I am a Southerner. Let me get that out of the way. I’m also someone who loves cooking. I watch the Food Network on a regular basis. And I’ve watched Paula Deen’s shows for years. I like her. I gasp in horror at least once each episode, not because of racism or glorification of the antebellum South or anything else she’s been accused of. I’m aghast over the amount of butter in her recipes.
Paula Deen is a brand. She’s the archetype of the Southern matron, fun-loving, good natured and talented in the kitchen. She’s an entertainer. She has fun on her shows. She slaps butter around like it’s the most natural thing in the world, and she is able to laugh at herself when she spills things while cooking. She’s a celebrity. People line up for blocks in the steaming Savannah sunshine to get a table at one of her restaurants, and maybe get a chance to meet the famous owner.
Is she over the top in her Southernness? Yes. I know people who absolutely cannot tolerate her molasses-thick accent. I find it humorous. Yes, she perpetuates the stereotype of the Southern woman of a certain age who’s grown up in a time when playing the part of a lady meant putting on a show of Southern hospitality and its own brand of gentility.
Has she become a caricature of herself? Maybe. Being the syrupy-sweet purveyor of down-home, deep-fried goodness is her literal bread and butter. She created an image for herself and used it to pull herself and her two young sons out of poverty when her marriage ended. This was in a time when women were not welcome in business on the same level as men. I have to admire the spunk and ingenuity she displayed in making her family a financial success.
Is her cooking healthy? No. It never has been. It has never pretended to be. Her calories-be-damned style of cuisine makes no apologies for its lack of nutrition. She’s selling nostalgia and an escape from the dreary world where every day it seems another food is shunned for its negative impact on our health. She’s marketing food that tastes good and harkens back to a time when we could eat what we wanted without regard to our physical well-being.
Is she a racist? I don’t know. Apparently she’s used the N-word at one time or another in her life. If she had answered the reporter’s question with a “No,” she would have been branded a liar. It was a lose-lose situation. Who among us has never said something we would not want to be brought out into the light of day?
I feel bad for the trial that Ms. Deen is going through. She seems like a nice enough lady. She’s never pretended to be perfect. She markets an image of a time gone-by, and she had achieved unbelievable success doing it. If it turns out that she is guilty of racism in the recent history of her life and not that she is being sacrificed on the altar of political correctness, I will cease to be a fan. But until the truth is determined, I’m going to presume that she is like all of us, shameful of transgressions made during an error in judgement or by a self that did not know the mistakes she was making. No one should use the N-word, or the F-word, for that matter. But anyone over the age of 55 once lived during a time when, unfortunately, its use was accepted by some segments of our society.
Should Flannery O’Connor’s books be banned because of their use of the aforementioned word? I certainly hope not. They accurately portray a time different from our own, but no less real. The lessons of her fiction still ring true and have much to teach us through the regrettable ignorance of her characters.
Is it unheard of that maybe someone else is trying to cash into Paula Deen’s empire? I’ll leave you to answer that question.