Home » Soapbox

Paula Deen: Fallen Food Network Star

by Clay Conger 26 June 2013 No Comment E-mail Clay Conger

For those who are wondering why Paula Deen, southern cook and innovator of the burger with donuts for buns, is on the cover of so many magazines lately, it’s because she was recently fired from Food Network over a race-related lawsuit. She was sued for using racial slurs and making racist jokes and insults while at work and overall was accused of creating racial tensions. Despite her apologies which could best be described as “awkward,” Deen was not given a chance to get back on the network and it seems now that her career is tarnished without repair.

Deen’s actions, depositions, and apologies were very out of touch and it seems that she truly was unaware that she did anything wrong. Her deposition even noted that, “I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.”

Anyone who creates a hostile work environment or uses racial slurs at a workplace should acknowledge that their actions are wrong and should receive some form of punishment. However, was the firing of a popular icon an overreaction or a justified punishment?

Supporters of Deen will certainly blame the media for blowing this out of proportion, and although they have a point, and there are certainly more pressing matters to cover by news networks, it does not excuse the person’s actions.

Deen has admitted to telling racist jokes and also to using the aforementioned slur. Now, firing someone over a racist joke is a controversial issue. But racial slurs like the “n-word” are undeniable bad words. Period. You can go on about how certain people can use it and certain others can’t until you’re blue in the face but we can all agree that it’s an offensive, harsh word that will undoubtedly make people react a distinctive way when we hear it. And saying it on TV or saying it to an employee or admitting that you say it are all terrible moves for a cultural icon to make.

I wouldn’t say that these two actions make Deen immoral. I think they were bad mistakes that paint her as insensitive or racist to much of the public. But I do not believe these actions by themselves make her an altogether terrible person.  However, what many people are forgetting is that part of the charges were for creating a hostile work environment, which is a very serious issue for any workplace. Add the fact that she admitted to wanting to hire black cater waiters to essentially dress up as slaves for a southern wedding [read below] and you can get the sense that Deen is incredibly out of touch and it was only time until she did or said something worse, possibly on the air.

“What I would really like,” reportedly said Deen at the workplace, “is a bunch of little n******s to wear long-sleeve white shirt, black shorts and black bowties. You know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around.”

And then during the trial, Deen spoke about the time she saw an establishment with a black-staff, white-guest theme. “The whole entire waiter staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie. I mean, it was really impressive. That restaurant represented a certain era in America…after the Civil War, during the Civil War, before the Civil War…it was not only black men, It was black women….I would say there were slaves.”

These are not smart things to say. It’s obvious that she has a very outdated grasp of how to deal with the media (hint, don’t admit to everything you’ve ever said or done) and thus we come to this writer’s main point. People are getting fired very swiftly these days based on either offhand comment (Don Imus) or total meltdowns (Michael Richards) and while it’s reasonable to have varying opinions about who deserved what, what should be most important is to note not only what the person said but how they reacted to the backlash. Was this a onetime slipup? Or is this person clearly someone a network should not host or support? Will it happen again? Will it be worse next time? Did the person make a social faux pas or are they obviously a racist, and if they are the second, will continuing to host the person’s program come off as a sign of support for his or her beliefs? These are the real questions networks like the Food Network are and should be asking. It’s a risk assessment, not a moral dilemma. Networks think with dollar signs, and when a celeb makes a mistake like this, and then digs herself even deeper with the above slave-waiter comment, then the obvious move is to cut the cord.

Whether the Food Network did the “right” thing is up for debate, since there are obvious aspects of morality and gray areas as well. However, with Deen’s out of touch comments that seem to get worse every time she opened her mouth, as well as the likelihood something like this would happen again, the Food Network did do the smart thing. Money may be cold, it may be ruthless, but it talks. Deen made a fortune from her show, so while she should not be overly socially crucified she shouldn’t be overly sympathized with either. When you’re that rich, you can have anything in the world at your fingertips, and blowing an opportunity like that puts you, as it should put you, at the mercy of those who granted you that lifestyle in the first place.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

Leave your response!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.