Unpacking Paula Deen
The “N-word” scandal that has embroiled TV cook Paula Deen has to do with much more than just her. Why does anyone care “about anything a celebrity chef has to say in the first place?” asks the Newsvandal, Joseph Sottile.
“[T]he most troubling part of this tempest in a Hitler-looking teapot,” Sottile offers, is that ‘celebrity chef’ is a thing.” American culture has created dozens of celebrity chefs out of a subject that draws the interest of 1.1 million television viewers per night. They are “self-aggrandizing camera hogs who just want to be famous,” to become “a brand” and “a personality” and capture the public’s voyeuristic attention.
Paula Deen is one of them. As Food Network programmers made “her Southern-fried lifestyle and oversized personality into a TV show, they turned adult-onset diabetes into a spectator sport,” he writes. Guy Fieri is one too. He helped us answer the question of what it would “be like if Sammy Hagar drove a taco truck?”
The success of these people begs the question: “Don’t you want to be Paula Deen or Guy Fieri?” Doesn’t everyone want to know what it’s like to be a top chef on reality TV?
“Food Network has leveraged America’s celebrity obsession into an overcooked onslaught of personality-centered, competition-heavy programming,” Sottile writes. “Frankly, the food is beside the point. They’ve co-opted the most elemental human endeavor — the preparation and eating of food — and turned it into a voyeuristic carnival sideshow of sword swallowers, fire eaters and self-promotional barking.”
Sotille points out that “Perhaps the reason Americans prefer to watch celebrities cook and eat and talk about food is the simple fact that Americans are addicted to celebrity. Celebrities are the saints and demigods of American consumerism run amok. They are both consumer products and spirit guides, showing the way through the valley of social media darkness into a promised land of hype, attention and perceived relevance. Marx said religion is the opium of the people, but that was before television could transform people into a drug-like cult of grotesque personalities.”
He adds that “In reality-themed America, the Horatio Alger story has been replaced by The Apprentice, The Biggest Loser and Survivor: Altoona. In the absence of any real progress in politics, economics, education or, it seems, even human evolution, the last hope for a growing population of also-rans is to dream about becoming famous.
“And why not?” Sottile asks.
— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
Wait, before you go…
The incessant machinery of reality television has churned out celebrity duck hunters, pawn shop owners, fishermen, ice truck drivers and real estate agents. Even better (or worse), it has fixated on callow and shrill self-promoting D-Listers like the Kardashians, turning them overnight into full-fledged public figures. Without any talent, ability or even jobs, they have leveraged a sex tape into a virulent and inescapable brand of celebrity that not only rejects shame, but embraces it as a marketing strategy.
Of course, there is money to be made in this new shamelessness. But, as America becomes more polarized between an elite group of haves and teeming masses of have-nots, it seems that fame itself is the new American dream.
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