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Meredith Blake

Meredith Blake

Posted: February 2, 2009 11:55 AM

The Real Problem with Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop

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Gwyneth Paltrow has always been high on any list of celebrities people love to hate, but since launching the unfortunately-named lifestyle website "Goop" a few months back, she has been subjected to heightened levels of internet derision. Paltrow dismisses the backlash, claiming that "people get a hit of energy when they are negative and it is very detrimental for them."

I'd say she's got it half right.

I do get a hit of energy every Thursday after my Goop newsletter arrives. I usually squeal with glee, immediately open the email, then my office mate and I spend the next 15 minutes reading aloud the most painfully Paltrow-esque lines. (Example: "I cringe when I add cupfuls of sugar to sweeten things, so instead I add agave syrup to this lovely spiced drink and it works beautifully.")

But while Gwyneth sees this as an unhealthy obsession for me (which may be true) I'd say it's probably a good thing for her. Here is why: I am willing to bet that 95% of the people who signed up for Goop did so for precisely the same reason I did: to have something to make fun of every week. Because if you're not reading it for laughs, there's not really a point.

Paltrow claims the charitable impetus behind Goop is to share the vast cache of knowledge she has acquired as a result of being beautiful, wealthy and famous. "I have this incredible, lucky, unique life where I've gotten to travel all over the place and so I started to acquire all of this information. I thought this would be a fun, creative way to share it," she says. Now, that sounds nice enough, but if only it were true. Goop's greatest shortcoming is not its vaguely scatological name, or even Paltrow's smug tone. It's actually that most of its tips are painfully, ridiculously obvious--even if you're not Steven Spielberg's niece. It's unclear to me who Goop's readers are supposed to be, if not snarky jerks like me.

Take last week's issue, wherein Paltrow queries her mostly famous besties about their favorite books. Their picks include such criminally overlooked novels as Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina and Jane Eyre. Sadly, her list does not include a single idiosyncratic, offbeat or hard-to-find title; in fact, it bears a striking resemblance to my high school reading list. Of course, there is nothing wrong with having predictably highbrow taste in books, but the idea that she is somehow unlocking privileged information is laughable--and more than a little condescending. Add to that Paltrow's solipsistic analysis of the books (Example: "I was doing a film with Ethan Hawke in 1995 and feeling a bit in shock about what was happening with my life. I hadn't found grace yet with the big changes that were afoot. Ethan correctly intuited that I need some perspective, some grounding, some literary bringing down to size") and there really isn't much in the way of inner-aspect-nourishing to be had.

While Paltrow's literary picks aren't exactly earth-shattering, her "no-duh" picks for restaurants and hotels are even worse. Take her recent newsletter about New York. She claims that "I did most of my growing up in this glorious city and it is a part of who I am. I was an uptown kid and a downtown grownup and this duality helps define me." Paltrow implies that having lived both above and below 14th Street makes her as complex as, say, the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, but this seems unlikely. Nevertheless, you'd think someone who claims to appreciate the diversity of New York could recommend a single restaurant outside of Manhattan, but she doesn't. And her top picks--Babbo, Gramercy Tavern, Balthazar, Momofoku--are not exactly undiscovered gems, to put it mildly.

Worst of all, Paltrow provides few tips that are, shall we say, recession-friendly. Her recent fashion tips for new moms include a cashmere trench coat from Tods and black riding boots from Bottega Veneta. Most egregiously, in a newsletter dedicated to her favorite London spots, Paltrow writes, "the hotels are on the pricey side, by my Goop girls are doing some research into more affordable places." No word yet on who these Goop girls are, or why Paltrow can't be bothered to google "inexpensive hotels London" herself, but you get the idea. While even Vogue is bending over backwards these days to throw in some H&M alongside the Balenciaga, Paltrow isn't too interested in slumming it. She will, however, tell you in detail about all the swank hotels she stayed in while her house was remodeled.

If Paltrow really wanted to generate a devoted readership, she'd really share the rarefied knowledge that comes from being a celebrity with access to the best stylists, trainers, make-up artists and spiritual gurus money can buy. Call me superficial, but I'll take her workout tips, and I'll even tolerate her complaining about her saddlebags. Even Paltrow's diet tips, while a tad on extreme side ("drink pea and avocado soup for two weeks!"), might be useful even if I am not preparing for a role in a big-budget comic book adaptation. The point being, Goop is most bearable when Paltrow shares information that is both privileged but applicable or at least diverting to the life of a woman with less than several million dollars in the bank. To that end, she can make me a bona fide fan if she does any of the following: shares recipes for macrobiotic meals made from food available at a 24 hour bodega for under $10; organizes an online raffle for all her gently worn designer clothing; finally tells us what really happened between her and Brad.

Of course, Paltrow can and should do whatever she wants, critics be damned. If she thinks she is changing women's lives by telling us that the Beverly Hills Hotel is a great place to stay when in LA, then who am I to disabuse her of that notion? The fact is, she may be onto something-- I can't wait for Goop to arrive every week, even if it's for all the wrong reasons.