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Can Paula Deen Recover (And Who Really Pays If She Doesn't)?

2013-08-15 14:36:00 pop-culture

In better times — just last year — Paula Deen promoted a new line of furniture. While Universal Furniture International said in July it will continue to market the Paula Deen Home Collection, several other endorsers have dropped Paula Deen products.

Joshua Gunter/The Plain Dealer/Landov

In better times — just last year — Paula Deen promoted a new line of furniture. While Universal Furniture International said in July it will continue to market the Paula Deen Home Collection, several other endorsers have dropped Paula Deen products.

In better times — just last year — Paula Deen promoted a new line of furniture. While Universal Furniture International said in July it will continue to market the Paula Deen Home Collection, several other endorsers have dropped Paula Deen products.

Joshua Gunter/The Plain Dealer/Landov

Paula Deen might have a hard time recovering.

The other day, a judge threw out charges of racial discrimination filed against the celebrity chef. That made sense, since the person suing Deen is white.

But consumers still know that she has used the N-word in the past and displayed racial insensitivity in other ways. That fact matters not only to Deen but to hundreds of people whose livelihoods have depended on her good fortune.

“While certainly she’s hurt and her image is hurt, the people who work for her and cook for her are hurt more, there’s no question about it,” says Marla Royne Stafford, a marketing professor at the University of Memphis. “The people down the line are hurt more financially.”

This is something that generally gets overlooked when people whose names are synonymous with a company run into trouble. Their careers may be in tatters, but it’s the people who make and sell the products they’ve licensed that end up getting hurt.

“If General Motors lays off 10,000 people everybody talks about the ripple effect,” says Bruce Clark, who teaches marketing at Northeastern University. “Martha Stewart goes to jail and everyone wonders how Martha is going to do in jail.”

Person Or Product?

Celebrities have always lost endorsement deals when dogged with scandal. But now they can take entire businesses down with them.

There are fewer clear lines between celebrities who simply endorse products and those who own a chunk of the action.

Grammy winning recording artist Beyonce launches her new "Heat" on Feb. 3, 2010, in New York City.

Grammy winning recording artist Beyonce launches her new “Heat” on Feb. 3, 2010, in New York City.

Jemal Countess/Getty Images

“Celebrities are getting more involved in the process,” says Christine Kowalcyzk, a professor of marketing and supply chain management at East Carolina University. “There’s this blurring between what’s an endorser and what’s a brand.”

Take Beyonce. The singer’s Beyonce Heat perfumes are reportedly the best-selling celebrity fragrance line of all time. But it’s not like Beyonce mixes up that stuff by herself.

“She came up with the actual scent, but she wasn’t in her bathroom mixing ingredients and then building a manufacturing plant for that fragrance,” says Samuel Doss, a marketing professor at the Florida Institute of Technology.

Still, it’s unquestionably Beyonce’s perfume. It’s got her name on it. But what about Pepsi? She has a big endorsement deal with the soda maker but also helped design cans with her image on it.

“There’s this celebrity-entrepreneur concept, where companies are not just paying them for use of their image,” Kowalcyzk says. “Pepsi is going to retain most control, but there’s a partnership.”

Taking Down The Company

Beyonce has not run into any sort of scandal. But with celebrities closely associated with specific products — from George Foreman to Jessica Alba — there’s always a risk that bad news in their personal lives could hurt sales.

“Celebrities are like a center of gravity,” says Clark, the Northeastern professor. “They just draw all the attention in the news media.”

That’s why so many companies, including Walgreen’s, Home Depot and Target, have gotten out of the business of selling Deen’s cookware, tortilla chips and soups. Deen has lost not only her slot on the Food Network but millions of dollars’ worth of endorsement deals.

“There’s probably going to be other products that will be easily substitutable for a Paula Deen line,” Doss says. “We can still buy Rachael Ray cookware or Bobby Flay.”

Staging A Comeback

Like Deen’s, Stewart’s company lost a lot of business when she was found guilty of obstruction of justice, nearly a decade ago.

But Stewart served her time and has bounced back, with products bearing her name now on sale at Home Depot, Staples and Michaels. J.C. Penney and Macy’s have been fighting in court over the right to sell her branded home goods.

When it comes to reclaiming their good names, celebrities have the chance to do something that faceless companies can’t easily do: make public acts of contrition, such as sitting down with Oprah Winfrey or Jay Leno.

Often, their fans will be in a mood to forgive.

“You follow them on Twitter; you love them; they’re part of your life in a surprisingly intimate way,” Clark says.

Deen’s Own Prospects For Success

Clark predicts that Deen can recover, at least among her hard-core fans. She’s still got her restaurants in Savannah, Ga., books and Caribbean cruises scheduled for next year.

“If you love Paula Deen, you probably cut her some slack,” Clark says. “There are people who are very upset about this, but they’ve probably never been in a Paula Deen restaurant.”

But not everyone is so sure that Deen will ever again enjoy the kind of success she’s had in the past. She appeared to stumble when the story of her past racially charged statements broke, releasing a series of apology videos and initially canceling an appearance on NBC’s Today in June.

“There was a perception she was not sure what she was supposed to say,” Kowalczyk says.

Celebrities can recover from many missteps, but there’s never a guarantee that people will be willing to spend money supporting someone who has offended them.

“Society will recover from Paula Deen’s comments and a year from now we will not remember what the incident was,” Kowalzcyk says. “But we won’t be buying her pots and pans.”

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Bush, Sr. Shaved His Head for a 2-year-old with Cancer

2013-07-25 03:44:33 tanya-edwards

George Bush Shaved His Head for Child With Cancer To show his support for Patrick, a 2-year-old with cancer, former President George H.W. Bush shaved his head. The son of one of Bush’s security team lost his hair while being treated for leukemia. A few other members of the Secret Service detail were inspired to shave their heads, too!

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Helen Thomas, Former Dean Of White House Press, Dies At 92

2013-07-20 13:58:00 pop-culture

Helen Thomas reads the newspaper while sitting in her chair in the White House press room in 2006. She died on Saturday at age 92.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Helen Thomas reads the newspaper while sitting in her chair in the White House press room in 2006. She died on Saturday at age 92.

Helen Thomas reads the newspaper while sitting in her chair in the White House press room in 2006. She died on Saturday at age 92.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Long-time White House correspondent Helen Thomas, who covered every president from Eisenhower to Obama, has died at age 92, according to The Gridiron Club & Foundation.

Thomas, who spent much of her career at United Press International before switching in her last decade in journalism to Hearst Newspapers as a columnist, died Saturday morning at her Washington apartment after a long illness, according to the Gridiron Club, where Thomas was the first female member and a former president.

Her longevity at the White House gave Thomas a coveted front row seat at briefings and allowed her, as the senior wire-service reporter, the first question at presidential news conferences. That ended when she left UPI in 2000.

NPR’s David Folkenflik reports that the sometimes controversial journalist “broke barriers that prevented women from rising in the Washington press corps.”

Thomas was born to Lebanese immigrants of little means and grew up in Michigan. She attended Wayne State University before heading to the nation’s capital as a copygirl for the now-defunct Washington Daily News.

She covered women’s issues, but held onto the White House beat for UPI, staying for decades.

The New York Times writes:

“Presidents grew to respect, even to like, Ms. Thomas for her forthrightness and stamina, which sustained her well after the age at which most people had settled into retirement. President Bill Clinton gave her a cake on Aug. 4, 1997, her 77th birthday. Twelve years later, President Obama gave her cupcakes for her 89th. At his first news conference in February 2009, Mr. Obama called on her, saying: “Helen, I’m excited. This is my inaugural moment.”

NPR’s Folkenflik says that “over time, her largely left-of-center views became more pronounced.”

But in an appearance on NPR’s Talk of the Nation in Aug. 1999, she defended the White House press against accusations that it had gone too far in pursuing the Monica Lewinksy scandal that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

“Well, I know we’re being accused of overkill, but I think that the aggression [comes] in the aftermath of being lied to for nine months,” she said. “A certain disillusionment does set in, and we all realize that we were not aggressive enough. We didn’t ask enough questions.”

At age 89, after decades covering Washington presidential politics, Thomas’ career finally unraveled when she was interviewed on the White House lawn by RabbiLive.com. Asked for her comments on Israel, she replied: “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.”

The remark touched off a firestorm and Hearst dropped her shortly thereafter.

Update At 2:45 p.m. EDT:

White House Correspondents Association President Steven Thomma issued the following statement:

“Helen Thomas was a trailblazer in journalism and in the White House press corps, covering presidents from John F. Kennedy through Barack Obama.

“Starting with the Kennedy administration, she was the first woman to cover the president and not just the First Lady.

“At her urging in 1962, Kennedy said he would not attend the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents Association unless it was opened to women for the first time. It was.

“And in 1975-76, she served as the first woman president of the association.

“Women and men who’ve followed in the press corps all owe a debt of gratitude for the work Helen did and the doors she opened. All of our journalism is the better for it.”

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A Sunny 'Camp' Kicks Back For Summer

2013-07-10 15:32:00 pop-culture

The promotional art for NBC’s Camp tells you all you need to know.

John Tsiavis/NBC

The promotional art for NBC's Camp tells you all you need to know.

The promotional art for NBC’s Camp tells you all you need to know.

John Tsiavis/NBC

We have to begin with a discussion of how Camp, NBC’s new summer comedy-drama series premiering Wednesday night at 10, begins.

We see a dock, a lake, and sailboats. We hear affable pop music. Kids walk around a woodsy locale, some in swimsuits carrying air mattresses. Others ride a paddleboat on the lake. Others are sailing, swimming, and playing tether ball in front of a teepee. Two carry an inflatable boat past one walking a bike. We slowly approach a car. “You’re going to love it,” says a father’s voice, assuring his son he’ll get outdoors and earn money. The sullen kid, wearing a gray hoodie, doesn’t want his dad to “leave [him] here.” There isn’t even internet! Dad gruffly but lovingly says it wouldn’t hurt the kid to see the sun once in a while and stop watching depressing documentaries. “This is not going to be some coming-of-age movie,” the kid meta-narrates. “I’m not changing who I am.”

Just then, a blue convertible pulls up with a pair of hot-looking but indifferent parents dropping off a gorgeous but quiet girl. Hoodie Boy gives up, gets out, and is hugged goodbye by his dad. Quiet girl gets the stink-eye from a pretty blonde and her friends as they saunter past. Both sets of parents drive off. Hoodie Boy, his hood now down, spots Quiet Girl. The music swells. He stares. She sees him and smiles and walks by, suddenly in slow motion. They share a brief moment. Someone walks by with a fishing pole. The music cuts — with a metallic clink rather than the expected record-scratch — as the hook catches in Hoodie Boy’s nose and he screams in pain. The word “CAMP,” in red letters, is stamped across a freeze-frame of his comedic agony.

I give you this play-by-play so you can understand just how closely they are hewing here to every cliché about camp movies. Later, Rachel Griffiths will be introduced as Mackenzie, the frenzied camp director, recently divorced from her scuzzy husband who left her for a bikini waxer and is threatening to force her into selling the camp. (Save the camp! Naturally. It wouldn’t be a camp show without the need to save the camp.) Her awkward, horny, virgin son — who, like Hoodie Boy, is here to be a junior counselor — has only one goal for the summer. Perhaps you can guess what it is. Elsewhere, two young counselors who have had an off-again on-again relationship awkwardly reconnect, but she encounters a somewhat-older-townie attraction that seems in the early going to be straight out of Mystic Pizza.

Aside from an intriguing sideline about Awkward Son getting over his reflexive use of the words “faggy” and “retarded” — which his friends treat not with some massive conflict but with an eye-rolling “dude, you sound like a fool” attitude that’s rather refreshing — there’s nothing new in the pilot. There’s nothing you haven’t seen in Meatballs, or in the TV movies of the ’80s where, for instance, Michael J. Fox and Nancy McKeon were camp counselors together. You will see entire scenes coming before they happen, and there’s a good chance you could plot out a good portion of the next 12 episodes after this.

What Camp reflects, I think, is that broadcast networks in general, and NBC in particular, have had limited to no luck competing with cable when it comes to serious, thoughtful, ambitious dramas. And in fairness, it’s not for lack of trying. Where they continue to have success, though, is with reality shows like The Voice — the things people use to fill the other part of their viewing schedule. Television viewing is part art and part entertainment (and often both, obviously), and so far, broadcast is struggling on the art side but alive on the entertainment side. That’s why broadcast gets more ratings than Emmys.

Camp is just supposed to be pleasant and diverting, sweet and funny, something to watch with an iced tea and the fan blowing. And as diversion, it’s really not bad, despite the clichés. It’s just very, very simple, formulaic television of the kind you easily could have seen anytime after about 1970. In a way, if they’re just going to be entertaining and not so ambitious, it’s better to make something like Camp, which kicks back and embraces its old-school nature, than it is for them to look for new ways to get people to debase themselves. (I greatly prefer this to last summer’s reality show Stars Earn Stripes, for instance, and to NBC’s Ready For Love dating show. Yuck.)

For as lacking in ambition as Camp is — and it is severely lacking in ambition, as of the pilot anyway — it has a woozy, sleepy, summery charm. You wouldn’t want every show to be like this, but it may not be a bad thing to have something like this.

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A Zombie Horror Game, Inspired By ... A Nature Documentary?

2013-07-09 07:43:00 pop-culture

In The Last of Us, a fungus called Cordyceps that commonly infects insects has jumped over to humans, creating a fungal zombie apocalypse.

Naughty Dog

In The Last of Us, a fungus called Cordyceps that commonly infects insects has jumped over to humans, creating a fungal zombie apocalypse.

In The Last of Us, a fungus called Cordyceps that commonly infects insects has jumped over to humans, creating a fungal zombie apocalypse.

Naughty Dog

The Last of Us is a new survival horror video game and it features — no big surprise — zombie-like creatures. But these are not the same old zombies that have dominated movie and TV screens in the past few years.

Neil Druckmann, creative director for The Last of Us, says he wanted a fresh new way to wipe out humanity — and he found it in a BBC documentary series called Planet Earth, which depicts the scary effects of the Cordyceps fungus.

The Cordyceps fungus invades its insect hosts, replacing their innards in order to reproduce itself.

The Cordyceps fungus invades its insect hosts, replacing their innards in order to reproduce itself.

Getty Images

“It’s this fungus that burrows its way into insects’ minds and completely alters their behavior,” he says. “And you know, right away the idea popped in our head of like, ‘What if it jumped to humans?’ Cause you could imagine this fate worse than death, that your mind is still there but something else is controlling your body.”

Sounds like the plot of a horrific science-fiction tale, right?

“Yeah right exactly,” says entomologist Michael Wall of the San Diego Natural History Museum. “The insect world I think very often inspires science-fiction writers and movie makers, and clearly in this case video-game producers.”

Taking its cue from Mother Nature’s darker side, The Last of Us presents a mutated strain of the Cordyceps fungus that turns human hosts into rabid, ferocious killers. Players trek through a post-apocalyptic United States encountering the creatures in various stages of infection.

Michael Wall quickly became infected by the game’s premise. “It’s not just like all of a sudden these are normal folks who just happen to have really weird fungal growths coming out of their body,” he says of the Cordyceps zombies, called “clickers” because of the way they use echolocation to find new victims. “They’re definitely tapping into this idea that parasites can change the behavior of their hosts and make their hosts do things to the benefit of the parasite.”

The loss of free will might be the most terrifying thing humans can imagine. But it’s common in the insect world. That’s one of the reasons entomology got under Wall’s skin — though he’s not worried about Cordyceps burrowing into his brain.

“Jumping from the insect world to human world is highly unlikely,” he says, reassuringly. “Several thousand of these species of fungus can occur on lots of different insects, so you might think, like, ‘Oh, wow. Then why couldn’t it jump over to us?’ But in terms of the evolutionary family tree, humans and insects are really far apart.”

But close enough to stimulate someone’s imagination. In fact, Wall might want to put a bug in the entertainment industry’s ear. He knows some bug stories involving mind control, behavior modification and strange exoskeleton designs — in other words, box office gold.

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