Wednesday 22 January 2020

Ciara O'Connor: 'Goop's strategy has always been to go beyond the furthest reaches of parody'


Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop has a new Netflix series
Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop has a new Netflix series
Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop has a new Netflix series
Greta Thunberg. Photo: Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

Ciara O'Connor

A pink and serene Gwyneth Paltrow smiles beatifically out of layers upon yonic layers of pink-stylised vulva, "reaching new depths" reads the text: this is not an LSD nightmare, this is the promotional material for Gwyneth's new Netflix series, The Goop Lab.


Gynaecologists across the world have practically begged Paltrow to stop plugging dangerous practises like 'vaginal steaming' (it's exactly what it sounds like) and popping a (porous) Jade Egg up there like "queens and concubines" who "used them to stay in shape for emperors". Goop settled a lawsuit for $145,000, and stopped claiming the eggs helped 'balance hormones' - but Gwyneth was never repentant. Now, in the Netflix poster, she has become the maligned jade egg, resplendent in a vagina, and still not sorry.

The advert begins, and Paltrow asks the question that we have been asking her for years: "What the f**k are you doing to people?" She's with a sex therapist millennials will recognise from edgy internet news outlets, who runs workshops for women to 'get off' - Gwyneth, whose website sells no fewer than seven different vibrators, is shocked.

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Interspersed with clips of women (it's always women) sobbing on yoga mats, "I went through years of therapy in about five hours", of women on a surgical table asking "should I be scared?" are phrases that flash up on the screen: 'energy healing', 'exorcisms', 'psychedelics', 'cold therapy', 'psychic mediums', 'orgasms'. As far as I can tell, only two of these things exist. The Goop Lab looks like one of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends, just without the critical faculties of Theroux. It's perfect.

"This is dangerous! It's unregulated," says a voice - baiting the numerous critics of unethical pseudoscience masquerading as wellness and health, removing the power of their words by saying them first.

Goop's strategy has always been to go beyond the furthest reaches of parody so that no one can ever make fun of them. Infuriatingly, the person who's funniest about Gwyneth Paltrow is Gwyneth Paltrow: "How can we really milk the s**t out of this?" she asks at the end. Quite.

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A study of Irish schoolchildren has revealed that fewer of them are drinking, smoking, having sex or taking drugs - and everyone over the age of 25 spent last week scratching their ancient, irrelevant little heads over it. The survey showed that while these behaviours - that teenagers have always been told will only end in tears - have dropped, there has also been a slight drop in life-satisfaction and happiness, especially among girls.

Any statistician will tell you: correlation is not causation. But I am not a statistician, and to me it seems clear that 15-year-old girls are happier when getting inexpertly groped by 15-year-boys in the bushes, surrounded by empty naggins and chip wrappers. Teenage drinking, smoking and shagging is one of the only shared life-experiences that millennials, Gen X and boomers are all willing to admit to, even to glorify. Having a boy's grubby hands under your clothes while trying not to choke on a cigarette made us who we are today.

Or, there's the other explanation: that these traditional, quaint, bad behaviours have simply been replaced with more insidious versions now that every teenager is online. There has been an increase in the proportion of children who have been bullied - from 25pc in 2014 to 30pc - presumably now that the perfect tool for facilitating it is in the pocket of every child.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the whole thing was Simon Harris's response; the Minister for Health said he was quite encouraged, though concerned by the number of teenagers trying vaping. "This will be addressed by measures I will introduce in 2020, including new legislation to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to children under the age of 18."

That's right, it seems children can legally buy vapes, probably at the behest of sober bullies. Hey, at least they're not snogging.

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Greta Thunberg asserted her continued relevance into this new decade with the first meme of the year: Sharon. When a panicked quiz contestant drew a blank on the name of "a Swedish climate change activist" and took a punt on 'Sharon', the mirthful viral internet lost its reason: the tone was set for 2020.

And Sharon Thunberg was exactly what the beleaguered Team Greta needed. Every day, new criticism emerges, and ordinary people reluctantly admit they are turned off: she's too serious, too uncompromising, too strange, too Swedish, too small. The alter-ego implied by Sharon Thunberg is exactly what we needed to take the edge off Greta: the cheeky eco-hun with the common touch, with a filthy laugh and a heart of gold. Sharon is the kind of absurdity we craved from The Greta Story.

Sharon Thunberg, who always says no to straws, unless you bet her that she can't strawpedo a West Coast Cooler in 10 seconds; Sharon Thunberg, who never flies apart from to surprise Tracy for her 50th in Malaga; Sharon Thunberg who winks when she tells you she's a vegan. Sharon Thunberg is the approachable face of climate activism. It doesn't matter that she's not real - all we needed was to imagine her, just for a viral minute, to reinvigorate our environmental dedication for the new decade.

Greta knows it, she's a consummate Gen Z'er when it comes to PR: she knows the value of ironic self-awareness and owning the narrative.

When Trump sarcastically called her a "very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future," Greta changed her Twitter bio to the same. And when poor old Amanda Henderson fatefully guessed 'Sharon', Greta's name on Twitter became 'Sharon' - who's too serious now?

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Celebrities: they're just like us! As the tender new decade sprung its first green shoots, internet-dwelling millennials, tired from a year of micro-consumer environmental activism and encouraging men to talk about their mental health, asserted the same self-improvement resolution for 2020: boundaries.

Harry and Meghan's announcement came as no surprise to millennials who had taken the new decade as an opportunity to remind their friends and family that they won't be replying to texts anymore, or popping over to reset mum's router, or going to your birthday party (it's toxic), because of boundaries. We know that boundaries are important for establishing your identity and individuality. Boundaries is the new mindfulness, boundaries is the new Pokemon, boundaries is the new getting your five-a-day.

Harry and Meghan's breathtaking boundary-setting may have repulsed real adults with real responsibilities and lives, and Piers Morgan - but they couldn't have made a cannier move to enamour themselves to millennials. Harry and Meghan are playing the long game.

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