Sunday, June 23, 2013
A Visionary Light Settled in Her Eyes
I've been obsessed with the Paula Deen thing since first hearing about it firsthand via Matt Lauer pissing and moaning about it on The Today Show, miffed because Paula was too exhausted to come onto his show to be drawn and quartered for saying the n-word. Then there was the now infamous public apology/humiliation she and her team posted on her website, in which she begs for forgiveness. Above is a photo taken from that session: her face is grotesque-drag-queen clownish, the eyes so sad and old-lady hurt you want to comfort her, even while everyone else is saying she's goddamn guilty. I guess what I'm feeling, what I always feel, is that she is both goddamn guilty and goddamn innocent. She's essential now to me; her meaning, what she represents, is now completely universal. Her sins have turned her into a lightning-in-a-bottle freak. Her suffering is a lesson in keeping your mouth shut. But she also now has the power of her sorrow to make us all see who we are. We're her. Ignorant, big-mouthed, insensitive and too sensitive, wanting to please everybody with how cordial and sweet we are, but also wanting to throw a great big plantation wedding with African American men dressed in white tuxedos, you know, like back in the Shirley Temple days. We defend our little brother even though he seems to be a total douche-bag. We make horrible food that causes Type-2 diabetes. We want lots of money and fame and power, but we also want to be personable and chatty and get-along kinds of gals. We don't want to confront history; we want to forget it so we can sit down and eat. We just want to make good old downhome food that's all. We hate controversy and meanness and yet we indulge in it selectively, whenever it suits the conversation. We're kind and donate to charity. We love people, no matter what their skin color. We really, really do. But sometimes we just need to let off a little steam in a roomful of the likeminded. We all like to think we're decent-minded and wonderful. We all want to be forgiven.
On Friday, on Facebook, I posted this photo, along with an allusion to Flannery O'Connor's short story, "Revelation," comparing Paula to Mrs. Turpin (the proud, loud wife of Claud, and the story's main character), and the media stirring the shit-storm to Mary Grace, the pimple-faced, sour-apple young college girl who literally flings a book at Mrs. Turpin in a doctor's office, sick of listening to her self-congratulatory bull-shit. Mary Grace says, after doing her violent act: "Go back to hell where you came from you old wart-hog."
Mrs. Turpin is beyond shattered. She feels violated in ways that go beyond mere rudeness or impropriety. Her very soul has been shaken to the point that she has a vision at the end of the story (as she is spraying out the pig pen in her backyard) that is both horribly lovely and perplexingly simple:
There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the pen in a gesture hieratic and profound. A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were tumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who , like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They, alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away. She lowered her hands and gripped the rail of the hog pen, her eyes small but fixed unblinkingly on what lay ahead. In a moment the vision faded but she remained where she was, immobile.
"Shocked and altered" is the expression on Paula's face in that picture. I think all of us should have to come to grips with that sense of loss and that sense of shock, that feeling that who we think we are, and all the comfort that comes from that, can be completely obliterated simply by a spoken word or an angry glance. The lesson here isn't about political correctness or character assassination for me. It's about how all of us indulge in what Paula indulged in: thinking that who we are is more important than the situation we're in. She has been humbled and may lose everything she ever loved because of that. I forgive her because I think she is the norm.