Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Mixed Plate: Public Shame Shell Game and Frankenstein's Monster

I know, it's funny, right? I saw this magnificently hilarious meme make the rounds on Twitter after Paula Deen's latest public snafu, or Brownfacegate, as I'd like to call it. I thought, Oooh, BURN -- what a perfect Interweb-ready image to represent Deen's firing of a social media manager after Tweeting an inappropriate photo! It perfectly illustrates Deen's lighting a bag of poop on fire on someone's doorstep and then running away. Well done, Interwebs. Pat yourselves on the Hive Mind back and settle into the smug feeling that the big bad Buttered Bigot (I so love you for this, K, aka @NinjaHarlot), has been chased back into her cave by the pitchfork-wielding villagers. I thought this. I Tweeted and Facebooked this. And then I thought again, realizing OH CRAP -- I totally missed the point (as have a lot of people), and Food Network and everyone else who silently allowed The Image Who Shall Not Be Named publicly air in 2011 have already won. The monster has been chased away, but the mad scientists remain.

Just type in "Paula Deen Riding a Cat" into Google and let the amusement begin. Trust me.
I know, I know, this is a food blog, not a soapbox platform. And normally I stick to the crowd-pleasing, link rodeo-worthy content full of gooey cheese, oodles of noodles, meatsweats, and anything you can slap a dollop of cream cheese icing on. That's what food blogs are. But what about the environment that has allowed food to become a lifestyle, and the media outlets that eagerly tap into this very profitable demographic? We're all a part of it, as content-makers and consumers, and when one of its own makes a serious public flub, it reflects upon all of us for not addressing the conditions surrounding some very bad behavior, and demanding accountability.

And that happened back in 2013, when Paula Deen's profitable culinary kingdom of butter came melting down in a heap of PR missteps. If you're not familiar with her fall from grace, you can get a quick recap via CNN or just look up any phrase along the lines of "Paula Deen's a good ol' racist, y'all." But this post isn't about Paula Deen herself, or what she's said or done. This is about her persona, and how it's transformed from a laughable jester, ripe for meme-worthy Photoshopping, to the poster child for Big Bad Racist and a convenient shield to protect institutionalized passive racism that places profit over moral governance.

More people mistake the monster as being Frankenstein, and not the doctor who created it.
We're quick to demonize Paula Deen, but what about her equally complicit son Bobby Deen, a grown-ass adult who should know better and quite keen to grow his own media empire (article fr; the Food Network and sibling network Cooking Channel who collectively carry no less than three series featuring Bobby Deen; and most assuredly, Paula Deen's longtime producer and well-tenured Food Network showrunner Gordon Elliott, also seen in the infamous photo? Do they get a pass because we'd much rather recycle admittedly hilarious memes like this?

Just Google "Paula Deen Loves Butter" - c'mon, you know you want to.
I did a quick search on Twitter the night after Brownfacegate went viral -- the majority of moral outrage was aimed at Paula Deen, while a notably smaller outrage (more like an indignant "harumph") was stirred over Bobby Deen.
Where are the online petitions asking for signatures demanding all of Bobby Deen's shows removed from the air? Why isn't her son being lumped into the Thunderdome Public Shame-ber? Where's the sensational tabloidism digging into Bobby Deen or producer Gordon Elliot's pasts, culling for indiscretions? I don't know, perhaps that's in the works as I type this post less than 24 hours after the sort-of-but-not-really scandal went public. Somehow I don't think this will happen.

The realist in me says the buck stops here, that chastising Paula Deen is enough -- mission accomplished, PC Warriors!
Complicit people/institutions don't look as funny riding a stick of butter, or maybe they're just not famous enough for us to hold them accountable for perpetuating socially acceptable bigotry. We've relished in the schadenfreude of Paula Deen's burning at the stake in the name of racial equality and, much like a heaping dollop of butter and sour cream, we can't get enough of it. I ask people to decide for themselves when they look at this photo again -- who is the monster, and who are the monster's creators and enablers?

(If you do choose to speak out over shared accountability on social media, make sure to hashtag or tag the Twitter accounts of the @FoodNetwork, @CookingChannel and @BobbyDeen. Social outrage is only as valuable as its quantifiable metrics. Ah... 21st Century, you are a strange place.)

Also, for anyone who thinks this photo was harmless or innocent, why couldn't Ricky have been characterized w/ a vintage suit and bow tie, with a 50s hairdo wig? The same attributes that Paula Deen uses for her costume, which are perfectly effective. Bobby Deen's costume's pointed attention to racial attributes (and what looks like prison garb) is what reduces it to ethnic stereotyping. 

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