Paula Deen: Toast



Maybe Anthony Bourdain was right after all. Maybe Paula Deen is “the worst, most dangerous person to America”  for promoting unnecessarily fatty and sugar-laden recipes to her viewers.  Though “most dangerous” probably confers more power on her  than she possesses. (Especially after today.) He was quite correct though, in describing her fans as “scary.”

Paula Deen is toast.  Responding to facts that came to light yesterday from a deposition last month, Food Network announced that they would  not be renewing  her contract, which expires at the end of June. If I were Paula I wouldn’t be expecting any residuals from re-runs either. That she bailed on the Today Show and instead posted not one, but two staged videos begging forgiveness didn’t help her case.

The deposition was from an ongoing federal lawsuit brought against Deen by Lisa Jackson, who worked for Deen and Deen’s brother, Earl Hiers, at Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House in Savannah. Jackson, who is white, alleges that the siblings created a hostile atmosphere with ongoing racial slurs, sexual harassment, and separate entrances and restrooms for black employees.

In addition, the deposition explored Paula Deen’s desire to produce an “old style plantation wedding” for her brother featuring “little n*ggers dressed in long-sleeved white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties” as servers. She later amended this to say that what she wanted was older black men in white jackets, “like before the Civil War.” House slaves, in other words.

When asked during the deposition whether or not she ever used the “N-word”, she responded “Of course.”

Of course?

“Of course”, like “Doesn’t everyone?”  “Of course,” like “what a silly question.”  One has to wonder if Paula Deen saw her career flash before her eyes in that instance, because she certainly started back-pedaling, offering as example an episode where as a bank teller she was held at gunpoint by black man. Uh huh. Her fans are clinging to that like it’s the last piece of chocolate cream pie.

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent years as a journalist that I have a keen ear for lies, spin and misstatements, but something uttered many decades ago, before she was a public figure, would not find its way into a current law suit.

More cogent perhaps are the statements that followed. When asked if that was the only time, she said no. When asked what other instances she said “Probably repeating something I heard.”

“Like a joke?” the lawyer asked.

“No, like a conversation between blacks.”

Really, how could Food Network even consider keeping her on the air?

It’s not like she’s the first television star to get the boot. Remember Pee Wee Herman, whose career was wrecked when he was discovered with his pants down in a porn movie house? Did you know that Cindy Williams was rather unceremoniously let go from “Laverne and Shirley” because she got pregnant? Or how Paris Hilton’s The Simple Life was de-railed by her sex tape? Don Imus lost his long-time radio show after he referred to the Rutger’s women’s basketball players as “nappy headed hos.” Cocaine addiction precipitated Mackenzie Phillips departure from “One Day at a Time.”  Michael Richards (“Kramer” from Seinfeld) famously responded to a group of hecklers at a stand up gig by calling them “n*ggers.”  His career has never recovered.

Paula’s fans can’t believe she’s being canned, especially given that chef Robert Irvine has been restored to Food Network, writing on the network’s page (in capital letters, naturally) that he “LIED, EXAGGERATED and EMBELLISHED” his resume. Er. As if exaggerating one’s accomplishments is somehow equal to forcing people of another race to use a different bathroom.

(And for the record, Robert Irvine was fired after the St. Petersburg Times reported his embellishments. In 2008, Irvine launched a blog that cleared up some inconsistencies in his work history, demonstrating that the contested claims were somewhat exaggerated, but not outright lies. A few months later he was rehired by the network and continues to be one of their most popular personalities.)

Many have flounced all over Food Network:

“I hope you people are as perfect as you expect Paula to be!”

“I’m canceling your channel today!” (As if you can cancel one channel.)

“You have thirty days to reinstate Paula or else!”

“Your programs will never be on in this house again!”

“I can’t believe you’re firing her because she made one little mistake years ago.”

“At least she didn’t lie like Robert Irvine!”

“Are you going to ask every employee if they ever used the n-word? You’ll have a huge cut in payroll.”

A common theme was to compare Paula Deen to every other person in the world who may have uttered an ethnic slur. (My guess is most of the people who are defending her are guilty of the same. )

And many people have told an off-color joke or two or ten.  Or grumbled some thing unforgivable while stressed out. When a friend’s husband left her for a woman who happened to be black, I’m sure she said a few unsavory things in her rage and pain. But those in the public eye are held to a higher standard and they are rewarded for it with fat paychecks.

It is a bit disconcerting that everyone is against racism in the abstract, but as soon as it’s the least bit inconvenient (i.e. their favorite television chef getting fired) they are eager to excuse it.

Others (and not just fans) have queried why the plaintiff in the lawsuit (remember the lawsuit?) stayed on for five years. I don’t know the answer to that. But how many people stay in a bad job for five years? Quite a few in the current economy. For that matter, how many people stay in a bad marriage for five years? Untold millions. Don’t you wonder if Lisa Jackson wasnt a fan herself when she was first hired? Isn’t it likely that she was thrilled to get the job? And just like people who’ve worked for Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Cosby and Bob Barker, she discovered that her boss was somewhat more complicated than the public persona revealed.

I know people who use the “n-word” and I wish I could say it was just my black neighbors referring to each other. Nope. it’s white folks. None of them, that I know of anyway, are related to me. My grandmother, in South Carolina, used say “negro” or “colored” but that other word, that was not allowed. Most genteel folks in the south don’t say n*gger. At least not anymore.

Finally, this gets to the heart of the problem that is Paula Deen.

She’s a parody of a particular kind of southern woman and about as genuine as a three-dollar bill. I resent her co-opting the heritage of so many southerners and selling it back to them as her own. She didn’t invent her “best dishes”. Go to any church supper in South Carolina (or Alabama, or Georgia, or Mississippi) and you’ll have that and better. She tried to fold white-trash cuisine into the repertoire of good, honest Southern food like it belonged there. It wasn’t just that she denigrated people of color (and that’s bad enough) she exploited and corrupted an entire culture of Southern Cooking. All the while, she  just so sweet it makes your teeth hurt, but scratch the surface and there’s little there but blind ambition.

So she’s toast. And deserves to be.  Pass the butter, would you?

But Paula fans, take heart. She made $17 million dollars last year. Only the Lord above and Deen’s accountants have any real notion of her net worth. Carefully managed, that should make for a comfy retirement. And as God is her witness, she’ll never be hungry again!




8 thoughts on “Paula Deen: Toast

  1. Interesting that you’d lump Cindy Williams, who was married in 1982 when she had her first child, with folks like Paris Hilton and Mackenzie Phillips. Wouldn’t firing a woman for being pregnant be considered discrimination?

  2. David, I didn’t “lump her in with them,” I just included her as a celebrity who had been fired– and yes, I think it was reprehensible. I don’t make the facts, after all. But when it comes right down to it, I think what Paula Deen did was worse. Paris Hilton’s sex tape hurt no one. Mackenzie Philips’ drug addiction was her own cross to bear (though I can see why that might be incompatible with work) Michael Richards was responding (inappropriately) to being attacked, Pee Wee’s antics hurt no one. And Cindy WIlliams, well– she did nothing wrong at all. Don Imus was pretty freaking awful, and certainly offensive to many. But he didn’t employ those women, he didn’t expect them to dress up like house slaves, and he didn’t create a hostile environment in which they toiled.

    If Paula Deen has any sense she will settle out of court. Which is too bad in a way, because it would have been interesting to see the rest of this train wreck.

  3. Well done, Larkin. Having spent way too long in one of those hostile work environments, I truly understand how complicated the situation can be. And how miserable. Outsiders make flip remarks like “why don’t you just quit”. Right. I was one of the founders of the company, the only female, you’d think I would be protected . . . but the one who wrote the paychecks and gave performance reviews poisoned the atmosphere with the “N” word, insults aimed at all women, and if he had a client meeting with a powerful woman, the “C” word . . .

    It’s easy to give advice . . . several people suggested I take the bastard to court because what he was doing was against the law. Right again. You are correct, Deen should settle and go away quietly, she is only calling attention to the fact that she is a jerk and a fool. I wonder how she would react to my former employer’s “fat lady” and “C” comments aimed at her.

    The jerk I dealt with for too long was – go figure – a volunteer marriage counselor and a deacon at his church.

  4. I certainly can see your legacy as a reporter/investigative journalist in this piece. It’s perfectly written and painfully accurate. No more Paula Deen, no loss to the Food Network.

  5. Larkin where is your outrage toward Bill Maher for calling Sarah Palins son, retarded? I would like to see you write a column about how people like him can Bully a child. Bullying is what he did. Or do you like Whoppi and Babs consider calling a child retarded ok since it was acceptable years ago? You do know that the N word was also acceptable “back then” I am sure you will find a way to make what he said ok. And while you are at it, write a column condemning black people for calling whites, crackers., etc. Also, give them heck for calling each other nigga’s.i get sick of listening to them constantly calling each other that name then turning around and have the Ba–s to raise hell when a white person calls them that.. The word has one definition only regardless of who is saying it. In case you don’t know it a racist does not have to be white, they come in Black, too. As for Paula D., I hope she wins in court and this woman goes to work somewhere else for 5 years and file another law suit because she was so mistreated. Did it not occur to her to Quit if life was so horrible there? Or maybe she is just looking for some easy money.

    • Oh Lord, Nancy, are you really that simple?

      Bill Maher was not Sarah Palin’s employer. And whether or not comments made by one or more public figure about the child of another public figure could be construed as “bullying” really verges on the absurd.

      As someone who had a family member who was profoundly retarded (rest in peace WIlliam) I can tell you it would not have mattered one whit to him what you called him as long as you gave him beans and toast when he was hungry, changed his diaper when it was dirty and gave him a cuddle now and then he would love you unconditionally.

      As for someone waiting five years before filing a suit in federal court, one would have to figure that you’ve never experienced that level of internal conflict. I’m sure that Lisa Jackson started out loving her job, and that she was an avid fan of Paula’s in the beginning.

      If Paula Deen’s management team has any sense they will be rushing to settle this matter before it actually goes to court– or she, like Pee Wee Herman before her, will see her empire reduced to dust.

      And what I wish for YOU, Nancy Doyle is enlightenment. I hope one day you experience what it’s like to be on the receiving end of discrimination; how you learn to shut up and put up so that you can go on putting food on the table and roof over your head. Maybe then you will learn what it is like to be under the boot of a fat, rich, white lady.

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