Mob rules

Very recently there was controversy when the NYT’s Alison Roman – an eminent cooking journalist – in an interview decried the efforts of Chrissy Teigen in the same area, and accused Marie Kondo of hypocrisy for selling products while espousing minimalism. They were cack-handed and graceless comments. They were particularly unfair on Teigen, because they were unreasonable, and because Teigen – an open and generous soul – had been supportive of her.

It’s the nature of things that this very quickly became an online spat. Teigen expressed disappointment and surprise but was forgiving. I don’t know of any response from Kondo. Of course, there was no shortage of people outraged on behalf of others and willing to take up verbal arms in defence – and offence – of others. Very quickly it became a one-sided pile-on, again, very typical of the online world today.

I read from afar, mildly curious and generally sympathetic to the offended parties, Teigen and Kondo. Roman’s comments were harsh and unfair. But then I felt a twinge of pity for Roman as the collective moral outrage of Twitter descended upon her. That was that, one of those controversies that pass until the next scandal happens along. But then, today, I read that the NYT had given Roman a leave of absence from her weekly columns.

The general consensus was that she had been basically sacked because of her outspoken comments. From reading the NYT’s comments on this, I might easily understand it as them giving her a break. But, anyway.

This is a very typical confrontation between free speech on the one hand and woke politics on the other. I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, that so many supported this ‘sacking’. Some were claiming that Roman was guilty of racism and had to go.

I’m firmly on the side of Teigen and Kondo here, but at the same time, I’d be horrified to think that Roman might have lost her job over some silly comments. I’m strong on the free speech side of this equation, because, you know, democracy, and I think it’s very a dangerous path we take when we seek to hush the voices we disagree with. And it’s bloody unfair when organisations are bullied into complying with public opinion.

Had Roman vilified either Kondo or Teigen on racial grounds, or abused them outrageously, then, of course, I think her employment would be at risk, much as mine would be if I did the same. Like it or not, we represent who we work for, and bigotry of any form is not to be condoned.

I don’t think that’s the case here. Seems to me Roman was disparaging Teigen much as a professional might an amateur. A little bitter and unseemly, but human. As for Kondo, I read that as a throwaway comment, probably hinting that she was looking to commercialise on a philosophy in contradiction to its principles.

It’s worth noting that Teigen has come out and expressed her dismay at Roman losing her job – and that Roman had made an apology of sorts earlier.

I get a sick feeling sometimes witnessing the pile-on that occurs online. I agree with the sentiment sometimes, but the outrage is disproportionate and the demands extreme. I like to think I’m a reasonable guy. I’m liberal by nature. I’m forgiving too, knowing that every one of us has flaws and all of us deserve a chance to make things right.

It seems to me that many crave the opportunity to criticise and abuse (which is often ironic). There’s a self-righteous purity that verges on certainty. It’s a sign of the times when society is effectively polarised and the extremes subject to rage and the unreason of the mob.

 

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