Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Stereotypes, Gordon Elliott and the Food Network

I was just reading the Food Network Addict blog and saw a very interesting post about regional and racial stereotypes on Food Network programs. Jacob uses Aaron McCargo's new show Big Daddy's House as the springboard for his post, pointing out that he really doesn't recognize the Aaron that won NFNS4. He also laments that shows like Paula's Home Cooking and Down Home with the Neelys have seen much better days, especially Paula Deen's program. PHC has evolved, Jacob points out, from a sweet show featuring some good recipes made by a nice woman from Savannah, into a caricature of Southern stereotypes delivered by a hypersexual granny (Come to think of it, would a male chef have been encouraged to spout constant sexual innuendos? Not sure). Even more disturbing are the racial and regional stereotyping of the Neelys, based in Memphis, and the racial stereotyping of new star Aaron McCargo, out of Camden, NJ.

He attributes this, I think very astutely, to Gordon Elliott, who has a nasty habit of sensationalizing the shows he produces. Deen, McCargo and the Neelys are all produced by Elliott. I'm quoting Jacob here, who sums up how unrecognizable Aaron has become:

He's no longer just Aaron from Camden, but Big Daddy -- a nickname he supposedly picked up on the show, although I don't remember anyone calling him that. Big Daddy, which Aaron repeatedly refers to himself as, shouts "Look at yo bad self!" and refers to nearly every ingredient, pan, or condiment as a "bad boy." Besides being obnoxious in a cooking show, these phrases all have strong racial connections that many would find disparaging.
Jacob's post really struck a nerve with me. I wanted to point it out for those of you who might have missed it. Here's the comment I left in response. Items in [brackets] are added after for clarification.
You have really hit on something here that has always nagged at me. The Food Network panders, as we know, but you've vocalized one good reason why: the way that stereotypes are painted for its stars. You are totally correct about Paula vs Ina [Garten - who, as Jacob notes, can get away with using tons of butter without being called out for it]: both women typically have used WAY too much butter for their own good in their cooking shows.

But Ina's show isn't produced by Gordon Elliott, is it? She does have that refined way about her show that just coos "I'm making fun food up here in the Hamptons for all my friends. How easy is that?"

Paula's show has evolved into just one, big stereotype, insulting to Southerners and perhaps to Deen herself. Is her food inferior to Ina's? Heck no. But they've made her into a caricature of what a "Southerner" is supposed to be.

I can't and won't comment on the Neelys because I just haven't seen much of their show. To be honest, their show debuted around the same time that I really started tuning out from the Food Network. When I saw the show was going to air I thought, "Finally, they are bringing in some serious African-American talent." I'm very disappointed to read that they've been transformed into just another silly stereotype. TWO of them, actually: caricatures of both Southerners and African Americans.

I have seen only one episode of Aaron's show and was not terribly impressed. it wasn't the one where he kissed raw meat, thank God. Ick :P
I don't know. Maybe this is what passes as good TV in Elliott's native Australia. I do miss the old Paula, and would like to see more from the Neelys. Maybe not so much Aaron. But stereotypes get me angry. Perhaps I'm being silly but they just do. And there ain't no room for 'em on TV in 2008. So might I suggest that Gordon Elliott stop producing shows for the Food Network, so maybe his clients can have some dignity restored to them? I can't imagine what he would do to Ace of Cakes if he got his hands on it. Mary Alice would be dressed like a HonFest fanatic every day, and they'd all be singing the Hairspray soundtrack.


Anonymous said...

Wasn't Gordon Elliot the original producer of Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee?

lp said...

While I get sick of the "y'all"s every other word (and I'm a Texan!), my grandmother from Alabama is a lot like Paula Deen, so the caricature is not quite as strong as one might think.
Down Home With the Neelys seems really forced, at least the wife's performance is (I don't remember her name). She seems to be acting too hard.

At least there are still shows like Good Eats and Ace of Cakes. You have to admit, though, Mary Alice does have something a little hon-ny about her.

jmc said...

I haven't caught any episode's of Aaron's show, so I can't speak to it. But I do agree that the evolution of Paula Deen on TFN is neither flattering nor impressive. Too treacly sweet in presentation (and often in recipes) and TMI, frankly.

Feeling profoundly ignorant here -- is Gordon Elliot supposed to be Someone Important in the food world?

diningdish said...

Paaaleeeze,the Food Network leaves a lot to be desired now. Give me the old days with Sara Moulton hosting two live shows a night with interesting culinary guests from the very tall James Peterson to the very unique Crescent Dragonwagon.

Give me Mario bic (before Iron Chef), David Rosengarten - when you actually could learn something from the channel.

Sara Moulton said the demographic for TFN are males between 17 & 35. Well I'm not male and I a bit over 35....and I'm not watching.

Okay, I have said my piece.

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree.

All are caricatures and very annoying. I can't bear to watch Paula. It is sad the way FoodNetwork has gone. Ina, Giada, and Michael C. will always be my favorites.

I also don't think they give some shows a chance. There was a blonder girl with spiky hair who made good stuff recently. Now I can't find her.

Meghan said...

I couldnt have agreed more with the FN addict's post... and your comments too...

I miss actually learning something instead of just personalities making chicken pot pie.

Perhaps that's why I chose to watch PBS cooking shows... Jaque Pepin and Lidia Bastianich all the way...

jacob said...

Sorry for just now seeing this. Nice to read your thoughts about the issue. And, yes, I too would die if Gordon started producing Ace of Cakes.