By Steven Kurlander
Like another 1960s era comics Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, who pushed the obscenity envelope, the great comedian Richard Pryor’s recipe for success was his use of vulgar language, especially the “n-word” in his routines that mocked racial stereotypes and relations in America. His breakthrough album, his third, was “That Nigger’s Crazy.”
Born in 1940, Pryor’s determined use of the “n-word” in his professional career was considered ground breaking in a culture where the word was then part of the American vernacular of the 20th century. While the “n-word” was considered a very derogatory term back then too, Pryor’s use of the word in his routines and as titles for two albums (the other “Bicentennial Nigger”) in fact pioneered its legitimatization as conventional slang in entertainment, particularly the hip hop genre of music that began to evolve in that same era.
Fast forward a half a century later.
Today, an absurd bifurcated censorship exists that on one hand condones vulgar and offensive racial and sexual language and even the use of the n-word in certain cultural genres, but on the other hand promotes a merciless, hyperbolic derision for the use of the “n-word” to the point where it’s utterance and use in mainstream American society has become ridiculously hyphenated and censored.
Today, it’s not at all acceptable to utter, spell out, or use the “n-word” in any context, unless you are performers like Chris Rock, Kanye West and Jay-Z.
The destruction of celebrity Chef Paula Dean’s career and the piqued condemnation of her that surrounded her use of the “N-word” in front of a white employee at one of her restaurants in Georgia shows how American society is now in the midst of an irrational cultural cleansing that is selective in its defining of indecency, bigotry, and bad behavior.
Paula Deem is an elderly, rotund master southern chef who has defined and popularized the preparation and consumption of politically incorrect caloric, fatty southern “comfort food.”
Seven years younger than Pryor, she is a cultural icon of the “Crisco” generation raised in the 1950s and 1960s (and their children too) whose Midwestern and southern social morals and religious beliefs stand in divergence of a self righteous Upper East Side liberal establishment that now makes the rules of proper etiquette and behavior in US society.
It’s not like she used the word on her show. Unlike shockjock radio personality Don Imus, who got taken off the air after stupidly describing members of the female Rutgers’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos,” Deen’s equally stupid utterances were made off the air in her private workplace.
The lawsuit centers the employee’s allegations that she was sexually harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment where innuendos and racial slurs were used by Deen and her brother. In the deposition, which was acquired by the National Enquirer, Deen also described her interest in hiring black waiters dressed to look like “slaves” at a wedding.
Under the “liberal” media censorship rules of the 2013, even though the lawsuit against Deen had nothing to do with her Food Network work, she was fired from the network anyway.
While there’s no excuse for what Paula Deen admittedly said in terms of common decency, the question remains whether the obscene penalty to her career is truly overkill, particularly in the context of the acceptance of the use of the “n-word” on M-TV and the Comedy Channel by a select few who are allowed to use the foul word.
The truth is that we lived in a “f-uped” American culture pioneered by Pryor where there exists no boundaries, no decency, and where everything goes, yet where people lose their jobs and their reputations for uttering select politically incorrect curse words we all use at some points in our lives in that unfettered framework of free speech and action.
Americans should forgive the castigated Paula Deen and allow her to continue to comfort us with her cooking expertise and skills.
The truth is that professional chefs, like comics, all have very foul mouths – its part of the trade.
Paula Deen is who she is. She continues to apologize and show remorse. She’s paid a heavy price, but should not be censored from our lives.
Steven Kurlander is an attorney and communications strategist from Montcello, NY. He blogs at Kurly’s Kommentary, the Huffington Post, and the Florida Squeeze.