When a charming celebrity, with considerable influence on the culture at large, is exposed as a hateful phony, it can tarnish their reputation so severely, only a devoted minority will want to continue associating with them.
Such is the current case with Paula Deen. The folksy Southern chef and her brother are being sued by a former employee who alleges sexual and racial harassment as well as violence while managing two of her restaurants for five years, a case that’s still pending. (The Deens deny the accusations.) When questioned directly during her deposition on May 17 about ever using the word “nigger” in reference to an African-American, Deen answered, “Yes, of course.”. (Her brother admitted using it, as well.) She also acknowledged wanting to hire some black men to dress as plantation slaves for an outdoor wedding, but ultimately nixed that idea because, according to her ex-employee’s claim, “the media would be on me for that”, a rather prescient remark as it turns out.
A year after RadarOnline first mentioned the lawsuit filing in a March 2012 story, The National Enquirer were the first to publish direct quotes from Deen’s testimony in early June this year. The story quickly picked up momentum when other major media outlets offered their own reports. Soon thereafter, the 66-year-old was bailing on The Today Show (she would eventually appear later on) and channelling Jimmy Swaggert through a series of teary-eyed on-line apologies for her racist remarks, hoping to minimize the inevitable damage to her very successful brand.
It didn’t work. A deal to publish five upcoming cookbooks was cancelled, her three TV shows on The Food Network were not renewed and a growing number of major corporations ended their lucrative business arrangements with her. For now, nine other companies she’s been working with are taking a wait-and-see approach and are not immediately planning to abandon the embattled cook. But that could change at any moment. Meanwhile, more people have come forward with similar allegations of misconduct (which were backed up following an investigation by Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition) not to mention this. (A lot more here.)
The most peculiar thing about this sudden turn of events is that Paula Deen ever had an empire to lose in the first place. As Anthony Bourdain and many others have pointed out repeatedly, Deen’s Southern “comfort food” recipes are so extraordinarily unhealthy, it shouldn’t shock anyone that she’s been battling Type-2 Diabetes for four years, a stunning revelation that only became public knowledge in January 2012 thanks to an earlier National Enquirer scoop. That’s right. Paula Deen’s own cooking is making herself sick and she kept that knowledge to herself for two years! No wonder one of her recently lost endorsements involved pitching an anti-diabetes drug.
Honestly, what was The Food Network thinking by giving her a national TV platform for 14 years to poison the masses? Do they not feel the slightest tinge of remorse for allowing a fool to help contribute to the obesity problem in America? And what about all the other companies who once courted her for deals and previously fully backed her fatty, greasy foods? Do big bucks matter more than the health of the nation?
That last question answers itself.
Make no mistake about it. The real reason Paula Deen is losing a lot of important professional deals isn’t because she’s a dangerous cook. It’s because being associated with a racist is bad for business. Just look at what happened to Mel Gibson and Michael Richards, two highly decorated and once well respected entertainers.
Long after their respective racial scandals faded from the daily news, they’ve not enjoyed the kinds of successes they’ve had in the past. (Perhaps because of this, there’s been little effort on both their parts to even attempt full-time artistic comebacks, let alone enjoy them. These days, they make rare public appearances and are no longer regular faces in popular culture.) Like Deen, they’re not spring chickens anymore but unlike Deen, at the time of their transgressions their value to the entertainment industry had greatly diminished. (Richards has floundered since Seinfeld ended in 1998. Gibson’s last enormous hit, Passion Of The Christ, was released in 2004.)
That being said, despite remaining a much-in-demand multi-millionaire, it’s possible Deen herself has pretty much passed the height of her fame right now (according to this, ratings for her Food Network shows had significantly dropped even before the lawsuit revelations) and who knows what the longterm fallout will be once the media moves on from this story. (Remember, after a short time following his own exposed racism, the sickening Dog The Bounty Hunter was able to return to his now-cancelled A&E program.)
Deen’s attitude about black people, as appalling as it is, isn’t the only scandal here. No sir. We should be equally troubled by the fact that a woman who urges kids to eat desserts for breakfast and lunch doesn’t suffer at all for such an irresponsible view. Instead, she gets repeatedly rewarded for it.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, July 1, 2013