On Monday, the Daily Beast published an interview with Courtney Stodden, the reality television star who was a tabloid mainstay after marrying 51-year-old Doug Hutchison at the age of 16. Despite the fact that Hutchison, an acting coach who also appeared in The Green Mile, was undoubtedly the creep in the relationship, Stodden faced intense backlash, scrutiny, and harassment from the likes of Anderson Cooper, Joy Behar and Chrissy Teigen. According to Stodden, Teigen “wouldn’t just publicly tweet about wanting me to take ‘a dirt nap’ but would privately DM me and tell me to kill myself.” Publicly, Teigen tweeted things like, “my Friday fantasy. you. dirt nap. mmmmmm baby.” and “go. to sleep. forever.”
On Saturday’s episode of ICYMI, Slate’s new podcast about internet culture, co-hosts Rachelle Hampton and Madison Malone Kircher revisit Teigen’s past Twitter behavior and the many controversies that she’s largely managed to come away from unscathed, raising questions about the very nature of internet celebrity and who gets to attain it.
Kircher: To start, I need everybody to go back in time with me to 2011. Courtney Stodden—who was 16 years old at the time and a pretty average teenager-slash-YouTuber—made headlines because they got married as a teen to Doug Hutchison who is a 50-year-old acting coach, probably best known for his role as the creepy, awful prison guard in The Green Mile.
Stodden, who has since come out as nonbinary, told ABC that they met Doug Hutchison online and that they were able to get married because Courtney’s mother knew about the whole thing.
Hampton: Because the internet is just a great and wonderful and supportive place, people immediately were like: “What the fuck is wrong with this man? This wedding should immediately be dissolved.” No, that’s not what happened! They immediately made Courtney Stodden a target for bullying and slut-shaming and scrutiny from your average American gossip rag readers. And also incredibly famous American gossip rag readers, including none other than one Anderson Cooper who, on his CNN segment “RidicuList,” took minutes, hours out of his day, not to lambaste Doug Hutchison for being a fucking creep, but to make fun of Courtney Stodden who, again, was 16 at the time.*
Kircher: It’s so gross. Also it wasn’t just Anderson Cooper. That’s the most horrifying thing, right? This was just the way people talked about Courtney Stodden’s relationship in 2011.
Hampton: Among this group of people who were harassing a literal child for being abused and groomed was Chrissy Teigen, who sent so many terrible tweets to Courtney and allegedly also DM’d them. But the tweets that are public include things like, “My Friday fantasy, you dirt nap, baby.” Or “Go to sleep forever.” Or “What drug makes you do that with your mouth? Asking for a friend who really wants to know how to look like an idiot. Thanks.”
Kircher: These tweets have since been deleted, but it’s not hard to find screenshots of them online, and they’re awful. Teigen in the 2011 era was just becoming the megafamous model-slash-mogul-slash-momfluencer-mompreneur. … There’s a lot of slashes. This was all just beginning. She had been Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Rookie of the Year in 2010, she had briefly been one of the case-holding models on Deal or No Deal. She got married to John Legend in 2013. All this is to say that she hadn’t quite become this megafamous Twitter person yet, but this was certainly someone who was less infamous and more famous than Courtney Stodden.
Hampton: A hundred percent. And again, a full-grown adult.
Kircher: Teigen now, of course, is a Twitter power player.
Hampton: As Teigen’s star continues to rise, she seems to learn literally nothing in terms of how to interact with people on the internet, specifically and perhaps most worryingly, children. She came after not only Courtney Stodden, but Quvenzhané Wallis who played Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild and also Annie in the Annie remake. In 2013, Quvenzhané, who was then 9 years old, spent so much time that year getting people to properly pronounce her name. That was apparently just too much for Chrissy to handle because during the Oscar’s red carpet, Chrissy tweets, “Is it okay to call a small child cocky?” Before then, adding, “I am forced to like Quvenzhané Wallis because she’s a child, right? Okay, fine.”
Kircher: I feel like anytime Chrissy Teigen tweets anything, if you go to her mentions, you’ll find people being like, “This you?”—with screenshots of the sorts of tweets we’re talking about.
The thing about Chrissy Teigen is she has been embroiled in some Internet experiences where she was genuinely a target. In 2018, Chrissy Teigen and John Legend and their daughter were some of the earliest victims online of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Chrissy Teigen posted a picture of her daughter dressed in a hot-dog costume and there was a pizza emoji involved. That somehow became this tinfoil hat, follow the white rabbit, definitive proof that Chrissy Teigen was implicated in some completely fictitious—let’s be very clear—child sex abuse ring. Very normal stuff.
Kircher: As she’s being attacked more and more by these alt-right, right-wing, whatever you want to call them, unsurprisingly, guess who appears tweeting about Chrissy Teigen?
Hampton: Oh, I can only hazard a guess that it is none other than our former tweeter in chief?
Kircher: Donald J. Trump. That is true. In 2019, he referred to Chrissy Teigen as, John Legend’s “filthy mouth wife.”
Hampton: That is the thing: Chrissy Teigen has been the target of so many people that objectively are terrible.
Kircher: This of course, only worked in Chrissy Teigen’s favor because she—Rachelle, clench your jaw and brace your shoulders—she clapped back. She tweeted, “lol what a pussy ass bitch tagged everyone but me, an honor, Mr. President.”
Hampton: It’s a great tweet. I’m not gonna lie. This is the thing: Chrissy Teigen becomes this symbol for the resistance and this all becomes kind of part of her general brand.
Kircher: In March of this year, Chrissy Teigen announces out of the blue that she’s leaving Twitter for good. She has had enough, saying, “For two years, I’ve taken so many small, two follower count punches that at this point I am honestly deeply bruised.” She says that she’s made mistakes in front of hundreds of thousands of people and has been held accountable for them, but she hasn’t been able to block out the negativity and that she is leaving Twitter.
You can hold it in both hands, right? In one hand, I am sure Chrissy Teigen has experienced violent graphic threats of all nature. On the other hand, the accountability she’s talking about are for things she said and meant and kept saying, but it doesn’t really seem like she’s truly been held accountable for those things, right?
Hampton: Yeah. There’s this kind of interesting turn that a lot of Teigen’s fans pull, where if you call Teigen out for the things that she’s done, there’s this bad faith argument that you’re aligning yourself with people like Candace Owens and QAnon bots.
Kircher: When she talks about accountability, accountability might’ve looked like celebrities and brands and networks choosing not to work with a woman who had publicly told a 16-year-old to take their own life or bullied a 9-year-old Black actress. Shocking no one, a few weeks later, Chrissy Teigen rejoins Twitter. She came back and said that “It turns out it feels terrible to silence yourself” and she’s going to take the good with the bad.
Hampton: Say you want to shitpost like the rest of us! That’s fine. But you are not brave for coming back to Twitter.
Kircher: I know it’s a cheap joke, but honestly that is the most “Stars—They’re Just Like Us!” moment I could describe. So why are we talking about Chrissy Teigen and Courtney Stodden again in the year 2021? This week in a Daily Beast interview, Stodden brought Teigen’s alleged bullying back into the news.
Hampton: Stodden in this Daily Beast piece says that in addition to the heinous public tweets that Teigen sent them, Teigen also sent direct messages saying things like, “I can’t wait for you to die.” I know we have said this at least seven times, Stodden was 16 years old, was being clearly groomed, and Stodden later talks about the fact that they were being mentally and emotionally abused.
Kircher: These alleged DM’s that Stodden received really have weighed heavy, understandably, on them for years now, for the better part of a decade.
Hampton: At the same time that they are being manipulated, they are also receiving death threats from people like Teigen, who, finally, 10 years later, decides to apologize on Twitter . Teigen says that she’s tried unsuccessfully to reach out to Stodden personally and wants to put an apology out in public since the comments that she made were public. Teigen writes: “I am ashamed and completely embarrassed at my behavior, but that is nothing compared to how I made Courtney feel. I’ve worked so hard to give you guys joy and be beloved, and the feeling of letting you down is nearly unbearable. Truly, not my only mistakes and surely won’t be my last as hard as I try, but God, I will try.” It’s not about letting her fans down. It’s about the fact that you harassed and attacked a 16-year-old.
What makes it such a bad apology is that it’s barely even to Courtney themself. It’s barely about Courtney because if it was about Courtney, Chrissy would have apologized a long fucking time ago. Teigen still has Courtney blocked on Twitter, and Stodden says that Teigen has not made any attempts to reach out personally. And despite that, Stodden writes this really graceful acceptance of Teigen’s apologies and says: “I accept her apology and forgive her, but the truth remains the same. I have never heard from her or her camp in private. In fact, she blocked me on Twitter. All of me wants to believe this is a sincere apology, but it feels like a public attempt to save her partnerships with Target and other brands who are realizing her ‘wokeness’ is a broken record.”
Kircher: Now that’s a statement.
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Correction, May 17, 2021: This post originally misspelled RidicuList.