Influencer culture should be burnt to the ground
When you have a platform, it comes with social responsibility.
Diabolical madness was also the case this week when New Zealand reality TV darlings Art and Matilda Green decided to let a COVID-19 denier on their wellness podcast.
To rewind for a moment: Art and Matilda were on the first ever season of The Bachelor in New Zealand, back in 2015.
Traditionally we are not good at reality TV here in New Zealand because we’re shy, awkward, nervous wrecks. We are not built for the camera. We don’t know what to do with them.
Somehow, though, Art and Matilda not only found each other on The Bachelor, they also found a way to be likeable and compelling on screen, and an audience who fucking loved them. They emerged as attractive heroes, and these days have books, food and podcasts that do very well.
And of course when you’re a reality star, you get other reality stars to appear on your projects.
This is how celebrity chef Pete Evans took part in Art an Matilda’s wellness podcast, Well and Good.
It was not well, and it was not good.
It was, in fact, bad.
As journalist Monika Barton pointed out, chef Evans shared infinite wisdom on COVID-19 including “I think it’s a hoax. I think this whole f**king thing is a hoax” and “Do you want your kids to go to school wearing a fucking mask? It’s ridiculous.”
It’s the same thinking & the same logic we’ve seen breaking out in American shopping aisles over the last few months.
And the thing is, Evans was left to rant, unchallenged. Matilda countered with comments like, “Nothing you've posted has been crazy or unhinged. It's all taken out of context and it's all sensationalised.”
For some context, this is a typical Instagram post by celebrity chef Pete Evans:
Oh fuck, so it turns out Evans has blocked me — I imagine because I always post “bullshit” under his posts.
Fortunately, you can Google him and find a hundred articles about the truly unhinged stuff he’s posted:
From there, he’s become increasingly unhinged, posting every conspiracy meme under the sun. His instagram stories are a very particular kind of trash fire:
And this week, he ended up on New Zealand turf, on Art and Matilda’s podcast.
I was shook. I was annoyed. I was dumbfounded.
I like Art and Matilda. They seem cool. They’re in love. They’ve already bred, creating more of themselves.
And yet here they are, giving oxygen to someone who wants us to think Bill Gates is the head of a global cabal, and COVID-19 is a hoax orchestrated to control the population.
I reached out to Art over social media (my exact message was “No no no no no Jesus”, to which he responded “Haha woah! What are your views/thoughts man?”
And so I sort of just gave him my thoughts, which I’ve copied and pasted below:
He’s the pits! A maniac! It’s bad unhinged dangerous stuff! Very problematic in this world of anti-science.
See there’s polarising, and then there’s spreading really dangerous health misinformation.
It’s a rabbit hole into Bill Gates, 5G and QAnon madness — and the “not wearing a face mask” thing is a giveaway. People are dying from a global pandemic — and widening out the debate into pseudoscience is really alarming
You’re smart and healthy and a lot of people look up to you and this is a really bad slope to go down.
I write a lot about conspiracy thinking and this is one that may outline some of the danger and where it comes from. The Bill Gates thing is something pedalled by QAnon - their new ‘big bad’ after their deeply anti-Semitic hatred towards George Soros.
Thing is - you have a platform and you can’t just put out mania and say you’re just being a free thinker. You’re better than that. I’ve skimmed and listened to excerpts of your podcast — including suspicion around Gates, anger at masks, and the idea it’s all fake. It’s super alarming — and maybe out of context of where he’s getting this info, it’s less alarming to you — but it’s so, so dangerous.
I get wound up about this being peddled by Americans, so just get very anxious when it’s in New Zealand with role models. Once you go down that “just asking questions” hole it ends in a very bad place.
Which is why I voiced my instant surprise you engaged with him in any way whatsoever. There’s a big jump between discussing effects of sugar on the body, vs “is Bill Gates the Antichrist, and COVID-19 is made up.”
Which is the world this guy lives in. I’ve spent a lot of time in this space and just want to voice alarm.
And the thing is, I think Art kinda listened.
We talked. There was text, and there were voice memos. I haven’t asked permission to repost them in time for this newsletter, so I won’t.
But my take is this:
I don’t think they had a celebrity chef on the show for the purpose of talking about this batshit stuff — and they didn’t quite know how to handle it when Evans went there.
That doesn’t excuse him and Matilda basically agreeing and nodding and going “Oh interesting!” at everything he said, but I think I understand why. Art and Matilda are not journalists. They are not scientists. And their role is to entertain, not educate.
On their podcast they want to be friendly and accessible. It’s not in their nature to turn on their guests and shout them down. It’s awkward! I hate doing it myself in interview situations! I dreaded asking Pablo Escobar’s hitman Popeye about the time he shot and killed his pregnant girlfriend — it was so fucking awkward — but that was my job!
And with that in mind — influencers need to understand that having an audience means they also have a kind of social responsibility. And that means giving context.
Their entire job definition is to influence their large, willing audience. And what they say, people will believe. And when they’re spreading health misinformation, that is dangerous shit.
The next day, Art and Matilda took down the podcast and posted a statement on their social media channels:
Art has 107,000 followers in Instagram. Matilda has 171,000.
And by the looks of the replies on their apology post, plenty of their followers think it was a bad move to “silence” the celebrity chef.
As always, people who’ve never worried about “free speech” or “censorship” in their entire life suddenly find them the most important concepts on earth.
Much more important than, say, fucking dangerous health misinformation.
“Matilda & Art - don’t be afraid to reverse this decision - be BRAVE.”
“Guttered you have deleted it, I know of many who really supported it and hugely support Pete Evans. Such a shame once again to see censorship demanded by those who strongly disagree with peoples opinions censoring freedom of speech.”
“That’s disappointing! The need to censor unpopular opinions is shameful. Agree or not, and controversial or not healthy discussion and debates are valuable and important.”
These are all New Zealanders. Bog standard kiwis. And I realised the damage had already been done.
Celebrity chef Pete had his opportunity to spout more bullshit, and the removal of his bullshit just fed into his narrative: that the global leftist liberal elite are out to shut down discussion, and the truth. As are dirty journalists!
There’s no way to win.
It’s how QAnon survives: the very nature of that all-encompassing conspiracy theory means any denial or arguing against it with facts is just further proof Q is real.
It also made me remember how basic people are.
I’m not being insulting here — I just mean that most of the general population is unaware of the origins of this stuff. Their understanding is basic. So they don’t know how to parse the little packets of information they hear being discussed.
They don’t know the anti-Semitic roots of the hatred towards George Soros (and how that’s temporarily jumped to Bill Gates) and they certainly don’t know about the origins of QAnon.
They are people just puzzled at a very confusing world.
And so when a celebrity chef comes along and mentions how we should just be asking questions about Bill Gates’ role in all this — they don’t understand that’s a loaded statement.
And when a celebrity chef goes “Do we really need to wear masks” they don’t know that’s just the start of a rabbit hole that ends with talk of a controlling global elite… that President Trump will one day reveal and annihilate.
But the thing is — all those little statements (that seem innocent on their own) feed into this giant narrative that is total and complete trash. Boring, dumb, stupid trash.
It’s taking the narrative we see in so many great texts - from God vs Satan to Frodo vs Sauron — and repurposing it as Global Cabal of Elites vs Humanity.
And in these confusing times, people appear to be lapping it up.
Which sucks, because the science and the facts and the nuance gets pushed to the side, and someone decides not to wear a mask in Florida, and then a bunch of new people get COVID-19 and die.
Influencers need to tread carefully if they’re going to weigh into this stuff — because they’re not just pushing a product or a brand or posting a sexy photo of some abdominal muscles — they’re influencing people’s ideas.
And they need to take that seriously.
As I said in a tweet about all this:
I really believe that.
PS: Just wanted to say a giant thanks to those of you who’ve chosen to contribute to Webworm by becoming early paid subscribers ahead of the July 15 paid launch. It means a lot that you enjoy what I write, and also believe in what I’m doing here.
If you ever come into financial hardship, no hard feelings if you opt out down the line.
But it really does help me do what I do, and I appreciate the direct line between me and you. Not “me-and-some-other-publisher-and-then-you”, but a direct line.
I’ll keep the early opt in of $5 USD per month until July 15th - which you can take up here if you haven’t already (from the 15th it’ll be $6.99):
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PPS: Have a doggo!