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The Paula Deen Context

The Paula Deen Context

    Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone’s beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.


    I hadn’t heard of Paula Deen, the so-called Southern cooking star, until her recent string of “controversies.” Now I’m all in. This is one of the most interesting stories in a long time, from a psychology point of view.

    I was casually following the headlines last year when it came out that Deen was promoting less-than-healthy food while she developed Type 2 diabetes, presumably from eating similar crap, while secretly negotiating a promotional deal with Novartis to pimp their diabetes drug. None of that sounds good.

    The diabetes issue got her on the front page. But the recent “racism” controversy has pretty much ended her career, I would expect. That stain doesn’t go away.

    So I thought I would wade in and offer some context because I haven’t gotten myself in enough trouble lately. My personal view of Deen, based on incomplete knowledge, is that she was a product of her environment, just like the rest of us. She did things she rightfully regrets, was honest about it and took responsibility, learned from her experiences, apologized in ways that looked sincere to me, and evolved. Hollywood makes movies about that sort of thing: Flawed person learns lessons the hard way. So now that Deen and her critics are on the same side, in terms of both healthy eating and race, that’s the end of the story, right?

    Not in this world. And that’s the part that fascinates me.

    I was watching some low-budget entertainment show the other night on which so-called “media personality” Keli Goff was ripping Deen apart while grinning in a most disturbing way. Goff, if you don’t already know, is your signal that something is wrong with the context of a story. She’s associated with the bottom-feeding media that includes The Huffington Post and the like. Those outlets don’t just report the news; they create it by leaving out context. So, when I saw Goff, I got interested. And I wasn’t disappointed.

    The show I watched went like this. The host played a clip of Deen issuing an emotional, raw, awkward apology that literally included begging for forgiveness. The host and the pundits talked about Deen’s apology at length. Five minutes later, on the same show, with the same pundits, the conversation turned to Deen’s lack of an apology, as if they had not just watched and discussed that very thing.

    Let me repeat that. They played a tape of Deen’s apology, discussed the apology then complained that there had been no apology. I watched carefully to see if they meant the apology was lacking a necessary element, but that didn’t seem to be the case. The apology looked sincere and heartfelt to me, albeit awkward. The problem, said the pundits, was that the very thing they just watched and discussed didn’t actually happen. You rarely see confirmation bias play out that vividly. Once it had been decided that Deen was a monster, it couldn’t also be true that she issued a sincere apology even if you just finished watching it. The whole thing was fascinating.

    I don’t know what is in Deen’s soul, and I certainly don’t know all the facts behind the allegations, so I neither support nor defend her. But I’d like to add some context because the bottom-feeding media is doing the opposite.

    1.      Every alleged example of Deen’s racism involves either a good friend of hers who is African-American, an African-American chef or general manager that she or her brother hired for their restaurants, and in one case a preference for hiring African-American servers for a particular event. (More on that later.) That’s a strange pattern for a racist.

    2.      I owned two restaurants. Restaurants are unusually fertile breeding grounds for bogus lawsuits and employment claims. You can’t compare restaurants to other businesses in that way. You should assume 90% of employee discrimination claims in the restaurant industry are complete bullshit even if the stats are opposite in the standard corporate world. That’s the context in which you should view the employee claims against Deen. Remember, she’s an easy target, and any lawyer would know she has deep pockets and a need to settle quickly. I don’t know the facts in her case, nor do you. I’m just giving context.

    3.      Deen claims her use of the N-word was in the context of jokes long ago and not representative of her current thinking. I don’t know where her critics grew up, but during my youth in upstate New York it seemed as if all jokes were at the expense of one ethnic group or another, blonde women, farmer’s daughters, lepers, dead babies, and folks with disabilities. The wrongness of the so-called humor was the whole point. That was the style of the day, as despicable as it seems by today’s standards. When Deen admits to being part of that culture, and evolving out of it, that sounds more like naïve honesty than racism. If you didn’t live through that era, you are missing some important context.

    4.      One of the most damning allegations is that Deen once suggested a slave-themed event that would feature only professional servers who were African-American. To me that sounds laughably implausible. It’s the sort of thing one could only believe if you already bought into the idea that Deen is a racist, diabetes-promoting monster. It reminds me of the recent Internet hoax showing a photo of Heineken banners over a dog fight. A lot of folks on the Internet believed Heineken was advertising at a dog fight, as if that was even slightly plausible. (The Heineken signs were left over from some earlier event at the same location.)

    I’ll reiterate that I don’t support Deen, or condone anything that she did, allegedly or otherwise. It’s not my job to judge anyone. I’m just adding context.

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