Should the utterance of an offensive word bring down someone's entire career? In the case Paula Deen, peddler of worse-living-through-nutrition, yes.
It's bad enough that Deen used the n-word in a conversation reported by a former employee who is suing her. At 66, she's old enough to know better, but not remotely old enough to claim some sort of cultural sensitivity gap brought on by age. And it's bad enough that she didn't even really apologize when she went on the "Today" show, instead making herself into the victim of character assassins.
It's even worse that she sprouted pathetic, manipulative, Tammy Faye-esque tears as she urged anyone who has never said something he or she regrets to throw a stone right at her heart. And it's further stunning that Deen seemed to not even understand why an African-American might be offended by the word, telling interviewer Matt Lauer:
I don't know, Matt, I have asked myself that so many times. It's very distressing for me to go into my kitchens and hear what people are calling each other... It's very distressing for me. I think that for this problem to be worked on that these young people are going to have to take control and start showing respect for each other and not throw that word at each other. It makes my skin crawl.
Yes, Paula. You're the victim here, the delicate and polite personality aggrieved by the bad talk of all those young-uns.
The reason Deen (who's already been dropped by a slew of companies not willing to be associated with her) deserves dumping is that she has irrevocably damaged her brand. Normally, that would be an offensive concept, the distortion of true talent and smarts in an era in which people are famous for being famous. But Deen has never been anything but brand.
She is a supposed celebrity chef who teaches people how to kill themselves – not with a kitchen knife, but by eating a diet that can best be described as the Four Major Lard Groups. There is nothing creative or sophisticated about her cooking; she has merely given false credibility to the idea that there's something valuable in throwing fat and sugar into every recipe no matter what it does to the human body (and Deen should know, having developed diabetes).
Yes, Martha Stewart went to jail for insider trading and managed to get back into the gracious-living business. The difference is that Stewart, while being mildly annoying and guilty of a financial crime, actually knows what she's talking about when it comes to design and food. Mock Stewart if you like, but her Hors D'oeuvres Handbook is indispensable for entertaining.
Deen was never more than bacon smoke and mirrors – and it's that mirror which has reflected who she really is. And she's not a good cook.
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