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Paula Deen & Brown Sugar

The Rolling Stones — collective age: 276 — reportedly put on a hell of a show in Glastonbury. That’s great to hear. The Stones are probably my favorite band, though they haven’t put out a decent record since I was in high school. Tonight I was frying speckled trout in the kitchen, and had to hear some Stones. One of the songs Spotify gave me was “Brown Sugar,” which was on the Glastonbury set list. I’ve heard “Brown Sugar” a hundred thousand times, I guess, but it struck me oddly tonight, in light of the Paula Deen “Southern wedding” controversy. You ever listened closely to the lyrics? They read:

Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields,
Sold in a market down in New Orleans.
Scarred old slaver know he’s doin’ alright.
Hear him whip the women just around midnight.
Ah brown sugar how come you taste so good
(a-ha) brown sugar, just like a young girl should

Drums beating, cold English blood runs hot,
Lady of the house wonderin’ where it’s gonna stop.
House boy knows that he’s doin’ alright.
You should have heard him just around midnight.
Ah brown sugar, how come you taste so good?
(a-ha) brown sugar, just like a black girl should

I bet your mama was a tent show queen, and all her boy
Friends were sweet sixteen.
I’m no schoolboy but I know what I like,
You should have heard me just around midnight.

Ah brown sugar how come you taste so good?
(A-ha) brown sugar, just like a young girl should.

I said yeah, I said yeah, I said yeah, I said
Oh just like a, just like a black girl should.

I said yeah, I said yeah, I said yeah, I said
Oh just like, just like a black girl should.

The song plays off a fantasy of enslaved and tortured black women being sexually gratifying to frigid Englishmen. Why is this an acceptable fantasy in pop culture, but Paula Deen’s dream of a “plantation” wedding in which elegantly attired black waiters serve her family is disgusting? In other words, why do we not take the Stones seriously, but we judge Paula Deen as history’s greatest monster for her thematically similar, but incomparably less vicious, fantasy? Ever listened to the lyrics of the Stones’ “Some Girls”? Ever heard what Mick and Keith say about what “black girls” want? How do we justify being tolerant of one, but not the other? Somebody explain that to me.

UPDATE: Listen, you who respond as if I’m making a one-to-one comparison between the Stones and Paula Deen are missing the point. I’m talking about fantasy scenarios here. The Rolling Stones — who are incomparably more famous and culturally significant than Paula Deen — are continuing to sing and profit from a song that plays with the transgressive fantasy of enslaved black women liberating the lust of their white English masters. Paula Deen took pleasure in contemplating a Gone With The Wind plantation wedding in which well-attired black servers waited on the guests. To me, one is evil, and the other is merely tasteless. Both should make us think about why such fantasies appeal to us, and rethink whether or not they should appeal to us. Neither should cause people to collapse on the fainting couch.

We live in a culture that made a mega-bestseller of the softcore sadomasochistic fantasy   novel Fifty Shades Of Grey — 70 million copies sold worldwide — which people devoured for its transgressive thrills about women serving as sexual submissives to men — but also a culture that drove Paula Deen from the public square for fantasizing about a Gone With The Wind-style wedding. We are crazy people.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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