Monday, July 1, 2013

Paula Deen and the Corporations: I Don't Get It

By Tom Kando

The corporate frenzy to dump Paula Deen has been mesmerizing - and upsetting.

One way to look at the Paula Deen scandal is socio-linguistically: language is culture. Deen used the N word. What meaning she attached to it when she used it, we’ll never know.  African Americans also use the N word sometimes - towards each other, in jest, in rap music, etc. We can assume that the meanings attached to the N word by Paula Deen and by black rappers differ. But I’ll talk about this in my next post. Today, I want to discuss the abhorrent politics of this flap:

I don’t get it. By now, the dumping is almost unanimous. First to go was her show on TV’s Food Network, soon followed by all the big ones - Wal-Mart, Caesar’s, Smithfield Food, Novo Nordisk, Home Depot, Sears, K-Mart, Walgreens, Target, etc. Then, even her publishers (Random House) dropped her, as did Amazon, without whom it’s almost impossible to retail books online. A few obscure, regional companies have yet to join the stampede, but it is, as I said, practically unanimous. Some of her competitors, like chef Anthony Bourdain, are also piling on, no doubt salivating at the prospect of picking up the pieces.

The media? By and large, they have just been reporting the events. Fox is so much in the knee-jerk habit of blaming “the liberal media” for everything that it blames them for trying to lynch Paula Deen. I don’t see that. Matt Lauer’s interview was very fair. Whether on the left (MSNBC, Huffington Post), on the right (Fox), or in the middle (ABC’s The View), the media have been largely reporting the Paula Deen case, rather than condemning either side.

The public’s reaction has been different: the groundswell is clearly behind Paula, more than against her. Not just among Southern whites and conservatives. African-Americans also appear sympathetic to her - both average Joe’s interviewed on the street and leaders such as Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson.

But it is the corporate response which is the most puzzling. Terms such as “piling on,” and  “herd-like behavior” come to mind.

I find it strange when Wal-Mart, Caesar’s Palace, Home Depot, Amazon and pharmaceutical conglomerates become America’s moral compass, America’s conscience. We now have companies such as Wal-Mart as our moral beacon, ready to help us navigate the racial and ethical issues raised by Paula Deen’s inappropriate utterances, ready to teach us about the evils of racism, bigotry, discrimination and injustice. Companies which would pay American workers Third World wages, would rape the environment, and would outlaw unions. Bravely, they destroy a 66-year woman, a self-made entrepreneur who managed to build a modest business ($16 million, wooptido) through incredible effort and talent.

My sarcasm is obvious, and you say: It’s all about money. Business is about business. The companies fear losing customers, so they dump Paula. Simple and easy explanation. Except it’s wrong. Public opinion is heavily tilted towards Deen. Outside her restaurants, people are lining up around the corner. Her book sales were up 1000% - until Amazon stopped selling them and Random House canceled her contracts.

So it must be the companies’ moral conscience and idealism after all. Or am I missing something? Somebody please help me understand. leave comment here