Cancel culture claimed Chrissy Teigen. Is this a pandemic backlash against celebrity?

iof you live by the sword you tend to die by the sword. The same is true of social media – just ask Chrissy Teigen. Over the past decade, the model and cookbook author has risen to dizzying levels of fame by virtue of being good at posting things online. Such is her reach that Donald Trump, who disapproved of Teigen’s “filthy mouth", blocked her on Twitter while he was president. Joe Biden, nel frattempo, followed her the minute he became president. Which was a big deal considering Biden’s official @POTUS account only followed 11 people at the time, all of whom were aides or official White House accounts. The president doesn’t follow the Queen of the UK, but he did follow the unofficial Queen of Twitter. He also unfollowed Teigen a few weeks later at her behest; the pressure of having the most powerful man in the world read your tweets was too much to deal with, apparently.

If Biden hadn’t unfollowed Teigen in February, he would probably be distancing himself from her now. A lot of big brands reportedly are. Thanks to a cyberbullying scandal, the influencer has gone from tastemaker to toxic. While Teigen may once have been online royalty, half the internet now seems to be aggressively screaming, “Off with her head!"

What happened? Well, the abbreviated version of events is that, back in May, a media personality called Courtney Stodden accused Teigen of bullying her online years ago. Teigen tweeted at Stodden (who was only 16 at the time) telling them to take a “dirt nap” and allegedly privately messaged them saying: “I can’t wait for you to die.” After these disturbing revelations, Twitter’s armchair detectives rapidly began searching for other nasty things Teigen might have said. “Cancellation” commenced.

Teigen apologised for her behaviour in a May Twitter thread. Then last week, after returning from a holiday in Italy, she posted an Instagram photo of herself lying on a couch and wrote about how she’s now feeling. “Cancel club is a fascinating thing and I have learned a whollllle lot," Teigen wrote to her 35 million followers. “Only a few understand it and it’s impossible to know till you’re in it. And it’s hard to talk about it in that sense because obviously you sound whiney when you’ve clearly done something wrong.” She added: “I miss you guys … I’m just … tired of being sick with myself all day.”

Like many celebrities, Teigen’s life as documented on Instagram (she has stopped posting on Twitter) largely looks fabulous: glamour shots from fancy holidays; expensive outfits; videos of her beautiful family. That’s the nature of Instagram, and surely we all know by now that money and fame don’t insulate you from mental health issues or feeling publicly shamed. But her experience shows how ruinous social media can be for mental health, and the addictive nature of the dopamine hit delivered by likes and retweets.

The Teigen saga isn’t just a case study in how destructive (and downright nasty) social media can be. It also reflects a backlash against celebrity culture brought about by the pandemic. It wasn’t just bullying that brought Teigen down, it was that what once appeared aspirational is now enraging. Earlier this year, per esempio, she tweeted a story about accidentally ordering a $13,000 bottle of wine at a restaurant. Class warfare ensued. Which is understandable considering the current economic environment: un recent study, per esempio, states that minimum-wage workers on a 40-hour week can’t afford to rent a one-bedroom home in 93% of US counties, let alone accidentally order bottles of expensive wine.

Teigen should certainly be held accountable for her past behaviour. But let’s not confuse anger with accountability. Turning Teigen into a punchbag online achieves nothing. After all, if you could change the world by yelling at people on social media, the world would be a very different place indeed.

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