The end of celebrity

From “The World Needs More Gwyneth Paltrow

by Jonathan Naymark,, May 3, 2013


The past few weeks have been busy for America’s most contentious celebrity: Gwyneth Paltrow. PEOPLE Magazine named her the world’s most beautiful woman, while readers of Star Magazine voted her as its most hated. Certainly the two aren’t mutually exclusive but they do speak to Paltrow’s divisiveness as a public figure. If anything, it seems sad that IN TOUCH readers decided that Paltrow was more reprehensible than Chris Brown, a man who violently beat the sh-t out of girlfriend Rihanna, as well as Jesse James, the jerk who cheated on America’s sweetheart, Sandra Bullock. Unlike either of these two misogynistic assholes, what has Gwyneth Paltrow done to any of us except wear a hideously coloured Pepto-Bismol pink dress to the Oscars? I ask you, who amongst men has never once been led astray by a personal relationship with Ralph Lauren?

But still, Gwyneth Paltrow gets a real bad rap – ironic, because Gwyneth Paltrow can actually rap. For proof of Paltrow’s linguistic talents – there’s a YouTube of her breaking into an impromptu, profanity laced version of the classic NWA song Straight Outta Compton. Not that it has helped her street cred – gossip columnist Ted Casablanca infamously nicknamed her Fishsticks Paltrow for being incredibly cold, much too thin and overly white-breaded.

I’ve never quite understood the exact reason why hating Gwyneth Paltrow and her lifestyle newsletter GOOP has become a veritable side industry for bloggers and the media at large.

At its core I suspect that most people hate Gwyneth because she continues to stay unapologetically unapproachable even as she attempts to sell herself as a lifestyle guru. Watching her easily maneuver from a conversation about NWA to conversant Spanish isn’t something that most aspire to – it just seems widely out of reach.

I do understand the confusion of her persona – on one hand Gwyneth self identifies as “just like us”, saying, “I’m just a normal mother with the same struggles as any other mother who’s trying to do everything at once and trying to be a wife and maintain a relationship”, and yet on the other hand, she knows that she truly isn’t a middle American suburbanite with a Target Red card: “I am who I am. I can’t pretend to be somebody who makes $25,000 a year.”
Gwyneth taketh, but Gwyneth also giveth.

While Hollywood often fetishizes the girl next door, Paltrow, Steven Speilberg’s god-child and the daughter of director Bruce Paltrow and actress Blythe Danner, is the girl next door only if you happen to have grown up in a seaside Santa Monica mansion. With her multilingual talents, backyard pizza oven and best-friendships with Beyonce and Jay-Z, it’s as difficult to like Paltrow as it was to like the really nice, popular, rich girl you went to high school with – the one who invited you to sushi lunch just so she could lecture you the difference between sushi grade tuna and how her father took her to Japan in grade five. And yet as much as that girl was insufferable, you desperately wanted her attention.

Therefore the common problem of hating Gwyneth Paltrow, GOOP, or her two cookbooks, all of which are filled with photos of her cherubic and cloyingly named children (Apple and Moses), is that such mockery misses the point.
First of all, Gwyneth is impervious to your criticism. As you sit and stew about how obnoxious she is, Paltrow is happily serving organic spelt pizza, made in the aforementioned backyard wood-fired oven, to Jamie Oliver on a random Tuesday night while sipping Chablis that her friend, a Spanish sommelier, picked out specifically for her.

Secondly if you’ve taken the time to add up how much her spring wardrobe essentials cost ($450,000 as eNews did), you are not, nor will you ever be in Gwyneth Paltrow’s league. When F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that, “[The rich] are very different than you and me,” his reference point was old monied elites who didn’t question why their shirts were always monogrammed.Being out of touch is Gwyneth’s resting position. She can’t help it – she was born that way.

As G herself said, upon the launch of GOOP: “I have this incredible, blessed, sometimes difficult, very lucky, very unique life, and I’ve gotten to travel all over the place and to work and live in different cities. … So I started accruing all of this information to share it.” If anything, Gwyneth, and her bible GOOP are really just modern day versions of Christian moral uplift, or the 21st century digital version of how upper class women viewed charity in the early 20th century. Moral uplift and charity were typically how the elites provided guidance to the unwashed mashes. Like the temperance movement and other progressive causes, taken up by wealthy, white women in the early years of the 20th century, which exported values masquerading as charity, GOOP is simply a similar form of charitable uplift. Just as Andrew Carnegie built libraries as a way of disseminating education, Paltrow is sending e-newsletters helping us nourish our inner aspect. While Upton Sinclair fought for proper meat packaging, Gwyneth is helping us pick out French skin-care solutions and spreading her “proper” values one shake of fleur de sel at a time.

Certainly, this may mean that Paltrow is annoying; however, hating Gwyneth Paltrow is risky business. In reality, such criticisms misunderstand the very fundamentals of celebrity culture. Before the era of reality TV stars, before Snooki and even before Jessica Alba started hocking natural diapers on the Internet, celebrities, by definition, were otherworldly in their existence. And while many may find her hard to handle, Gwyneth Paltrow is a celebrity in the truest sense of the word. In fact, Paltrow may be the last celebrity in an era which is actively redefining just what celebrity means.

The proliferation of magazines like US Weekly and websites like Perez Hilton have worked to bring celebrities “closer” to the public. Combined with the feeding frenzy of the paparazzo, celebrities can no longer control their brand image. The constant need for content to feed social media, bloggers and old school media alike has slowly encroached on the dividing wall that once existed between a celebrity and their audience. Whereas once celebrities lived on a hill perched high above their adoring fans, celebrities today have become “just like us”, spotted in tracksuits pumping gas.

This desire to know infinitely more about the private lives of celebrities, coupled with the media’s fulfillment of these needs, has broken the essential tenet of what a celebrity once was. By having to continuously expose their lives in order to feed the fan (and therefore continue their own manifestation of celebrity) we have broken the illusion of celebrity.

The rise, if not the creation of contemporary celebrity culture, has much to do with the history of Hollywood itself.  The original Hollywood studio system that rose to prominence in the 1920s and 1930s was the product of Jewish immigrants who were quick to become the business minds of early Hollywood. Of the 8 major studios, 6 were founded by Jewish immigrants from Germany and Eastern Europe. Their contribution to the Hollywood aesthete was driven by business sense, creating films that reflected American values, but also their desire to divorce themselves from their religious and cultural past. As contemporary North American society has secularized itself from its puritanical forbearers –filmmakers (with the exception of wack-jobs like John Travolta and Kurt Cameron) followed suit; replacing the emotional and spiritual mores of religion with celebrity culture.

In Hollywood the cult of celebrity replaced the yoke of religion.

The concept of celebrity isn’t entirely foreign to civil society.  Before mass media celebrities existed, religious figures or monarchy were themselves pseudo-celebrities. Ironically both maintained power and standing by connection to religiosity. The divine right of king sustained the monarchy, while priests were famous simply because of their connection to God. Throughout its history, fame has been seemingly predicated by the very fact that “celebrities” were almost otherworldly.

However, the last decade has not been kind to this definition of celebrity and fame. The loss of control of the studio system coupled with the demands of modern media has meant that the celebrity is under siege. The illusion of celebrities to appear perfect no longer exists.

It is this illusion that Gwyneth is peddling via GOOP. What incenses the general public about Gwyneth Paltrow is exactly the reason that she is a celebrity – your life is not her life. Your spring wardrobe will not cost what hers did. But, most importantly, nor should it. Modern celebrities, like kings and high priests before them, are (or were) celebrities because they are somewhat unachievable. If we continue to break this one true rule of celebrity, we risk the destruction of the very fundamentals of celebrity culture.

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