What I’m about to say my upset you. It may make you angry. It may even shock you.
We need to be nicer to Gwyneth Paltrow.
Poor Gwynnie has had a hell of the time in the emotional and infinite chamber of horrors we call the Internet over the past couple of weeks. She came in at first place on Star magazine’s list of “Most Hated Celebrities,” handily beating out several adulterers, two charged—one convicted—felons, and a teenage boy who gazed into the chasm of the darkness of the Holocaust and whose only insight was the clumsily worded hope that a murdered child would have wanted to make out with him at prom. (In case you were wondering, Adolf Hitler, Robert Mugabe, and Tsarnaev brother one and/or two did not make the list.) She’s been forced to defend her diet and insist to several major media outlets that she does—she really does!—love Oreos. After her much-maligned lifestyle site, Goop, had the temerity to feature a few pictures of toddlers in two-piece swimsuits, as though she was running a Belgian kiddie-porn operation alongside her recipes for panko-encrusted fish-free fishsticks and homemade beet-and-kale yogurt pops, the “think of the children” brigade unleashed the full force of their outrage on her. Burn the witch! (Sure, People magazine went and declared her “the most beautiful woman in the world,” but that’s like your mom showing up to defend you from playground bullies: It just gives them a reason to beat you up next time.)
What is happening here? Why does the world—or at least, the subset of the world who replies to surveys conducted by Star magazine (and probably does their corresponding crossword puzzle in pencil)—hate Gwyneth Paltrow, Oscar-winner, best-selling cookbook author, mother of two adorable and impeccably organic children, scion of rabbinical prodigies, with the red-hot passion we used to reserve for abusers of women and genocidal maniacs? What’s wrong with her, except nothing?
A-ha. There it is. On some level, we’re only truly comfortable with celebrities that we can pity. It’s easy to forget that universally beloved actresses like Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren were much less so until they got, you know, old. We spent years in smugly sympathetic raptures over Poor Jennifer Aniston and the saga of her empty womb; now that she’s happily engaged, we’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop. We might resent Kim Kardashian, we might scorn Kim Kardashian, but deep down, we think—nay, we know—that we’re better than Kim Kardashian. But we are not, in any way, shape, or form, better than Gwyneth Paltrow. I know it, you know it, and most of all, Gwyneth knows it—that is, when she bothers to think about us at all.
It’s a bizarre quirk of post-modern feminism circa 2013; we’re finally done hating women who don’t have their lives together and started hating women who do. (It seems never to have occurred to us to stop hating women at all.) We watch the characters created by Lena Dunham on Girls, in all their flaws and foibles, and talk about how brave and uncompromising her vision is, how it’s about time we saw imperfect female bodies and imperfect female feelings unapologetically displayed on the screen. (And we’re right!) We watch stars like Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes in various stages of self-destruction and have finally—finally—started to realize that the very public onset of serious mental illness is not actually a freak show staged for our amusement. Maybe we’re finally developing some empathy, or maybe we’ve just seen it too many times for it to be fun anymore.
But Gwyneth is different. Gwyneth, with her gorgeous house and famous friends and tasteful wardrobe and functional marriage and gluten-free children and her three pizza ovens and her seeming ability to do all the things we know we should be doing and to not eat all the things we know we shouldn’t be, Gwyneth Paltrow has it more together than anyone. She’s a kind of perfect, blonde superego hanging over everything, making us feel guilty about every bite of pizza and every skipped day at the gym, because she’s always watching, judging, knowing what’s in our hearts.
And so we hate her. We hate her for activating our guilty conscience, for thinking she’s better than us. We hate her for being rich, for being self-impressed, for being insular and out of touch with the “common man” who “works for a living.” We hate her for making us feel small, for her clumsy, ill-considered attempts to endear herself to us, for the ultimate condescension we imagine she feels for us, when doesn’t she know, it’s supposed to be our prerogative to reject her. We hate her with a hatred that is all the more tragic and stupid for being so very, very familiar.
We hate Gwyneth Paltrow for all the same reasons that people have always hated the Jews.
Now go and watch The Waveon Netflix and see how you feel about yourself.
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Rachel Shukert, a Tablet Magazine columnist on pop culture, is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great. Starstruck, the first in a series of three novels, is new from Random House. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.
Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.