Her manner may be as sugary as her cooking, her smile as big as the hams she hawked for Smithfield. But she doesn’t pause when she should. Doesn’t question herself when she must.
There’s a dearth of reflection, a deficit of introspection, and that’s not just a generational thing and not just a regional thing, as some of her fans and other observers have begun to assert, unprepared to surrender their image of Paula the Southern Eccentric to the reality of Paula the Deep-Fried Boor.
A fresh illustration of this traveled through cyberspace on Monday, a video that shows Deen at The New York Times last October, being interviewed onstage by my colleague Kim Severson. The subject of race comes up.
“I feel like the South is almost less prejudiced,” Deen says, “because black folks played such an integral part in our lives. They were like our family.”
“Come out here, Hollis,” she adds, looking offstage and directing the audience’s attention there. “We can’t see you standing against that dark board.”
That’s a lot of apparent focus on skin color, in a vein so breezy it really does make you wonder, especially given what that creepy deposition brought to light last week. She admitted having used “the n word,” more than once. She admitted finding beauty in a “plantation-style wedding” with an all-black wait staff. From her butter to her banter, she’s a Confederate caricature, and a reminder of a past that’s still too present.
And it’s this backdrop that’s relevant to Deen’s firing by the Food Network and, on Monday, by Smithfield Foods. In a world of pervasive insult and elusive consensus, she provided a discrete opportunity for a line to be drawn. She served up a teachable moment on a platter.
There’s almost always a larger context like that when someone falls as spectacularly as Deen has fallen, and there’s almost always a prelude: a first strike.
This disclosure was timed not to benefit her fans, who were continuing to follow her fatty counsel, but to benefit her: one of her sons had a new healthy-cooking show that needed promoting, and she herself was stepping out as a spokeswoman — a paid spokeswoman — for a diabetes drug.
Others have urged clemency, noting that she’s 66 years old and has lived her life far south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Please. All of her adult years postdate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and she’s a citizen of the world, traveling wide and far to peddle her wares. If she can leave Georgia for the sake of commerce, she can leave Georgia in the realm of consciousness.
It’s not one that’s been mastered by Deen, whose worst ingredient isn’t corn syrup or Crisco but willful obtuseness. (source: The New York Times)