Chrissy Teigen’s public struggle with social media is insufferable but instructive. In a new Medium post apologizing for past Twitter “trolling,” Teigen asks a series of key questions she’s not prepared to answer.
Let’s get some business out of the way first. Teigen’s apology is probably better than nothing, but comes only after she suffered financial consequences for her noxious conduct on social media. It’s not exactly a noble pivot. She also says nothing about her role in adding fuel to the fire of cancel culture, which turned out to be self-defeating when one of her endorsement deals fell through amid new debate over old tweets.
The missive is entirely characteristic of Teigen’s grating public persona, where she acts foolishly in the interest of seeming relatable, then apologizes in the interest of seeming relatable. To be sure, that cycle may be vicious but it’s also very human and that, of course, is Teigen’s point.
According to the essay, Teigen believes her bad behavior was on display as her maturation process played out in public. But she acted poorly even after getting married and having kids, so that excuse doesn’t exactly jibe with the evidence.
So why does this warrant attention? Because, as we’ve written before, the media incentivized Teigen’s behavior, helping her profit off it while imposing elite standards of behavior on people with fewer resources to resist the ravages of cancel culture.
Here’s the key series of questions in Teigen’s essay (emphasis added):
Words have consequences and there are real people behind the Twitter handles I went after. I wasn’t just attacking some random avatar, but hurting young women — some who were still girls — who had feelings. How could I not stop and think of that? Why did I think there was some invisible psycho-celebrity formula that prevents anyone with more followers from experiencing pain? How did I not realize my words were cruel? What gave me the right to say these things?
Teigen’s popularity in the press shielded her from the blowback that might have disincentivized the trollish behavior. Actually her trolling was treated as a cute schtick, the relatable musings of a clever girl-next-door celebrity who treated Twitter like a high school cafeteria. Her performative leftism endeared her to the media class, creating a protective bubble around Teigen that incentivized the bullying, especially when combined with culture and politics.
Her case study warrants attention as an example of the “Coming Apart” effect. The media’s monolithic cultural leftism uncritically amplifies and normalize celebrities’ cultural leftism, combining forces to bulldoze dissent and boost their own power.
Chrissy Teigen is right to admit her flaws. Celebrities used to take us on dramatic journeys, full of glamor and intrigue. Now we’re riding along for the banalities of life on social media, where stupid squabbles, cookie-cutter politics, and bad hair days drive news cycles.
Teigen is a lightning rod in no small part because her appeal with coastal journalists was not reflective of a broader appeal with their readers, which fueled a lot of resentment among people who felt she was being forced on them. And she was — but so were her beliefs.
Medium is, for lack of a better word, a much more useful medium for someone like Chrissy Teigen. It encourages slowness and nuance over impulse and bombast. There’s a reason Substack is flourishing, similar to the early days of the blogosphere. It’s a positive regression.
Teigen’s youth and immaturity weren’t the sole cause of her trolling. She benefitted from the blessing of a supportive press, which gave her the confidence to troll away, knowing her “clap backs” would resonate with the aggregators and editors behind their keyboards. This is the alliance that is shaping our culture.