admit it to most people. It’s not cool, and heaven forbid we’re not cool. Paula Deen was “in” for a time, but was never cool.
Paula Deen went against the grain in that she celebrated the kinds of food most of us want to eat, without admitting it. Yes, the predictable ultimately happened. She developed health problems and had to lose weight. She introduced more moderate themes and recipes into her shows. Boring.
In all honesty (and I say this as a big fan), Paula Deen lost some of her cachet. I don’t know if her ratings suffered, but I’ll bet they did. She looks thin, healthy and beautiful, and I truly wish her well. But she’s not the Paula Deen I tuned in to watch. Perhaps other viewers felt the same way.
Given these facts, perhaps Food Network was looking for an excuse to tastefully let her go. I don’t blame them for watching their bottom line, nor for caring about what their viewers want to see. What annoys me is that her remarks were taken out of context. In his article, Dave McCormick got it exactly right. In a legal proceeding, most would probably have lied in such a circumstance. Deen elected to tell the truth.
In my view, Food Network’s firing of Deen is disingenuous. Instead of acknowledging the real reasons, or additional reasons, for firing her, they’re cynically and self-consciously taking an opportunity to publicly preen, “Look at us. We’re not racist.” They’re counting on their viewers not to call them on the obvious contradictions, evasions and double standards involved.
One of Paula Deen’s books is an autobiography called, “It Ain’t All About the Cookin.’” Whether or not you like to cook, you’ll likely enjoy this inspiring “rags to riches” story of the poverty-stricken, phobia-riddled housewife Paula Deen. Her story, candidly told in this autobiography, shows how she went from an anxiety-disordered phobic who literally wouldn’t leave the house to the celebrity we all came to know, and many of us to love.
While you never know if a celebrity is telling the truth, I found her description of her emotional conditions plausible (I’m a psychotherapist). I found her willingness and ability to claw her way out of her paralyzing neurosis, mostly without external help, downright heroic.
One of the best things you can do is read the biographies of people you admire to see how they overcame their adversity. This lady has overcome quite a lot, and most of that adversity was within herself. She was her own worst enemy, and once she got out of her own way, she soared. To me, this is way more important than some ignorant or stupid remark she made a long time ago.
Celebrity ebbs and flows. Too many people enjoy, in a sadistic kind of way, tearing down their heroes or celebrities. Paula Deen may have passed the peak of her celebrity, even without this made-up scandal. That’s in the nature of things.
But it makes me sad to think that such a talented and plucky woman might be remembered as “that chef who said the ‘N’ word,” rather than the woman who hid in her house for years, only to come out in the world and have an enduring impact.