Don't look now, but Paula Deen is currently powering through the hairpin turn in her redemption narrative! Looks like it's just a matter of time before America takes her back, returning her to her place in the celebrity chef pantheon.
Deen recently purchased the rights to her completely body of work from the Food Network and, as the Huffington Post reports, she's turning it into the Paula Deen Network, an online hub where she'll be producing new content, as well. She told HuffPo it was the hardcore fans that refused to permit a moment of doubt who kept her going through the last year:
"One of my salvations in that year and three or four months when I was out of the public eye was a website that one of my family members showed me — it was 'We support Paula Deen.' And I saw that my website had grown to over four and a half million people," she said, referring to her popular Facebook page. "That was staggering to me, that my website had actually grown rather than decreasing."
Let's just get real for a minute, here: Even if you wipe the slate completely clean of every bigoted thing she's ever said or even thought, Paula Deen is still someone who puts fucking cheese in her chocolate fudge. And not just cheese—VELVEETA. VELVEETA CHEESE. IN HER FUDGE RECIPE. Go scrounge up the most racist old woman you can find from the depths of some all-white Mississippi country club and she'll agree that's a crime against God and man. (That's on top of failing to provide proper instructions for making sure the mixture has candied. It should pop when you stir it.)
My point is, her whole persona is a twisted funhouse interpretation of "traditional" Southern culture, like a suburban Birmingham McMansion that slaps ionic columns onto some inflated sheetrock monstrosity. Her whole deal was always suspiciously, conveniently stripped of historical awareness, in a way that allowed people across America to have cholesterol-elevating good times while ignoring the context of her entire schtick.
And make no mistake—this scandal didn't change that. From HuffPo:
When asked whether she was interested in exploring the racial aspects of the history of Southern cuisine on any of her new shows, Deen told HuffPost that she didn't know the history of any of her dishes further back than her grandmother. And when asked directly what the scandal had taught her about the country's racial dynamics, she sighed, then said, "Um ... I just learned that words ... they're powerful. And they can hurt, no matter how old they are." She said almost the exact same thing on the Today Show the day before.
Now we're simply in the natural second stage of this act. It's not especially surprising that an old white woman from Albany, Georgia would be a little fucking racist. It's depressing, but it's not especially surprising. What's genuinely alarming is that a sizable chunk of America apparently insists on making her into some heroic martyr. The REAL victim. There's nothing to see here, no heartfelt apologies to make, no conversation to have, no historical traumas to note. Nothing but a mountain of butter that's gotta go somewhere. Paula Deen is a living relic; the stubborn clinging to Paula Deen, Symbol, is a worrisome statement about the present and the future.
At this point, her fandom is founded on willful ignorance. And God knows, America already has plenty of that to go around. Are we really going to welcome this woman and her act back with open arms, all forgiven? Who am I kidding? Of course we are.
Photo via Getty.