I love Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop media franchise-festival-website-train wreck-tent revival-circus because it’s so bad, so transparent, so cynical, so marketed to the sad and the gullible, that it’s good. It fails so spectacularly that it inadvertently succeeds at being something else: not just more disingenuous commerce beneath a layer of new age double-talk, but, like Gwyneth herself, a new mutant reality, a fun house mirror that you can step into, like any magic mirror, and find yourself in some alternate world.
Whenever I witness something from Goop, I think, “Oprah did this” in the sense that Oprah’s marketing simultaneously harnessed the libidos of multiple generations of frustrated women across economic and ethnic boundaries in a way hitherto unrivaled by Madison Avenue. Oprah was up in everybody’s grill. Her media empire embodied the Wachowskis’ matrix concept: persistent, ubiquitous, artificial, verisimilar, and controlling. For 25 years, the Oprah Winfrey Show (with its attendant book club, “favorite things” endorsements, travel events, health trends, mail-order spirituality, and assorted celebrity mea culpas) gave viewers a voice, essentially Oprah’s voice.
But, for all that, one got the impression that she at least meant well. Beneath the innumerable folds of consumerism and coercive string-pulling, Oprah maintained a pearl of optimism about human beings. Much of her show focused on ways to realize oneself, actualize one’s unique gifts, and live a better life—not such a bad thing given the dry rot at the heart of American culture. The weight of that simple optimism seemed to counterbalance all the product placement.
Daytime talk show tabloidia could accept Oprah as a messiah figure perhaps because she came bearing free cars, spa trips, and the occasional house. Someone would walk on stage with a check the size of a Volvo and hand it to a weeping audience member. Confetti would fall from the ceiling. And everyone would bellow in orgasmic wonder.
But nobody wants to find their spiritual apotheosis in Gwyneth.