June 28, 2013

And Now, a Word from Our Sponsors


That's the word that Paula Deen is hearing from her sponsors, including Smithfield Foods and Target and The Home Depot and yes, even Wal-Mart. The Food Network (TFN) is not renewing her contract.  Novo Nordisk doesn't even want her any more.

Deen has been accused of racism for her (admitted) use of the N-word, and also of (allegedly) creating  a hostile workplace at the restaurant she and her brother run.  She's apologized at least twice on video, and on the Today Show, proclaimed "I is what I is" in an apparent attempt to put herself so far out there (even beyond Popeye) that people would see her for a nut and forgive her for her sins, or something. I'll be honest, I is not really sure I is able to understand what she was thinking with that comment.

Her sons, Jamie and Bobby, came out pretty strongly on their mom's behalf, referring to what's happening to Paula as character assassination, and denying things she said in her own deposition for the lawsuit. Our Momma's no racist, and she never said those things she said she said, or something. Again, I'll be honest, I'm not really sure whether she said things and told them not to say them, or whether they said things and she told them not to say them meanly but they could say them nicely -- the interviews can get confusing.

TFN is taking a beating, apparently, for their decision to not renew her contract.  Paula fans have been blasting them, starting support pages, and the like -- and a food marketing company with a similar name has been hit with so many angry calls that they posted a supportive message on their website expressing willingness to work with the Disgraced One, and at the same time clarifying that they're not the bad guys.

For the network, this was not the first less-than-optimal experience with Deen. Remember, she was the one who failed to mention that she had Type-2 diabetes for a few years even as she continued to serve up her high-fat, high-calorie, over-the-top recipes -- knowing that lifestyle changes such as getting rid of high-fat, high-calorie, over-the-top recipes is one of the best things a person can do to reduce their risk of getting that type of diabetes (and the risks of having it). Oh, she was taking money from Novo Nordisk, the company that makes the drug she takes for her condition, at the same time she was cooking up a killer storm on TV.

Listen, I have no idea if Paula Deen's a racist. I don't even know if she's a good cook... I've never tried any of her recipes, nor have I watched any of her shows or read any of her cookbooks. 

I do know that the politics of race are complicated, and fraught with danger. In some ways, what she's going through now is reminiscent of Juan Williams being booted by NPR a couple of years back. Celebrities like Deen and Williams and a whole host of others get dropped for what looks like a silly little thing but it's frequently more than that.

Want to know what I find interesting?  As of now I've found no evidence that the boys quit their gigs on TFN. If they haven't yet, are they going to? Wouldn't true Southern gentlemen do whatever was necessary to defend the honor of a real Southern belle? 

Whether she's a bad girl or not, to me, staying with the company that done your momma wrong just ain't right.


  1. When will we all see we're all human and that's what matters...???

    1. Thanks for commenting, Jay. I'm not sure we will ever get there. As long as someone's willing to be put up on a pedestal, there are people who are willing to take a swing at them. And where sponsor dollars are involved, well, all know how much courage most companies have. I'm not surprised she's losing sponsors, but I remain surprised by her sons' behavior.

  2. Well, this does remind me too of the Juan Williams incident, although I think his comments, as I recall, were less inoccuous and just got misinterpretted because of political correctness--and maybe even racism toward him.

    The common thing I see is what seems like an over-reaction, not to justify what word Paula said many years ago.
    It's kind of like this weird legalism, where just the wrong word at the wrong time could destroy your career. So, in the name of not generalizing, we take one or two comments or events and judge a whole person by it. Should we stone them?

    While I'm glad that, in some ways, the climate of society is becoming intolerant toward anything that is even close to hate speech, I'm not glad that companies swing so easily in favor of the vicissitudes of public "opinion." Is the kind of "popularity" that makes Kim Kardashian a good investment for advertisers the same as the "unpopularity," or "perceived loss of value," that makes Paula Dean a bad risk for those same advertisers?

    And while I'm glad that companies may (possibly) be getting more socially conscious, I'm not naive enough to believe that the whole of their motive is that they "really care" about the issues of racisim. If racism were more popular, would those same companies invest in the same kind of comments Ms. Dean is being casigated for? Hmm, they may be contributing to a lot of "isms" even at the same time they are "standing up" against racisim. (Case in point: Marketing companies have admitted right out that a resume with an "ethnic" sounding name--especially AFrican-American--will be ignored over the exact same resume with a WASP sounding name!)

    1. Great insight, Anthony - you're dead on with the Kardashian comment. I will never understand why people think the reality 'stars' are a good investment -- or the people who go on Springer and Maury and the rest of those shows. How we managed to support multiple versions of "you ARE/are NOT the father" is beyond me.

      And I agree, with the sponsors there's likely a whole lot more 'she's a hot potato' activity than there is 'racism is bad' activity.

      Clearly companies do have to protect their brand, and clearly they need to stand firm against hate speech, but I'd feel a little better about the companies if they used even a portion of their saved 'Deen dollars' towards a tolerance campaign, or (to my friend Jason's point)to something along the lines of a "we're all human, we all make mistakes, but while past examples of intolerance are bad, they don't have to end our careers" campaign.

      Too much to ask? Probably.