“Most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks,” said Paula Deen.
“Goodbye” said the Food Network, refusing to renew her contract.
She also admitted to using the N-word in the distant past and to loving the idea of having people dressed as lawn jockeys functioning as the serving staff at a party. It all came out in a deposition involving a sexual-harassment suit against her brother involving her restaurant.
Deen, you’ll remember, has been controversial in the past because it was noticed that her arterial blockages on a plate might well have had a role in Deen herself being diabetic (or, failing that, were certainly not salubrious for her or anyone else).
I have never watched Paula Deen or cared about her. Nor will I ever. And nothing that Paula Deen is now famous for saying is even remotely defensible. But it’s that very fact that, frankly, has bothered me a wee bit in the entertainment that people are now seeming to get while throwing tomatoes at her while she’s in the pillory.
It seems to me we are used to a certain range of stupidity in the public utterances of our media celebrities, just as we are used to a certain range of stupidity of utterance and action in the people we know personally.
Deen clearly went off the charts, so far off the charts that my first reaction on reading her deposition – after horror – was pity.
My first thought was, “This woman’s stupidity is in OMG territory.” It was hard to believe that a media celebrity in the year 2013 – one who came close to selling out Shea’s Buffalo in 2011 – could actually say such things. (In a long and full life and amid a group of people justifiably proud of their capacity for objectionable jokes, I doubt that I’ve heard more than two jokes a year about Jews, blacks, gays or rednecks. Republicans, on the other hand … Just kidding.)
The idea that “targeting” minorities is the point of humor is so grotesque and strange that it instantly identified what she understood to be “humor” as the defensive product of social class resentment.
To then yearn for the “good old days” when men and women dressed as lawn jockeys would uphold the “graces” of the old South is unfathomable – or would be if there weren’t some people of some enlightenment who are still capable of watching “Gone With the Wind” and having similar thoughts about the “gentility” of the old South. (I’m not one of them, and I never was.)
There are indeed Americans who are sick to death of diet as one of the more proscriptive areas of “correct” behavior. They want their cheese and fat fried in butter and they’re happy to listen to Paula Deen as a form of worshipping at the altar of cholesterol and dietary self-destruction.
Let me confess that I’ve had private dealings with media celebrities – household words – whose private utterances lacked brains, sensitivity and sophistication to such an amazing degree that I wouldn’t have thought them possible if I hadn’t encountered them personally.
Which is to say that I actually felt flickers of pity for Deen, who was caught in public being stupid at the same time she was almost unimaginably imprisoned by the past – especially for a Food Network “star.”
What must be said though is this: The degree to which American majority acceptance of blacks, gays and Jews has accelerated over the last 20 years is unprecedented and extraordinary. If you take the trouble to stop and think about it, you really can imagine how many people have, no doubt, been left completely behind by its astonishing historical velocity.
Who knows how TV’s ranks would be depleted if every Southerner (or Northerner, for that matter) over 50 who’d used the N-word suddenly became verboten? I think there are wretched people who find such sentiments social and religious comfort food in the same way that cholesterol is.
I hold no brief for any of them. But I’m not sure I want to throw a party around the sight of one shockingly stupid woman tearfully and incompetently trying to disentangle herself from the media pillory.
On the other hand, Howard Kurtz’s announcement that he’s leaving CNN for Fox is, it seems to me, a situation where anyone tempted to bring matters of the heart into it would be making a mistake.
I’m afraid I’m one of those who have long found CNN’s Kurtz a symbol of crass journalistic opportunism posing with surprising success as a voice of journalistic rectitude.
Kurtz, to be sure, has always been useful. He knows what the good stories are, and he knows where many “reliable sources” can be found (to borrow the title of his CNN Sunday show). In the 15 years of his CNN show, he has amassed an articulate stock company of yammerers from the ever-expanding commentariat in the Age of Information, and presumably he will take them with him to Fox.
But his upward surge from the Washington Post to CNN to Newsweek and the Daily Beast and now to Fox has been an almost complete contradiction of his self-apppointed task, i.e. to hold “a critical lens on the media.”
So many conflicts of interest have been laughably evident along the way (I especially loved it when his Daily Beast boss Tina Brown suddenly showed up to lend her wisdom to his CNN show) that he’s one of those journalists whose work should probably come with a full page of explanatory and enlarging footnotes.
It’s part of the theater of Howard Kurtz that he always seems to try to be fair. But now that Fox News evil genius Roger Ailes has bought him lock, stock and barrel to appear on the same network as Geraldo Rivera, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, the odds of Kurtz eventually having his own version of a Paula Deen moment may have increased exponentially.
A suggestion to CNN for what it’s worth: If Jeff Zucker can stand such a lowered profile and the dubious implications of doing it, he might consider replacing Kurtz on Sunday with the two stalwarts of “Fox News Watch” who were, it seems to me, clearly jettisoned a long time ago because they were far too smart and far too liberal for Fox – host Eric Burns and star commentator Neal Gabler.
HOW MAD IS DON DRAPER AFTER ALL?: Here’s my off-the-wall guess for what will happen in 2014 when Matthew Weiner’s “Mad Men” finally bids farewell forever: Don Draper will have achieved a kind of secular sainthood on the lower rungs of the advertising business (if indeed he’s still in that business at all), and Peggy, in a perfect trading of places, will have continued to ascend to the top of their profession where she will conspicuously become the “monster” she now accuses Draper of being.
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