Reflections on Paula Deen
This post is about sensitive matters. It’s Chris’s opinion, not those of FWA, its members, or business partners. Standard disclaimers apply.
This post is not about Paula Deen. You may have opinions one way or the other about what she said and what the Food Network did and about the use of highly saturated fats in cooking. But there’s a bigger issue in the whole Paula Deen saga that unwound last week.
During her deposition, she was asked if she ever used a certain racial slur–which is not appropriate for this forum–or told racial or ethnic jokes. Her answer, summarized was, of course.
That would be my answer, too. For a lot of reasons. The first reason was, where I grew up, we had a law that you weren’t allowed to go outside in the winter time naked. This law had nothing to do with morality and public nudity. It’s simply that the part of the country where I grew up is so white, that you could lose people who did that.
It’s not an excuse for the things that were said and the jokes that were told, but it’s a reason. The use of those words wasn’t less hurtful then, but the view of things was different. There are a number of things I would have said then, that I wouldn’t say–or think–now.
But, I still enjoy humor that pokes fun at ethnic, gender, and even racial differences. For instance, if you want a racial joke, just watch me try to dance. I’m not even as good as Bill Cosby.
And, there’s Mel Brooks…
And, of course, Archie Bunker…
The difference isn’t the joke–Mel Brooks, Bill Cosby, and Carroll O’Connor hardly qualify as racists. It’s in the intent of the joke. And I can honestly say that while my appreciation for certain types of ethnic humor hasn’t faded, my appreciation of mean-spirited ethnic humor meant to dehumanize has. You live in this world, and you learn. What seemed appropriate in 1982–when I personally made my most egregious slip in terms of a certain ethnic slur–wasn’t appropriate.
But when context becomes unimportant–when the word or idea becomes so offensive that intent isn’t relevant any more–we lose. We lose because there are periodic battles to keep Huckleberry Finn from being censored from school libraries. And because shows like All in the Family, which basically showed one man’s struggle to deal with and ultimately integrate societal changes, can’t get made today.
As a writer, when certain types of content become off-limits in spite of content–when satire becomes as inappropriate as the inappropriate behavior it’s calling out–we all lose.