Sure, Paula Deen’s mainstream career is over. But now she has her very own digital network—uncensored, y’all—and she’s making millions in a booming new sector: the martyrdom industrial complex.
By Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Illustrations by Earl Barrett-Holloway
Below is the complete inventory of my interactions with Paula Deen, deep in the Caribbean Sea, on the Reflection, the vessel of the Celebrity Cruise line which hosted the Paula Deen cruise. The cruise, which took place in January, advertised via a hacky Web page that invited the reader to join Paula on the, yes, “white, sandy beaches.”
Paula Deen locked her eyes with mine across the Lawn Club Grill. The white-haired crowd parted as she cut through them, a Red Sea to her Israelite, and when she arrived in front of me, she took my hand, which contained an ice cream cone (ice cream cones are available around the clock on this cruise, availability I tested at many hours), and licked my cone. She backed away, vanilla soft-serve on her chin, cone still in my hand, eye contact still intense. In her eyes is everything she wants to tell me to make me love her, which I sort of do for a minute. This is her specialty, getting people to love her despite it all.
On the first day of the cruise, she had taken a picture with me. At the various events throughout the cruise where pictures were permitted, she posed with me and said, “How’re you doin’?” with enthusiasm that seemed like a parody of enthusiasm, her assistants’ eyes twitching, ready to hood me and take me away if I said anything other than “Fine!” or “This is so much fun!” When it was my turn to approach her, the assistants would swarm, as if I were a known Southern woman molester and they were the supervision the state had provided for my visits.
Just before one of the cooking demonstrations (there were two) she asked me if I had kids, and I told her I did, and she asked me what I cooked for…