the downfall of the deen empire
i’ve been thinking about paula deen, and how she’s basically my grandmother, lingering racism and all. the shock surrounding the discovery that deen has used racial slurs in the past reminds me that most Americans, southern and non, continue to romanticize the history of the South. believing that paula deen is a southern grandmother without acknowledging the mentality of many white women in the 60s requires some cognitive dissonance. specifically it requires forgetting the relationship between white women and black southerners in the Jim Crow era. i don’t mean to characterize every woman in our nation’s past a racist, but rather to assert that paula deen’s image as a southern grandmother is inherently tied to the history of white women in the segregated South; it’s also tied to the history of southern food.
paula’s use of racial slurs is enough to get someone fired. look at don imus’s “nappy headed hos” debacle. it’s appropriate that she apologize, but i would appreciate it more if the general debate surrounding deen acknowledged that this apology does little to advance the conversation regarding race, food, and gender in the South (and the rest of the nation).
when reading the deposition, it struck me that most of the incidents reported concerned her brother, Bubba, and her husband, Michael. These men were responsible for using racial slurs and showing porn at work (in front of employees). paula’s reaction to this reality in the deposition is troubling, as she excuses and endorses this behavior from the men in her life. while deen can be blamed for reinforcing and accepting illegal workplace behavior, her public castigation fails to hold Bubba and Michael accountable for their actions. (of course he is named bubba). i find it potentially anti-feminist that these men should face little public scrutiny when they are responsible for the illegal activity for which paula is being sued. while deen is the celebrity and will inevitably receive more attention, this attention seems focused more on her past use of racist language than the treatment of her employees.
unfortunately the deposition also reinforces long held stereotypes that the South remains the backwards part of America. racism remains a southern problem, not a national problem, in this scandal. what does removing deen from the public sphere accomplish for society at large? it may function as a sort of purging process, a kind of belated apology for wrongs done to the black community on the part of white Americans. For minorities it provides an opportunity to assert the equality of their own identity, something much harder to accomplish in the public sphere in the 1960s. Her mistreated staff may see her firing as an appropriate punishment following their treatment on the job.
we should question the larger cultural implications of this deposition rather than focusing overtly on deen as an individual. the woman isn’t evil, she’s just an idiot. if i were controlling the food network i would fire her too, but that decision alone does little to change the history from which deen’s racist language arose and the implications of that history in 2013.
the day tammy wynette died
i finally went to graceland too. a much-changed relic of antebellum holly springs, the attraction is a an old plantation home retooled by paul macleod into an elvis shrine. most interesting is that the home is also a shrine to macleod and his family, and his inextricable linkage of his own life to elvis’s. we got there at 2:30, am. the place is open 24/7, with macleod proudly maintaining that he drinks a case of cokes a day and rarely sleeps. appearing to be in his seventies and overtly neurotic, it seems the home may not be open much longer.
macleod took about fifteen minutes to come to the door. we circled the building, painted navy with black windows (because “elvis dyed his hair black”). it is secure, with a high chain-link fence encircling it completely and containing numerous cadillacs of varying quality.(additional security is provided by macleod’s .38 which he displays more than once throughout the tour quite casually. he also has a homemade electric chair).
it doesn’t matter if it’s a gum wrapper or a car, macleod maintains that nearly everything is worth millions. and he has millions of things. wine bottles, newspaper clippings, and stock photos of elvis’s former girlfriends; all this is interrupted with photos of macleod’s own family. his son doesn’t really look like elvis, but he is from nearly the same place, and he has the same hair. it’s easy to lose yourself from one photo to the next and nearly forget the distinctions between the people you see.
the tour itself felt draining, with macleod’s frenetic pacing and insistence on constant attention removing any potentially contemplative moments. the tour is about macleod and his obsession with elvis much more than it is about elvis. this isn’t uninteresting, but i found it striking that a moment of impulsive singing when a new song started (he has an elvis soundtrack) from a member of the group elicited little reaction from paul; he was far more concerned with maintaining control, and with making sure that we understood his connection to elvis.
in the end everyone was frazzled, but we still blared tammy on the way home and shot off two moderately powerful fireworks at sardis while eating powdered donuts. the sun was up when i got home, and my shoes were dirty.