I'm against cancel culture but Chrissy Teigen makes opposing it a tough lift

(Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP,File)

I don’t think I’d ever heard of Chrissy Teigen, a model and television personality who is married to singer John Legend, prior to 2019. And then it seemed she was just all over social media all the time. Last week Vox published an explainer on the Teigen phenomenon so I’m going to lean on their post a bit to set up the backstory.

Teigen is famous because she’s a model, TV host, and bestselling cookbook author who is marriedto John Legend. (Disclosure: Legend sits on the board of Vox Media.) But her real claim to the widespread adoration she enjoyed until fairly recently came from the fact that she was good at Twitter. Her feed is full of funny, candid, uncensored jokes that underscore her “just like you, if you were incredibly hot and hilarious and married to an EGOT-winner” charm.

If Teigen’s jokes sometimes came at the expense of other people — well, who cared as long as those jokes were aimed at widely despised figures of contempt? Her sick Donald Trump burns were so widely admired by progressives that Trump once went on a Twitter rampage about her, and then blocked her. A friend of Teigen’s framed the tweets that made him mad, and Teigen put them on display in her house.

In short, she’s another pampered member of the Hollywood resistance who got a lot of attention for her snarky tweets.

But Teigen’s shelf life on Twitter, like that of a lot of other resistance celebrities and journalists, seemed to wane earlier this year as the Biden administration was getting started. First their was a tweet about taking up horse riding that went astray:

Then in February there was the tweet about the $13,000 bottle of wine:

In March, Teigen decided she’d had enough and shut down her Twitter account:

Twitter “no longer serves me as positively as it does negatively, so with that I bid you adieu,” Teigen wrote Thursday, alongside a screenshot of her now-dormant Twitter account. She then insisted her decision had nothing to do with Twitter, writing that she believes they “do all they can to combat relentless bullying, and honestly, it’s not the bullying.” She also noted that they reached out to her team to discuss her future on Twitter.

The “bullying” and trolls she faced on Twitter on a daily basis had nothing to do with her decision to leave, Teigen, 35, wrote. “It’s just me,” she continued.

But it turns out that was her biggest mistake. Hearing Teigen whine about being bullied online was too much for Courtney Stodden who posted something on Instagram a day or two later about the horrible bullying she’d received from Teigen years ago. Here’s what Stodden told the Daily Beast last month:

She wouldn’t just publicly tweet about wanting me to take “a dirt nap” but would privately DM me and tell me to kill myself. Things like, “I can’t wait for you to die.” And not only her, but Joy Behar had a field day with calling me a “slut.” Courtney Love told me I was a “whore.” People came out of the woodwork to beat up on a kid because she was in a situation that she shouldn’t have been in. There were a lot of celebrities acting like playground bullies. Some of the worst treatment I got was from women, and we’re not going to get anywhere if we keep holding each other back.

And that led to people uncovering other bullying tweets Teigen had sent to other actresses and women online. And in no time, Teigen was being canceled and mocked:

The story began to spread. Days later, Teigen’s cookware line, Cravings, disappeared from the Macy’s website. Macy’s has made no statement as to why the line has disappeared, but figures like right-wing pundit Candace Owens celebrated the move as a triumph over Teigen. Page Six declared Teigen an “undercover bully”; Pete Davidson joked on Saturday Night Live that “getting Chrissy Teigen out of our lives” was one of the only good things about the past year.

Today, Teigen posted a long apology for her previous behavior on Medium:

As you know, a bunch ofmy old awful (awful, awful) tweets resurfaced. I’m truly ashamed of them. As I look at them and understand the hurt they caused, I have to stop and wonder: How could I have done that?

I’ve apologized publicly to one person, but there are others — and more than just a few — who I need to say I’m sorry to. I’m in the process of privately reaching out to the people I insulted. It’s like my own version of that show My Name is Earl! I understand that they may not want to speak to me. I don’t think I’d like to speak to me. (The real truth in all of this is how much I actually cannot take confrontation.) But if they do, I am here and I will listen to what they have to say, while apologizing through sobs.

There is simply no excuse for my past horrible tweets. My targets didn’t deserve them. No one does. Many of them needed empathy, kindness, understanding and support, not my meanness masquerading as a kind of casual, edgy humor.

I was a troll, full stop. And I am so sorry.

It goes on like that for another dozen or so paragraphs. Here’s the conclusion:

We are all more than our worst moments.

I won’t ask for your forgiveness, only your patience and tolerance. I ask that you allow me, as I promise to allow you, to own past mistakes and be given the opportunity to seek self improvement and change.

And here’s where it gets tough for me because I completely agree with that last bit. No one should be defined by their worst moment, especially not a tweet from ten years ago. Cancel culture is a plague. It’s part of a woke religion that condemns people for sins real and imagined but offers no grace and no room for repentance. If you ever said a bad thing you’re a monster who deserves an unending punishment, both personally and professionally. So, as a matter of principle, I think the right thing here is that people should not be punished for stupid things they said a long time ago.

But I’ll admit Chrissy Teigen makes opposing cancel culture a tough lift.

Unlike some of the other people who’ve been canceled for dumb tweets written when they were teenagers, Teigen was 25 when she was writing this stuff. Also, I see a big difference between an ugly joke posted on Twitter and sending someone a private message referring to suicide. One is stupid and ugly while the other is bordering on psychopathic.

I don’t think people should face professional consequences for dumb opinions but what if someone’s professional success is largely based on how they comport themselves on social media? In Teigen’s case, it really is a significant part of her brand. So is this cancel culture or just a case of live by the sword, die by the sword?

Teigen is not history’s worst monster. She has apologized and sounds sincere about it (though she did skip over some of the very worst things she’d said). If she can find work as a model or spokesperson or whatever else, I don’t think she should be hounded endlessly about awful things she said a decade ago or more recently. But I’m mostly saying that for all the other people who aren’t famous and got canceled for a lot less. It’s worth defending the principle even if she makes it very difficult to do so.