The Great Gwyneth Paltrow Debate

by Liz Colville

Did you used to like Gwyneth Paltrow, like back when she won an Oscar for Shakespeare In Love, and now, with the child named after the fruit and Chris Martin and GOOP and the CMAs and Glee, you hate her? Or perhaps you hated her post-Martin and GOOP but her CMA performance charmed you? And then her performance of Cee-Lo’s “F*** You” on Glee uncharmed you? The latter is certainly stirring the most debate of all the things she’s done lately because, besides the insane blinking at the CMAs, it’s hard to find serious fault with her Country Strong line of work, barring the actual film, which isn’t out yet. But “F*** You,” well, it was great, it was OK, it was the worst thing ever. Maybe we just wish she would go back to making films — good films, if possible.

In Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams wonders why everyone is so determined to hate Paltrow. She surmises that GOOP, the weeklyish e-mail newsletter and website in which Paltrow does her best Oprah/Martha impression, advising people on food, travel, stuff, exercise, and other Best Life-y topics, is what started the hate wildfire. But Williams’ opinion is that the star’s unabashed “I M Who I M” mentality somehow negates whatever annoying work she’s doing. “I can’t pretend to be somebody who makes $25,000 a year,” Paltrow told Elle last year, and Williams’ response to this is, “She’s right.”

Wrong! The problem with Paltrow is that she would even feel the need to say the above. But she’s very fond of talking about what she has and what she does with what she has, as Williams points out. The thing is, there are so many millionaire actresses out there, Oscar-winning and not, who have children and nice houses and love to cook and exercise and travel, who don’t feel the need to present it to us in an apple-shaped Le Creuset baking dish that we can’t afford. Most of these actresses just leave us well alone until a few weeks before their movie comes out, in the hopes that we’ll do the same for them. They have causes, sure, and endorsements and press appointments to stick to. But they don’t presume to think that their fans need their advice on how to live better. Because what particularly standout authority does an unabashedly rich actress have to do so? Paltrow didn’t make her millions helping other people better their lives (Oprah, Martha); she made her millions entertaining us (a kind of betterment, not to be dismissed). The moment Joseph Fiennes locks lips with her mustachioed character in Shakespeare In Love is a great one. More of those, please.

Clearly, there is an untold number of genuine (as opposed to ironic) subscribers to GOOP — she seems to want to keep the number private — and if Paltrow followed along in Oprah and Martha’s footsteps, as she has said she wants to do, there’s no doubt people would buy her line of Target china and napkin holders or whatever. But why this desire to create a lifestyle empire, and what’s the angle, besides, “I’m rich and I’m beautiful and I’m not sorry for it. I’m also a talented actress but whatever with that”? Over the years, the fashion world has repeatedly sold Paltrow to us through multiple magazine cover stories and beauty product- and yoga-touting blurbs — and not just sold, fallen all over themselves praising and admiring. This part is not exactly Paltrow’s fault, but it undoubtedly caused her to think, “I must be a lifestyle icon if all these important tastemakers love me.” But the fashion world can only nominate; the public does the electing. And with Paltrow, it so often feels like she elected herself.