Sunday, July 21, 2013

Paula Deen: Damned?

There is a general impression that to be relegated to eternal suffering in hell is irrevocable.  Once you're in, you're in.

Popular science fiction writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, in their revisitation of Dante's Inferno version of Hell, explore the possibility that Hell is, in fact, the last possible chance for redemption.  I don't know where Niven and Pournelle stand on God or religion in general, but I think I like this version of Hell better than most.  If we accept that God is a loving god and wants only what is best for us, that all souls are actually His from the beginning, then it stands to reason that He would be reluctant to ever declare a soul completely and utterly beyond redemption.  As an infinite God, He's ready to offer infinite opportunity to find the right path.

Paula Deen, answering honestly in a court deposition regarding a discrimination suit against her brother, not against Deen herself, admits to dropping N-bombs in anger when held at gunpoint during a bank robbery.  She goes on to say that she doesn't consider it an offensive term when used in a non-derogatory manner.  More on that in a moment.

Now let's look at some things:

Robbery took place in 1986.  That's 27 years ago.  If this were a legal matter, the statute of limitations would likely have run out by now.  In an armed robbery, emotions tend to run pretty high - when was the last time you were furious?  And did you say some things in the heat of that moment that you wouldn't say otherwise?  I bet you did.  I do.  We can call that "mitigating circumstances."

Speaking very bluntly I think Paula Deen has been getting, for lack of a better term, screwed.  She's been a proponent of very rich food for a long time, cheerfully slathering butter on everything.  She sells her name and likeness to anyone who wants it, so there's Paula Deen cookware, food ingredients, magazines and possibly even clothes.  I haven't checked that last bit.

But then she disclosed that she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years ago, an announcement that coincided with her association with Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical company that specializes in diabetes treatment.  That's got to look pretty hypocritical, after years and years of cheerfully selling fatty cookbooks and describing a gigantic hamburger that uses a Krispy Kreme doughnut instead of a bun and adding bacon to way more foods than you ever thought possible, to sign on with one of the most visible major diabetes medicine providers.  Had she disclosed the illness at the time of diagnosis - which she is not required to do, of course - it wouldn't be hypocritical then.  It's just that the timing is so cynical.  She knew she was sick but didn't mention it...until the fact of the illness could be leveraged into making her name and likeness more relevant for yet another celebrity endorsement.  You have a reputation for rich foods, so continue banking on that, until it's time to bank on something else, something the rich foods may have contributed to.

It's worth pointing out that several other prominent chefs have expressed displeasure at Deen's enthusiasm for foods we shouldn't have, at least not in such quantities.  The US is one of the more obese countries in the world, pushing cheesecake for breakfast isn't helping that at all.  It doesn't make much of a difference to Deen herself, she's been raking in the bucks and of course all those people out there are supposed to be monitoring their own food intakes.  That's their jobs, not hers.

But the timing, Paula.  The timing.  It was so cynical to play those cards that way.  The backlash was pretty strong, and then we heard reports of Deen being nonplussed at the lack of support from people when they found out she was diabetic.  Well, first of all diabetes isn't the big deal it used to be.  Secondly, the way we found out is just bad.  "Hey y'all - y'got sugar diebeetus?  Novo Nordisk kin help!"  Or something like that.

So already Deen's image had suffered some tarnishing in the media and public opinion.  But the fact of dropping N-bombs is, in my opinion, not that big a deal.  When mainstream rappers do it on the radio, nobody calls them out.  Deen says she's using such words in the context of describing conversations between black people, and of course the robbery.

I had a conversation about this with a black friend at work, and we came to the conclusion that younger people using such language wouldn't relate with our experiences.  I told him, "when I was a kid, it didn't matter what color you were.  If anybody of any color said that word to anybody else of any color, he got punched."

And he replied, "Damn right."  We concluded that rap culture is what brought the word back to prominence, and as long as there are people who can make money off a population that continues to feel oppressed, bad words like that will have power and utility - marketplace utility, which equals money.  But that's not part of today's point.

My point is that Paula Deen is being punished for having committed the crimes of opportunism and having been angry.  It's cynical and hypocritical as hell to hold the fact of an illness to yourself for your own reasons, only to disclose it publicly when you've made a deal with a sponsor who provides medicine for that illness.  But it isn't illegal.  I don't think it's immoral.  Cynicism isn't immoral.  It just doesn't look good.

Words aren't illegal.    Anger isn't wrong.  Deen's use of certain words in an emotionally charged situation shouldn't be held against her, and describing how people speak in a derogatory fashion to each other shouldn't be held against her.  That she spoke frankly, honestly, about these things when she didn't really need to is, I think, more an expression of an absence of wrongdoing than anything else I've heard from her.

All those companies that dropped her, I think, have made a big mistake.  Having done nothing wrong, Paula admits to having done things that, while not wrong, are less than stellar.  Embarrassing.  And who hasn't done that?  Who are we, the public, to punish endlessly for an absence of wrongdoing, to punish for embarrassment?  That's a little harsh, don't you think?

Who are we to put Paula Deen in hell?  And isn't it about time we let her back out?

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