The frightening thing about “cancel culture” is that it can happen to anyone, for just about anything.
After giving a seemingly honest and innocent interview to the New Consumer, New York Times food columnist Alison Roman was accused of launching an allegedly racist attack on Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo.
The now-problematic conversation was about Roman’s own career, her goals, and how she has failed to capitalize on her success and popularity like Teigen and Kondo have both done. The interview is worth reading in full, but here is the quote that media outlets echoed for weeks:
Like, what Chrissy Teigen has done is so crazy to me. She had a successful cookbook. And then it was like: Boom, line at Target. Boom, now she has an Instagram page that has over a million followers where it’s just, like, people running a content farm for her. That horrifies me and it’s not something that I ever want to do. I don’t aspire to that. But like, who’s laughing now? Because she’s making a ton of f***ing money.
As NYT opinion editor Bari Weiss noted, apparently criticizing a swimsuit model’s food blog is now grounds for cancellation.
You used to have to do something real to get cancelled. Apparently now you just have to criticize a celebrity! https://t.co/lvoB4TBzLA
— Bari Weiss (@bariweiss) May 19, 2020
The odd thing about this controversy is not that it happened, but that it happened to Roman and that her media giant employer, the New York Times, did nothing about it. The angry mob is always happy to take comments out of context, especially when race is even tangentially involved, and to spin something out of nothing. But Roman, who we can assume knows the proper language and behavior of New York elite media bubbles, did everything by the woke book. She immediately apologized, and then apologized again.
Her apology hit all the key points: acknowledging white privilege, addressing the woman-on-woman nature of her crimes, and asking for help and guidance in correcting her own ignorance. It wasn’t enough.
Last week, it was announced Roman would be “on temporary leave” from her New York Times cooking column, but the paper did not elaborate on how long it would last nor did it give a reason why. On Tuesday, Roman posted on Instagram with a vague announcement about focusing on her own newsletter, insinuating her work would not be appearing in the Times “for the foreseeable future.”
It’s hard to imagine the same outcome if the alleged victim of the attack had been someone other than Teigen, who had an immediate public meltdown over Roman’s criticism. Teigen wields a massive online platform, with a hive of Twitter followers who fawn over her “clap backs,” and a surrounding celebrity media echo chamber that spits out articles about her every move and Instagram post. The idea that Roman is the one with immense privilege and influence between the two celebrity cooks is laughable.
If you doubt Teigen’s leverage in this situation, just look at the New York Times’ response. Despite Teigen’s public cries about being Roman’s fan and expressing distress over her employment, the Times is refusing to stand behind and support their arguably most popular food writer. Again, it’s seemingly impossible to imagine the Times would have the same response if Roman’s critique had only been aimed at Kondo, who has yet to make a single comment about the New Consumer interview.
Neither Alison Roman nor the New York Times could have predicted that Roman of all people (not Bari Weiss, not Bret Stephens) was cancel culture’s next victim. But that’s the power of Twitter’s biggest bully, Chrissy Teigen.