Reporting Dan Bernstein
By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Until yesterday, nothing associated with Paula Deen could ever be considered delicious.
No amount of fat, salt or sugar could properly disguise the lowbrow, redneck garbage she slung from her homespun TV kitchen – either the insulting recipes or the endless, syrupy patter about her rustic Georgia upbringing. A drawling comfort-mama for diabetic simpletons, she greased and gravied herself into a cultural sweet spot.
Now she’s toast. Buttered.
The civil complaint that would ultimately lead to her firing from the Food Network first made news when it was filed in March of 2011. It’s worth a full read again, now, to note the sheer amount of racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and downright inhuman behavior alleged as normal activity within her business operation.
This comes as no real surprise to those of us long mindful of the unsettling subtext to her show and entire persona. Anything that calculatedly southern, that proudly deep-Southern, carries with it the weight of history, for better or worse. She was Ole Miss football for daytime television, a stars-and-bars-festooned pickup truck idling on the talk-show couch, a cast-iron-baked Lynyrd Skynyrd anthem of cornmeal and molasses.
She hasn’t seen anything wrong whatsoever with labels like that, just as she thought it would be so adorable to dress black people up as slaves for a wedding dinner, because that was just so nice way back when.
And despite headlines and carefully-crafted statements from lawyers and publicists, it’s not really about her admitted use of the n-word. It’s the fact that Paula Deen just flatly, clearly, undeniably views blacks as lesser people, if entirely human at all.
Watch her in this videotaped interview she gave the New York Times in the fall of 2012. Far from some latest victim of political-correctness speech police run amok, she then articulated a defense of slavery amid her wistful fondness for the ways of the antebellum South. She tried to inoculate against any hint of racism by waving around the name of an employee of hers whom she insists is “as black as this board,” referring to the backdrop behind her.
Any apology made on her behalf seems to be an attempt to paint her as a mere product of another place and another age, when it was okay to think and say such things. The point this misses is that it not only is unacceptable now, but there should be nothing but deep shame felt for any environment in which it was allowed, ever.
Besides, it’s not like Deen is 170, having grown up in Albany, Georgia during what she feels is slavery’s glorious heyday. She was born in 1947. She was seven when Brown v. Board of Education was decided, 17 when Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize, and still just 30 when the miniseries “Roots” won nine Emmys, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody Award.
Until yesterday, she had the system wired to play up all the folksy charm of her heritage while smoothing away any rough edges of its horrific historical dark side. She even accomplished one of the most shockingly brazen endorsement deals in the history of modern media – finally getting around to admitting her own diabetes, only to begin shilling for a drug purported to fight the disease. She was stuffing her drooling viewers’ bodies full of excess glucose, only to grab at their money once they talked to their alarmed doctors.
A charade that never really should have been allowed to happen in the first place is finally over. An uneducated, unattractive woman who can’t cook somehow stumbled up to a prime position in American media by pandering successfully to similarly stupid, unhealthy people, aided by TV executives happy to keep cashing their checks.
Paula Deen’s career deserves this kind of embarrassing final chapter, as it was ugly on all levels: the woman, the food, and all the southern imagery evocative of still-discriminatory places and terrible times.
Out of the frying pan, into the fired.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM (or you can listen online). Listen to The Boers and Bernstein Show podcasts »