Mary Poppins’ advice to the contrary, a spoonful of sugar isn’t going to help this particularly bitter dollop of medicine go down.
Paula Deen likes to present herself as the epitome of antebellum graciousness and charm. Usually dolled up in ruffles and pastel colors, she sports a Southern drawl you couldn’t cut with a heavy-duty chainsaw. Until quite recently, you could almost imagine her muttering "Oh fiddle-de-de!" if the string beans turned out to be slightly mushy. Now, other words come to mind more quickly.
Deen is a celebrity chef. (A "celebrity chef" is actually one step up from the Paris Hilton brand of celebrity in that the celebrated person can actually do something useful.) She originally attained the status with recipes that made her the media darling of every manufacturer of heart resuscitators in the country. There wasn’t a food extant that wasn’t better dipped in butter, plastered with sugar, or enshrouded in strips of bacon.
At age 66, her remarkably wrinkle-free visage, framed by white wisps of hair, shines out from the cover of more magazines than Kim Kardashian’s in a country that is obviously as enchanted with gluttony as it is with trash. But, no amount of expert airbrushing will be able to eradicate a character flaw in Deen that also has its roots in time.
Thankfully, it is a time that is passing, albeit slowly and, in the case of some people, not without a perversely wistful regret. Ugly racial slurs are never going to be totally excised from our society because we are never going to completely eradicate the kind of ignorance that is at the foundation of disparaging name-calling. Not having any valid refutation to a point with which they disagree -- or the coherency to express it -- the ignorant always volley a personal insult. (For further elucidation see: Trump, Donald.)
The uproar that Deen brought down upon her carefully coiffed head probably surprised her more than anyone. She still acts more bewildered by all the fuss than repentant for what instigated it.
Deen is at the center of an empire that includes a television program on the Food Network, books, magazines, videos, endorsements, and personal appearances. It is, at the moment, a civilization that seems destined to be gone with the wind -- and good riddance.
Her use of the "n" word came to light in a deposition Deen was forced to make because of a lawsuit brought by a former employee of Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House in Savannah. The suit alleged that, during her five-year employment at the restaurant founded by Deen and her brother, Earl "Bubba" Hiers, Lisa Jackson was subjected to racism, discrimination, sexual harassment, emotional distress, and even assault.
Among the other endearing pearls of wisdom that dripped from Mr. Hiers’ mouth was his opinion that President Obama should be sent to the Gulf of Mexico after the oil spill in 2007 so he could "n
r rig it," whatever the hell that means.
Ms. Deen, not surprisingly, has a different assessment of her brother’s character: "You see, my family takes care of their own. Always have. Bubba was just sixteen when Momma passed away and Daddy had already been gone a few years. So I brought that tore-up little cherub-faced boy into my home to make sure that he was livin’ straight. He grew up into a fine man, started his own business in Albany and raised two beautiful children. But when things got rough, I brought him back under my wing, just where I like him."
Through a torrent of tears on the Today Show, Deen insisted that the last time she ever used the "n" word was when she worked as a teller in a bank and a black man held a gun to her head. I don’t want to imply that there is ever an appropriate time to use that word, but I don’t think I run the risk of offending anyone by suggesting that this particular moment was a spectacularly bad time to use it.
The excuse was almost as unbelievable as the notion that Ms. Deen was completely unaware of her cherub-faced brother’s thuggish behavior in the restaurant she installed him in.
The world will muddle on with a diminished Paula Deen, just as it has with a tarnished Martha Stewart. If you will pardon one more allusion to Margret Mitchell’s novel, her heroine was always postponing difficult decisions by telling herself that "Tomorrow is another day." Maybe the furor over Paula Deen’s insensitivity will finally convince a lot of people that tomorrow came quite a while ago and it is high time they both recognized and respected that fact.
I would like to note the passing of Gary David Goldberg. He was a man of immense accomplishment, most notably in a field of entertainment that is sorely lacking in immense accomplishments. Gary and his wife, Diana, had a home in Arlington. I always drew a great amount of personal satisfaction from his comments on my opinion pieces in the Banner. He was a valued fighter of the Good Fight. I will miss our occasional visits and always remember his admonitions to stay the course despite the velocity of the temporary big wind that might be blowing.
Alden Graves is a Banner columnist.