She’s Back, Y’all

02.13.14

Paula Deen Cooks Up a Comeback, So Pass the Butter, Y’All

Just when it seemed like her career was fried, Paula Deen starts a new company with a $75 million investment. Will we forgive her? And does it matter?

When you mess up in the kitchen but still want the food to taste good, there’s a trick that everyone knows: you put some butter on it. No one knows that trick better than Paula Deen. Only this time, she’s swapping out butter for money, y’all.

She’s swapping it out for about $75 million, to be exact. Oh yes. Just when it seemed like Paula Deen—Countess of Carbs, First Lady of Finger Lickin’, Baroness of Butter—was cooked, word broke this week that she’s plotting a comeback. A new company, Paula Deen Ventures, has been formed to reheat the fallen-from-grace cooking personality’s career. The company says it received an investment of between $75 million and $100 million from Njafi Cos., a private-equity company headed by Jahm Najafi, who owns BMG Music Service and the Book-of-the-Month Club.

After admitting that she had used the “N-word” in the past and being dropped from the Food Network and several of her food carriers, it had seemed that Paula Deen, the brand and personality, was permanently diseased. Now it’s looking like it was just a mild bout of indigestion. And it’s getting some $75-million Pepto Bismal to cure it.

For those with the memories of house flies, here’s a quick recap of the scandal. Deen was being sued by a former employee at one of her restaurants for racial discrimination. Court documents revealed that among the allegations against her was that she wanted to stage a plantation-style wedding, in which black servers would dress up and wait on the white attendees, and that she used the “n-word” in the past.

Several (seriously, it seemed like a dozen—a baker’s dozen…zing!) of apologies followed, each what I like to call in the “sorry I’m not sorry vein.” In an initial statement, she apologized but excused the behavior because, basically, she’s old and grew up in the South. Then she filmed a series of choppily edited videos from her office and finally appeared with Matt Lauer on the Today show, where she wept and delivered contrition that seemed genuinely heartfelt. She maintained she wasn’t a racist, and insisted she wasn’t appearing on Today in order to stop her company’s financial bleeding.

Of course, through all of these lengthy apologies and “I’m not racist” monologues, she never actually said two key words: “I’m sorry.”

When she left Today, it seemed her career was toast, and she would never recover. But the truth of the matter is, that was never going to be the case. Icky as it may seem to some of us, the controversy rallied her fans, who were as vocal as those who found her behavior unacceptable. Lines for her restaurant wrapped around the block in Savannah, Georgia. A boycott of Food Network was called for when the network dropped her.

The chief executive of Paula Deen Ventures said that company is in talks to use its money and muscle to put the Reigning Queen of Land o’ Lakes back on TV networks, in retail chains, and with other potential partners. (But was careful to say that Food Network is not being considered.) There may be those who think find the idea that anyone could watch Deen or buy her products after the public relations disaster she got herself into (not just the alleged behavior, but the asinine way it was handled after the fact). And bless those people’s hearts. Their naive little hearts.

You see, we’re a culture of gawkers. Specifically, we’re a culture of side show and tragedy gawkers. We tune in each week to delight in the despicable behavior of Real Housewives and Bachelors. We slow down when we pass a car wreck to survey the damage, and maybe even the body count. We respond to Charlie Sheen’s dangerous behavior by increasing ratings to his terrible CBS sitcom. Hell, recently, we even (well some of us, in the Netherlands), lined up at a zoo to watch a giraffe be euthanized and then fed to a lion. Well, Paula Deen is now that lion.

Those people who waited in line to eat at her restaurant at the peak of the scandal are going to set their DVRs for the first episode of whatever TV venture she sets on the day it’s announced. And they’re not the only ones. We’ll all be curious. We’ll all tune in to see how she handles herself, post-controversy. I know I will—and only partly because it’s my job to. Soon, we’ll stop watching because we’re curious, but because we’re entertained. And later, we’ll even forget that there was a reason to not watch in the first place.

Paula Deen’s racist controversy will be remembered in the same way as Alec Baldwin’s charming nickname for his daughter, Bill O’Reilly’s fondness for loofah, and that time Jay-Z stabbed somebody. Which is to say, it won’t be remembered at all.

No use in resisting, y’all. Pass the butter.