Huge excitement in TV’s burgeoning disinfomercial genre, as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Netflix show prepares to make landfall next week. Based on her lifestyle portal, currently valued at $250m, The Goop Lab will see the turbocapitalist fanny-egg entrepreneur take us to new frontiers in the wellness universe.
Incidentally, I just want to say right off the bat that I still have no idea what “wellness” even means, but I make sure to always use it with an appearance of knowingness, like I do with “neoliberalism” or “cervix”. In fact, I am beginning to think there may be some semantic overlap between all three of the aforementioned concepts. And once I’ve read all the books in the world about all the other subjects, I guess I’ll force myself to get around to finding out.
For now, let’s just let the show’s arrival cascade over us like the outdoor shower in a $1,700-a-night East African luxury eco-lodge (the massage cabanas are amazing, but the town does get dangerous after nightfall). And so to a breakdown of what we know.
Of course, Gwyneth & Co have gone with The Goop Lab, suggestive as it is of a highly scientific facility, and definitely not one of those Potemkin labs the Russians use during the Olympics, where it’s basically just a lab-effect stage set built around a hole in the wall through which they pass the clean piss.
It seems pretty clear the only thing you do with clean piss here is drink it. The Goop Lab is one of those labs with pink sofas and bunches of cultivated wildflowers, where people can pipette phrases such as “wearable stickers that rebalance the energy frequency in our bodies” and “surprisingly affordable yacht rental” into your consciousness. Everything that happens in the trailer [cf The Trailer] feels as if the camera has been switched on two seconds after Gwynnie has announced: “You can say anything within these walls and there will be no judgment.” If these words have in fact been said, they should absolutely not be taken as a challenge. You simply couldn’t call any of this stuff transparent and exploitative rubbish in The Goop Lab, which you should assume ranks somewhere between Iran and Somalia on the blasphemy laws front. Consider the moment in the trailer, where the words “psychic mediums” are flashed on the screen, and we cut to Gwyneth telling four people who contractually can’t call her a silly cow: “She knew something that my husband didn’t even know.” Course she did.
Meanwhile, as you would expect of a firm that has previously reached settlements with the California Food, Drug, and Medical Device Task Force, the show’s mere existence has met with exasperation from some of the doctors and scientists who have criticised its output in the past. “I’m frustrated that Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop and their pseudoscientific empire is being given a platform,” Timothy Caulfield, a professor of health law and science policy at the University of Alberta, stated this week.
The ad campaign
Given that Goop has previously pushed $956 loo roll, Gwyneth has always banked on extremely strong troll energy. Of the various scientific firestorms the site has ignited, she simply observed last year: “I can monetise those eyeballs.” You may be already aware of a recent sellout Goop product, a £58 scented candle branded with the line “THIS CANDLE SMELLS LIKE MY VAGINA”. If so, it will feel inevitable that Netflix’s promotional picture for The Goop Lab deliberately places a smiling Gwyneth in a sort of endlessly receding pink tunnel. As the poster’s designer, a Reagan Marshall, has since clarified: “I was trying to think of subtle ways to nod to female genitalia.” Mmmm. Presumably he couldn’t, because he’s gone with this. “We tried everything from incredibly graphic – what you would see in a physiology book – to a parting of curtains,” Reagan continues. “The funniest thing is, they couldn’t have picked someone more unfamiliar with all of it. The last time I saw a vagina was when I was coming out of one – with my eyes closed.”
A flashily cut affair, this makes much of experiences “out in the field”, which seems to be Goop for “in the astral treatment suites of complete charlatans”. It also means that Paltrow requires an army of guinea pigs – Gwynnie-pigs, if you will – to submit to the various “therapies” they’ll be showcasing. So we get shots of various dedicated footsoldiers in tears, telling the camera stuff like: “I went through about five years of therapy in five hours,” and “I started to feel, like, a panic attack coming on.” To Netflix’s huge discredit, the teaser leans right in to Goop’s reputation for fringe lunacy, with clips of people excitedly saying things such as: “This is dangerous” and “It’s unregulated” and “Should I be scared?” Well done, everyone.
The dramatis personae
Star of the show is obviously Gwyneth, who is seen explaining her establishment of Goop as a “calling”. As far as the chain of command goes, Gwyneth is almost permanently flanked in this trailer by someone who seems to be a slightly hatchet-faced wellness consigliere, but is apparently Goop’s chief content officer. I am not sure how old this Elise Loehnen is, but she still speaks with the daffy questioning inflection of a teenager, informing her boss: “I … had an exorcism?” Instead of saying, “Well, did you or didn’t you?” Gwyneth simply replies: “Wow.” Which is a neat summary of the site’s entire investigative philosophy.
After all, this is an enterprise forever seeking to get to the bottom of matters that have already been got to the bottom of, by the discovery of things such as penicillin and so on. These discoveries were made by rather greater individuals than anyone who works for Gwyneth, and are arguably not going to be augmented by any properties contained in a $90 lip balm. Indeed, instead of standing on the shoulders of giants, the Goop gals are defecating on them. Or as Loehnen put it recently: “Gwyneth has played this role her entire life, in the sense that she’s gone first and been mocked, but then people realise you’re kind of on to something, there’s a pattern recognition. She’s not necessarily discovering new things but she’s bringing ancient things into the mainstream.” And it’s a huge yes from me to the medicine of ancient times, when it was mainstream to have a life expectancy of 30.
If I had to boil the Goop ethos down, I’d go with: “Invention is better than cure.” Although I accept that they would probably have other ideas.
But outside of the really shitty stuff relating to genuine illness – on the site, “whole-body vibration” is cheerily recommended as a treatment for multiple sclerosis – so much of what Goop does is a sort of retail Munchausen by proxy. As you know, this is the syndrome where people are made to think they have imaginary ailments by a supposed caregiver. In the clinical form of Munchausen by proxy, there is no obvious benefit to the caregiver figure. But in this much better monetised retail version, the “sufferer” can be cured by products that retail on Gwyneth’s website. In fact, given the number of products Goop has pushed that have been specifically criticised by medical professionals for actually causing real ailments, it can be argued that the model has been brilliantly developed to sell you something that can cause you a problem, which can then itself be fixed by some other piece of wacko shit you have to buy. Which will, guess what, bring problems of its own, that require another product, and so on and so on. As mentioned here before, Gwyneth fits into a category my husband describes as “hippies who are actually Tories” – a category I am increasingly wary of deploying in relation to Goop, just because it seems so unfair to so many supporters of the Conservative party.
Still, let’s play out with Gwyneth’s “We’re here one time, one life. How can we really milk the shit out of this?” If the answer is by milking the shit out of her customers, then madam certainly has the secret of life cracked.