In the world of business, it's called "doing a Ratner." Gerald Ratner entered the family businesss of jewelry shops called Ratner's in 1966. He built it up to a successful chain of jewelers around England in the 1980's. Some people found the stuff a bit tacky and kitschy, but it was popular with the public and it sold well. All he had to do was not fuck it up.
Then, on April 23, 1991, Ratner was giving a speech at the Institute Of Directors. Among the things he said were, "We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, "How can you sell this for such a low price?", I say, "because it's total crap." He went on to say how people buy his shit just because of the cache of the name.
Well, that was it. Reporters gleefully wrote up what he said, and the company Hindenburged. Warren Buffet once famously opined, "It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently." But a lot of people don't do that. Business heads will periodically do a Ratner, destroying their thriving empires just because they couldn't keep their mouths shut. Keith Cochrane, CEO of Stagecoach bus lines, did an interview with Forbes magazine where he compared US bus passengers to riffraff. Ivan Seidenberg was the head of Verizon's cell phone division in April 2005 when, during an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he bitched, "Why in the world would you think your (cell) phone would work in your house? The customer has come to expect so much. They want it to work in the elevator. They want it to work in the basement."
And now, our newest inductee, Paula Deen, celebrity chef.
Now, yes, I think Deen is a racist asshole. Just not for the reason everyone is heaping on her. I want to get into this because of a discussion with my dad. He said he was disappointed that she made a slip and used the N-word and now she's being vilified. It wasn't until further into the discussion that my dad saw the point and started condemning her as well.
Deen was being sued by a former employee. The case was set for trial, and Deen couldn't wait to give her deposition. Yeah, she was that confident in how things would work out. This is actually the problem with hubris -- how does Paula Deen, who is so business savvy that she kept the fact that she was diabetic secret for years because it would undermine her credibility (and then only announced it after she got a big endorsement deal from a diabetic drug company) think that she could say the things she has and no one would bat an eye?
Now, the reason everyone is dogpiling her is because she admitted that she uses the N-word in her restaurants. There's actually a deeper problem here than people are realizing. She uses it because the black people on her staff use the word. This is the problem. There has been a long debate about black people owning the word, stripping it of its power to offend, and white people using it. Black people today use the word as a term of endearment, completely disregarding the word's racist origin, and frustrating people that are very much aware of the word's legacy. As a result, a culture is generating that doesn't understand why the word should be banned from human speech. No one should be surprised that people that they say shouldn't use the word do use the word. Your usage conveys acceptability, you can't have it both ways. Either the word should not be used by anyone, or it can be used by anyone. Richard Pryor, who popularized its usage, eventually changed his mind and decried it. Listen to him.
Now, if you want to hammer Deen as a racist, there are far more blatant examples in her testimony that prove it. Her reaction to being asked if she actually used the N-word was basically, "Sure, I do. Doesn't everybody?" Uh, no. Especially in big city areas. Her casualness (I could just imagine her going, "Oh, yes. We barbecue, play tennis, use racial slurs.") is shocking. Once again, she is so aware of her reputation, she kept her diabetes a secret. She maaaaaaybe could have mitigated the damage had she said it was a long time ago and she knew it was wrong and insensitive. Instead, she said that even though she uses the N-word, she hates discrimination. Once again, the word has racist origins. This is like your big brother giving you a swirly and saying he's doing it "out of love."
The most damning comment, however, was Deen's fantasy about recreating a Southern plantation wedding. "The whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie. I mean, it was really impressive. And I remember saying I would love to have servers like that, I said, but I would be afraid that someone would misinterpret (it)." Goddamn, girl, ya think? One of the most hated, ugly periods of American history, and she wanted to use it as a theme for a party. Get fucked, asshole.
Deen being a hypocritical opportunist should come as no surprise. She claimed God told her to go public with her diabetes, but said in a later interview, "To say I'm a very religious person, I can't say that, because I don't go to church. But I'm a very spiritual person. I knew that the opportunity to share would present itself." And that opportunity came with a hefty paycheck.
During the discussion with my dad, he said that Deen was surrounded by a culture who felt the word was okay and she was just blending in. "If it's wrong for her to use the word, it's wrong for them to use the word."
I agree, I told him.
Then, he actually said, "I mean, it's not like she wanted the waitstaff to dress like slaves or something."
Ah, you apparently did not read the deposition.
"...you mean, she actually did?!?"
I recounted the testimony about the "really Southern plantation wedding," and it was like a switch got flipped. Dad now feels Deen deserves all the abuse she's getting and deserves to see her empire fall apart.
Because anyone can spin words.
And actions always speak louder than words.