By now, I'm sure everybody has heard about the quick and rapid fall from grace that has taken place with Food Network star Paula Deen. Answering questions about a lawsuit filed against her, she admitted to having used racial slurs, which set off a wave of backlash that continued to build and build, until it was basically a rogue wave, wiping out everything in its path. Namely, her career.
Pretty much every store or brand that she's worked with has dropped her, including the flagship Food Network, but also restaurants that had her name on them, stores that carried her product, and pretty much everything in between. The most comparable fall from grace I've seen for someone in her line of work was back when Martha Stewart fell apart and ended up in jail.
What Did Paula Do Wrong?
I think Paula Deen erred in three major ways, all of which had she done them differently, would have dramatically altered the outcome of her situation
- Not said the slurs in the first place – Obviously, had she never said what she said, there would be nothing to talk about. I know everybody has said things that they regret saying, and if it's true that she said them thirty years ago, I guess I'm surprised that she even remembers them in great detail.
- Acted nonchalant about them – When she admitted to having used the slurs, what made it exponentially worse for her was when she basically tried to play it off as not a big deal, and was not even sure that it would have been offensive. I think the way that she addressed it (and the fact that her publicists did not get in front of it) was a major fail. Had she admitted that she used the bad words, made a heartfelt apology, and explained her thoughts on equality, I think she would have come much further ahead. As it was, when she finally did those things, they rang hollow after her initial comments.
- Waited too long to address it – After the tide started building against her, she waited a few days before addressing it and issuing apologies. That's forever in this day in age. That allowed the buzz to grow and grow. Had she issued her public apology days sooner, or appeared on the Today show when she was originally supposed to (the week prior), she might have had a chance. As it was, every passing hour meant that public tide could build, social media could continue to eat away at her reputation, and executives could have boardroom meetings to discuss their future. Time was not in her favor.
It's been a swift and rapid fall from grace.
So, does she deserve to fall?
I see both sides of the story here. On one hand, what she said is something that is insulting, deragatory, and in this day in age, is inexcusable. On the other hand, it's hard to believe that she's the only Food Network celebrity that's made such a mistake. I really think that at this point, as much of her fall is attributable to the handling of the situation as it is to the initial situation which prompted it.
That being said, I personally think that she was sort of falling out of favor as it was. Let's face it, most people who knew anything about Paula Deen was that she was the queen of butter. Any recipie she had included at least a stick of butter somewhere along the way. At first, it was sort of fun, then it became kind of a joke, and then she announced that she had diabetes and was sort of backing away from all that decadence.
Which was great for her, but I think it changed what people knew her for, and she started losing interest. Let's face it, watching her melt pounds of butter into a cake batter was a lot more fun than using yogurt or something instead.
In other words, I think her brand was sort of fading. Had this come out a few years ago when she was still the queen of butter, I'm not sure the fallout would have been as severe. I think more of her sponsors might have stuck by her.
But I could be wrong.
Is she coming back?
I personally don't think she'll be back, for the combination of the reasons I sort of hinted at, namely that she was already past her peak of popularity, and second that the wave of negativity is probably too high.
That being said, who knows? Mike Vick came back after his dogfighting scandal and subsequent prison sentence. Tiger Woods came back after his huge fall from grace. The biggest difference, again, is that those guys were still at their peak when they took their fall. I think that will be the underlying difference.
Also, keep in mind that it's probably easier to become a Food Network celebrity than it is to be a top athlete. I'm sure there are a hundred women waiting in the wings with their sticks of butter who would be more than happy to take Paula Deen's place.
It's never easy to watch someone's career derail in the public light, but at the same time, she made plenty of money over the years. Hopefully she had the good sense to manage it wisely.
What are your thoughts on Paula Deen? Is her fall from grace deserved and do you think her goose is cooked?