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Why do people hate Rachael Ray? Is it because she's bubblier than a human-sized Alka Seltzer? Or so sunny that her television shows should come with skin-cancer warnings? Maybe it's her vowel-heavy, baby talk catchphrases, or her love of cuisine more suited to suburban block parties than fancy restaurants?
The reason Rachael Ray attracts so much scorn is because we hate it when nice people finish first. And finish first she has: Rachael Ray is a mini-empire unto herself. With multiple television shows, best-selling books, numerous endorsements and products and annual earnings upward of $15 million, she's a small-town girl who has done good on an epic scale.
Recently the doyenne of domesticity herself, Martha Stewart, was involved in a public dust-up with Ray, her homemaking rival. It was, of course, much ado about nothing. In an interview, Stewart pointed out that Ray is an entertainer, not the teacher Stewart sees herself as. And Ray responded graciously, pointing out that her skill sets are not as refined as Stewart's. It's true, of course. Martha Stewart could build a two-story gingerbread house fit for a fairytale witch with one hand, while rolling out a hectare of perfect puff pastry with the other. Rachael Ray still seems to have plateaued at the most lamentable food trend of the past two decades: the wrap.
Even still, Martha Stewart is easy to rally against. She comes off as an ice princess. And perhaps that's what it takes to spawn intimidatingly attractive pastries. She carries herself with the confidence of someone who knows they are good at something -- an insufferable trait, even if it's earned. Stewart does not come off as warm and accessible. But the history of artistic expression is full of prickly individuals who find redemption in their work. And in a way, the public demands that it's best come ready -- made with flaws. The former felon seems, especially these days, to be more human than ever.
Rachael Ray is doubly infuriating, because she just seems ... likable. She's the girl-next-door who could afford to buy the entire block. Her food is simple, designed to appeal to harried parents or busy singletons. It's middlebrow, useful fare -- casseroles, salads and pastas. Boring when compared to Stewart's studied craft. There's also a cursory nod toward "healthy," which is a code word for "diet." The bouncy way she chirps through recipes recalls those popular girls in high school who were always so blasted sweet to everyone. You loathed them for no good reason other than they seemed lucky, while you spent gym glass getting thwacked in the solar plexus by a rubber dodge ball.
But Ray's biggest social crime is her sincere earnestness. She is a woman devoid of "snark." The woman doesn't seem to have a sarcastic bone in her body or a sneer on her lip. Snark is wit without wisdom, criticism for the thin-skinned, a teenager's cruel judgment of a world that actually terrifies the brat. Which is why this daytime TV diva is mercilessly mocked – it's easy. Takes for example "Yum-O" -- that's something a technicolor cartoon bear would say. Rachael Ray is boldly goofy, and she is rewarded for it, as well as derided. She seems to have become successful because she's pleasant. Occasionally saccharine, sure, but not disingenuous. You know, nice. That runs counter to everything we're taught that behind every accomplished person is a jerk.
Think about that next time you're rolling your eyes at her "Irish Nachos."