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In 2010, Kraft Foods launched an online recipe contest entitled “Real Women of Philadelphia”, which was hosted by (then pre-scandal) celebrity chef Paula Deen. Women across the country were asked to submit recipe videos over the course of eight weeks that featured themselves cooking with Philadelphia Cream Cheese. At stake were four $25,000 prizes and the chance to meet Deen in her hometown, Savannah, GA.
Philadelphia artist Jenny Drumgoole decided to enter the contest for her mother, a long time Paula Deen fan, with the goal of getting Deen to sign her mother’s cookbooks. As the contest progressed, Drumgoole’s satirical, bizarre and humorous weekly recipe videos (which featured recurring references to action star John Rambo and “hair flipping”) garnered surprisingly positive attention from the other contestants as well as Paula Deen herself. But as Drumgoole got deeper in the contest, and the virtual shifted to reality, Drumgoole’s goal shifted from merely getting her mom an autographed cookbook to taking on the facade of the Paula Deen/Kraft corporate celebrity empire.
Drumgoole’s participation in the contest raises questions about the nature of the individual within virtual media, as well as the levels of influence, manipulation, and exploitation by larger corporate forces within contemporary consumer culture and social media marketing.