Do we even need to write a description? It's the Goopisode!
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[Maintenance Phase theme]
Mike: You hear it? You're getting that?
Aubrey: There's that microphone. Hello.
Mike: Boop, boop. There we go.
Aubrey: Hello, radio voice.
Mike: I've got to go down two octaves now.
Aubrey: You have a challenging task this morning.
Mike: [laughs] You haven't given me anything to work with, all my--
Aubrey: I have not told you what we're recording about.
Mike: All my taglines were like, "The podcast that's a mystery box inside an enigma." That’s all I have, empty.
Mike: Welcome to Maintenance Phase, the podcast that tells you two weeks ago that you're recording a Secret podcast, and today you're doing it.
Aubrey: Surprise, I'm the podcast. In this catchphrase, the podcast is me.
Mike: That's just me narrating what's happening right now. That's not really a tagline.
Aubrey: I'm Aubrey Gordon.
Mike: I'm Michael Hobbes.
Aubrey: If you would like to support the show, you can do that at patreon.com/maintenancephase where you'll get bonus episodes every month. And today, Michael Hobbes, we have a surprise topic.
Mike: I'm so excited.
Aubrey: Do you have any guesses?
Mike: I think this is about a show that you've been wanting to do, but you didn't want to tell me that you were doing it. So maybe this is you finally doing a show about salads.
Mike: Maybe this is it.
Aubrey: I love that your theory is it's the driest topic I have ever pitched to you.
Mike: You're like, "Mike was on the fence about the salads one, maybe I'll do it and tell him it's a surprise."
Aubrey: [laughs] No, Michael, this is one that we haven't discussed. Michael, the Goopisode is upon us.
Mike: [gasps] Oh, it's finally the Goopisode.
Aubrey: We're doing Goop.
Mike: So, where are we starting with Gwyneth and the Goop empire?
Aubrey: This is maybe the highest volume of research I've done for an episode in a while. More words written about Goop than the history of calories. That's for fucking sure. What I wanted to do for this episode is try and take Goop pretty seriously. It's a $430 million company. It has really significant influence over the wellness industry as a whole. So, we're going to talk a little bit about why is that and what draws people to Goop in a sea of media coverage that really only seems to be like, "Can you believe it? This again?"
Mike: Yeah. I love that you're starting with like, "This is not going to be fun. This is going to be homework."
Aubrey: Look, we're going to fucking dunk on Goop real hard, don't worry. But also, I wanted to get us grounded-- no, there's stuff here worth exploring. Part of what made the research on this episode so hard, is that everything was eye rolling. I wanted to be like, "No, let's try and take this on its own terms a little bit more.
Mike: This is also an episode that both of us have resisted doing for a long time. We've been doing the show for two years. And this is a pretty obvious episode for us to do. And one of the reasons neither one of us wanted to do it earlier was because there's already so many Goop dunk fests.
Aubrey: Yeah, absolutely.
Mike: So, I'm glad that we're actually taking this seriously as a phenomenon and not just going from dunk to dunk on Gwyneth. Even though she deserves it in many ways. This company is one of the first kind of influencer business models, really. Gwyneth, as a businesswoman did something relatively innovative.
Aubrey: Yes, absolutely. Gwyneth Paltrow starts Goop and that actually unleashes a whole wave of celebrity wellness and lifestyle brands. That's where we get the Honest Company. Blake Lively launches a lifestyle brand like all of these sort of Hollywood It girls.
Mike: I don't know who any of those people are.
Aubrey: You know who Blake Lively is.
Mike: I do not.
Aubrey: You absolutely fucking do.
Mike: I do not.
Mike: No, I know her. She's the one that did "Haters going to hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. [humming comically]
Aubrey: No, no, no, no. That’s Taylor Swift and you absolutely know that that’s Taylor Swift.
Mike: No, I do know that. But I genuinely don't know who Blake Lively is, but from context clues, she's supposed to be a famous person.
Aubrey: So, the other thing I wanted to say context-wise for the Goopisode is like the Oprahsodes, there is just too much to cover in one episode. So, this is designed as a mothership episode that we can then come back if we want to tell other Goop related stories. But this is like, how did it come to be and what are a few key things to know about it.
Mike: All right, beam me up.
Aubrey: So, we today are going to explore Goop in three acts.
Aubrey: Act One, The birth of Goop, the advent of Goop. Gwyneth Paltrow was born in 1972 in Los Angeles to Blythe Danner and Bruce Paltrow, Blythe Danner is an actor. She works on Broadway, she works in TV, she works in movies. She was in a bunch of Woody Allen movies. Her dad is Bruce Paltrow. He was a TV director and producer. His biggest project that he's most known for was St. Elsewhere. Also, fascinatingly, her cousins include Gabby Giffords, Katherine Moennig who played Shane from The L Word.
Mike: [chuckles] Oh, really?
Aubrey: And Rebekah Paltrow Neumann, whose husband, Adam Neumann, was the founder of WeWork.
Mike: That explains why his hair is so lustrous.
Mike: I think it's from [crosstalk] Gwyneth.
Aubrey: Earlier this year, Gwyneth Paltrow did an interview with Hailey Bieber, Justin Bieber's wife and also daughter of Stephen Baldwin, where Gwyneth Paltrow gave this wild and terrible quote about how nepotism kids have to work twice as hard to prove themselves.
Mike: Oh, no.
Aubrey: And I was like, "Man."
Mike: No, that's not it, Gwyneth. We said we weren't going to roast you, Gwyneth, but you're making it hard.
Aubrey: It's a bad one. I imagine, look, if you walk onto a set, and you've got a job, in part or full because of who you know, or whose kid you are, and you're surrounded by a bunch of other actors who have been auditioning for years just to get a role. Absolutely, they're going to be like, "Who the fuck are you? Do you even deserve to be here?" I see how she gets there, and also, please stop, no.
Mike: It's like the economic equivalent of skinny shaming, I feel. Is it mean to say to somebody, "Eat a sandwich," when they post a photo of themselves in a bathing suit? Yes, it's mean but is there on a structural level, oppression against skinny people? Just objectively, there is not.
Aubrey: I know this is harder for you than most days. And I'm real sorry about that, but also, on average, the difficulty level of your days is like a five. And you're talking to a group of people whose difficulty level on a given day is like 70.
Mike: That’s a good way to put on--.
Aubrey: After graduating from these fancy private schools, her first films come out in 1991. She's 19 at the time.
Mike: Oh, wow.
Aubrey: She's in a movie called Shout starring John Travolta. And she's in Hook as Wendy.
Mike: She's what? She was Wendy in Hook?
Aubrey: Do you want to know who cast her?
Mike: Is it Steven Spielberg?
Aubrey: Her godfather, Steven Spielberg.
Mike: Oh. Life is hard for nepotism kids.
Aubrey: Life is hard when you're 19 and you get cast in a Steven Spielberg movie because he's your godfather.
Mike: When I get just hours of FaceTime with the most acclaimed American director.
Aubrey: Really tough times.
Mike: I know. I'm sorry to be to be mean, but it's so hard not to be mean to Gwyneth Paltrow.
Aubrey: It's okay to be-- Again, I feel it's fine to dunk on her. I'm just looking for nutritious dunking.
Mike: Ah, man.
Aubrey: By 1985, she graduates to some more sort of adult films. She's in Seven, she's in Emma, she's in Great Expectations. By 1998, she stars in Shakespeare in Love. She wins an Oscar for that. In 2001, she stars in the Royal Tenenbaums, that is the same year that she puts on a fat suit for Shallow Hal.
Mike: Oh, right.
Aubrey: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, Gwyneth Paltrow.
Mike: I'll also say, I have always felt weird about her later wellness turn, because I actually think she's a really good actress. Shallow Hal, obviously, is a fucking nightmare, which we did a whole episode on. But in general, she's done a really diverse, interesting array of movies and she's good in them.
Aubrey: Yes. And I would say a bunch of the early press coverage of Goop bears that out. They talked to a bunch of people who've worked with her and they're like, "She's good at acting. And I don't understand why she's doing this." A number of people say in early coverage. They're just like, "What the fuck is this? Why?"
Aubrey: I started pulling together a timeline of her film and TV work. And she has credits almost every year for over 30 years at this point.
Mike: Oh, wow.
Aubrey: And as her acting career takes off, so does her commitment to dieting and wellness and all of that kind of stuff. In 1999, she does her first master cleanse and starts talking about it in the press. In 2002, a terrible thing happens which is her father passes away of throat cancer. And she talks about just wanting to make things better for him and seeing him go through the wringer of traditional cancer treatments. It's really hard to watch your loved one go through that, and she's looking around. And she's like, "There's got to be something else that I can do for him."
Aubrey: She has this story about her dad that she was trying out gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan recipes. She made some muffins, and she made one for him and she was like, "He took a bite of it and said it tasted biting into the New York Times."
Aubrey: Which is a genuinely good story. And she's like, "We've come a long way. And I knew I had my work cut out for me." It's a good little launch pad, right?
Mike: Yeah, that's pretty good.
Aubrey: In 2004, she goes to the premiere of Anchorman, and wears a scrappy exposed, shoulder exposed back dress that shows that she has big marks from having been in cupping.
Mike: Oh, is that the thing, it's hot?
Aubrey: Yep. They sort of do these little heat suction cups to your back. So that becomes a big little news wave about her. She's already long before the start of Goop, wellness stuff has very much been part of her public image.
Mike: Also, I've always had a complicated relationship with the social construction of Gwyneth Paltrow because she doesn't strike me as an evil person.
Aubrey: Yeah, totally.
Mike: I think one of the challenges of talking about this wellness grift space is that you have genuine bad actors like Pete Evans. But then, you have people like Gwyneth Paltrow, who I think is genuinely well meaning. I don't think she knows that this stuff is fake. I think she's doing it because she really believes in it. But also, I do think that her influence on the culture has arguably been quite malign.
Aubrey: Yeah. She strikes me as someone who is deeply and genuinely out of touch. That's not just a character she plays on TV, right?
Mike: Oh, yeah.
Aubrey: That's the wild thing about the gaffes, and part of what sits weirdly with me about coverage of the gaffes, is like, "Can you believe she said it?" And I'm like, "I can believe that she believes it." But there are some things I will say. We will get some stuff where you're like, "Oh, no, she knows. Oh, she knows. We'll get there. She knows."
Aubrey: Okay. So, in 2008, Gwyneth Paltrow starts a newsletter called Goop. Michael, do you know why she calls it Goop?
Mike: I don't actually. I feel like I should.
Aubrey: It was that the main thing is that her initials are GP.
Mike: Oh, right. Duh.
Aubrey: Goopity-goop. But she adds the double O because a branding expert told her that all successful internet companies have double O's in their names.
Mike: What? [laughs]
Aubrey: All right. So, I get you on Google and Facebook.
Mike: Amazoon, Microsoop. She's right.
Aubrey: When she launches Goop, it is just an email newsletter. That is the start of Goop. At the outset, the press is really puzzled by, "Why this is happening? One of the early stories about Goop is from the New York Times, and the headline is, "Gwyneth Paltrow's offstage roles… But why?"
Mike: [laughs] That's some cold shit. She also has interests.
Aubrey: She talks to people about why she starts the website at the beginning. And it's really interesting to me because it is so dramatically different than the website that we have now. She tells people that she has filmed in a lot of different locations, and that each time she goes to a different location, she would ask the crew and locals about, "Where do you get the best cup of coffee?" "What's the meal you can't miss here?" "Who gives the best massage in town?" "Where's the best juice bar?" So, it's sort of like a little insider guide to travel in, generally, pretty fancy locations.
Mike: This is some genuine innovation in that this was a time before Instagram, and the institution of the celebrity doing their own celebrities, their just us" schtick. She was pretty early on forming a relationship, a direct relationship with her audience in a way that is totally taken for granted now.
Aubrey: Yeah, absolutely. She's trying to be the insider travel guide. But the press moves really quickly past any level of even surface puzzlement and gets over it really quickly. So, here is a quote from a piece on the Late Great Racked.
Mike: It says, "A New York Times columnist lamented, I feel undernourished already. Joy of Cooking editor Beth Wareham mused, 'Does the world really need another banana muffin recipe? I think someone like Gwyneth Paltrow would be better at telling people what not to eat." Oh, that's kind of mean spirited.
Aubrey: A lot of this coverage came out after her release of the very first newsletter. Just give it a minute. And then, granted if you gave it a minute, it would not be better.
Mike: Right? We gave it a decade. It's become what it's become. So, these people on some level, were correct. Maybe it's just we're comparing it to what Goop is now and what celebrity culture has become now. But this just seems so harmless to me.
Aubrey: Yeah, totally. I also think people didn't really know how to read that as cynically as we know how to read that now. 2008, she releases the newsletter, and in 2009, she creates the first Goop detox.
Aubrey: That first detox is a more restrictive version of Whole30. It's just a lot of sort of clean eating shit. It's a seven-day "detox." Which I'm like, "Hey, man, if it's seven days where you're restricting what you eat, congratulations, that's a fucking diet." There is a writer from GQ, who does the Goop detox at the time. And talks about it being absolutely terrible. The person writes about vomiting on the subway platform.
Mike: [laughs] Which I have done, but on a detox, so I'm not going to judge.
Aubrey: This person keeps a couple of short sentences of notes a day about being on the Goop detox. "Day one, feel incredibly strange, if not a little better. Later, someone in the office as I look pinker. Day two, feel hungover. The hunger isn't in my stomach, but in my throat. I am craving KFC. I never crave KFC. I don't even like KFC, and yet, I want it. My tongue feels swollen. I have a headache. This I am told is part of the natural detoxification process. It blows. Day three, the world has lost all its sharp edges. My thoughts are sluggish. I sat through a story meeting and didn't say a single word. I wonder if I'll get fired."
Every time I've been around a person who's on a wild diet in the workplace, things seemed bad in there.
Mike: But also, is she selling the detox?
Aubrey: No, she's just coming out in the newsletter. She's like, "Here you go, do a detox. This is another thing to know about Goop is, at this point, it really does seem it's her doing this in her house as a passion project. By 2011, she hires a CEO. His name is Seb Bishop, he ran RED, the big celebrity aids charity. And at that point, we don't get a ton of windows into Goop's finances. But by 2014, Goop is $1.6 million in debt. But today, it has bounced back really significantly. Again, valued at $430 million. It's hard to get there unintentionally to $430 million and to $82 million in venture capital funding. This profit-making part is not all the way back to the beginning. But there is one thing that is really constant. And that is the tone, and the outlook of Goop's stuff. When she releases that original Goop detox in 2009, she includes this about the detox. I just zoomed it to you.
Mike: It says, "My life is good, because I'm not passive about it." [laughs] Oh, no, Gwyneth, oh, no. "Make your life good. Invest in what's real. Cook a meal for someone you love. Pause before reacting. Clean out your space. Read something beautiful. Learn something new. Don't be lazy, work out and stick with it." Some of that's fine.
Aubrey: Some of its gross.
Mike: It's like 60% fine. 40% not as great.
Mike: That's about the ratio I expect from Gwyneth.
Aubrey: Goop as a project seems really dedicated to confusing privilege for enlightenment.
Mike: Yeah, I know. Oh, my God.
Aubrey: But she's like, "My life is good because I work at it." I'm like, "You don't think that the fact that you have literally millions of dollars has anything to do with how good your life is?"
Mike: I want to know how much money you have when you check your bank account online. And it's literally just an infinity symbol.
Aubrey: I have friends who are on SSDI and have known people who are on food stamps, and so on and so forth. They work at their lives, their lives are as good as they can make them and there's a fucking ceiling on how good you can make your life when you have such limited resources, and that feels like one of the more insidious parts of Goop, now I have this kind of life because I've put in this kind of effort, not because I have these kinds of resources.
Mike: The old phrase is that rich people were born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple. This is exactly what she's expressing here that it's like, "Yeah, it's hard work to run to home base. It is. I get it. Sure. No one's going to take that away from you. But also--
Aubrey: Most people are running four times that far.
Mike: It's funny because I feel I would be fine with celebrities that just admitted all this stuff. Of like, "I'm crazy rich. Here's the restaurants I go to in Tuscany." I don't really mind people being rich. Just don't ask me to tell you you're a good person for that.
Aubrey: Right. And don't sell other people on the idea that like, "You too can be a good person if you can afford all the shit that I have."
Mike: I remember there was a series on Videogum like 10,000 years ago where they would go through these "what I eat in a day" or various interviews with Gwyneth and laugh at her and make fun of her. And there was one interview where she said she was doing interior decorating, and she was talking about how-- she just likes really clean spaces and clean lines and right angles and minimalistic environments. And I remember the writer saying, "Gwyneth, everybody likes that. Everybody likes their environment to be clean, and nice and to feel comfortable. That's not unique to you." But it was like, she just couldn't see that she has wealth and privilege that allow her to create spaces like this and basically design a life that has her going from clean, comfortable space to clean, comfortable space.
Aubrey: Totally. I mean, I noticed this happening to myself genuinely. I did a podcast recently where they were like, "What are you watching and listening to?" I just had this moment of thinking that I was much more interesting than I am.
Mike: You were like Stranger Things. I'm the only person watching Stranger Things.
Aubrey: Guys, have I got a bombshell for you, Great British Bake Off.
Aubrey: Okay. There is something that happens when people start to ask your opinion on mundane things as if your opinion really matters where you do start to think that you matter more than you do or that your opinion on this thing is more consequential than just an opinion on a thing or whatever.
Mike: Aubrey, that interview was the first step and a process that ends with you launching a perfume line in two years. This is the only place this can go.
Aubrey: I've launched my own lines of Dust. Love Dust, Fat Dust, Gay Dust. Yeah.
Aubrey: Okay, so that's the sort of beginnings of Goop between then and now are all the scandals we all know, the Jade, vaginal steaming, the defective candles.
Mike: My God.
Aubrey: As part of this episode, I pulled together a timeline of Goop stuff. That timeline was 26 pages.
Aubrey: Every year, Michael, there were a minimum of three big Goop scandals, usually closer to five or six that everyone listening to this episode would probably remember most of them.
Mike: We could just do a bonus lightning round-
Mike: -on most of these.
Aubrey: So, there are all those scandals. We know there are a couple scandals that we don't really talk about as much. In 2018, two separate sources filed public complaints in the US and UK, alleging false advertising and non-allowable medical claims against Goop. In 2017, Gwyneth Paltrow launched a Goop magazine. Did you catch wind of any of this? I had next to no recollection of this.
Mike: Anyone launching a magazine is extremely weird to me [laughs] 10 years.
Aubrey: It is a Condé Nast magazine. First issue is the premier issue. The second issue is the final issue.
Aubrey: The thing that ended that partnership was the Condé Nast insisted on fact checking.
Mike: [laughs] Well, that's a deal breaker, ladies.
Aubrey: [laughs] So, hang on, I'm going to send you a quote that is outstanding.
Mike: I always love these.
Aubrey: Really play on the heads with this one.
Mike: "She argued that they were interviewing experts and didn't need to check whether what they were saying was scientifically accurate. We're never making statements, she said. At least Loehnen, Goop's Head of Content added that Goop was just asking questions." Oh. [laughs]
Mike: That's a defense people use only when they're doing something good.
Aubrey: Did the Holocaust really happen? I'm just asking questions.
Mike: It's like a little parachute ripcord that you have. You're just like, "I'm just asking questions," and then you just float away.
Aubrey: After this happens, Gwyneth Paltrow does a series of interviews and she keeps calling Condé Nast like, "We're just really trying to innovate, and Condé Nast is just like old school. That's just who they are."
Mike: Oh, my God.
Aubrey: It's also worth noting, all of this shit, all of these little scandals, all of these little firestorms, Gwyneth Paltrow calls them cultural firestorms are a feature of Goop, they are not a bug. Goop over time, has aimed more and more of its marketing around creating controversy to generate press which drives up traffic to their website.
Mike: Oh, man.
Aubrey: So, the New York Times Magazine does a piece called "How Goop's haters made Gwyneth Paltrow's company worth $250 million dollars." So clearly this is from a few years ago. Essentially what they advance in that piece is that the wilder and more expensive Goop's shit gets, the more their readers seem to really eat it up. So, in this piece, they talk about Gwyneth Paltrow speaking to Harvard Business School students, and this is from that section of that piece.
Mike: It says, "Every time there was a negative story about her or her company, all that did was bring more people to the site. Among them those who had similar kinds of questions and couldn't find help in mainstream medicine. At Harvard Gwyneth Paltrow called these moments 'Cultural Firestorms.' 'I can monetize those eyeballs,' she told the students. Goop had learned to do a special kind of dark art to corral the vitriol of the internet and the ever present, shall we call it, cultural ambivalence about Paltrow herself and turn them into cash. 'It's never clickbait,' she told the class, 'It's a cultural firestorm when it's about a woman's vagina.' The room was silent. She then--" What? "She then cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled 'vagina, vagina, vagina,' as if she were yodeling." I am not going to do that.
Aubrey: No, I don't think that you should. And I also don't want to do that.
Mike: I'm trying to imagine it in my brain what that actually sounds like, and I can't get there.
Aubrey: It feels very telling to me that she would say to a roomful of business students in a public speaking engagement with a reporter from the Times in the room. We figured out that this is there a way that works to drive up the revenue of our website is to make people hate us. So that same year that Goop was accused of so much false advertising 2018, it received more criticism than it ever had before, and its revenue doubled.
Mike: Oh, God.
Aubrey: So, it's dark. And I will say, I feel weary about doing this show for this exact reason.
Mike: Yeah. Is it possible to do this at all without-
Aubrey: I don't know.
Mike: -being what we're talking about? Yeah.
Aubrey: I don't know. But I also know that this is such a major force in the industry at this point that it feels difficult not to talk about it.
Aubrey: As of 2021, last year, the wellness industry was worth $4.4 trillion. And it's projected to reach $7 trillion by 2025.
Mike: But, I guess, it's similar to Madonna making videos in the 90s that she knew was going to get banned from MTV, which, the only thing better than being on MTV is getting banned from MTV because then it leaks over into all this other media that isn't talking about Madonna. It's on news pages. I guess what Gwyneth is doing is the same thing where you get earned media. Everybody in the country is talking about you and your name and your website is on their lips, and then people start going to website and they're like, "Ooh, cream. I can get the cream."
Aubrey: Totally. And I think the other thing that that particular little quote shifted for me was it shifted my understanding of the Gwyneth Paltrow eyeroll industrial complex. There is a little cottage industry. Anytime Gwyneth Paltrow says or does anything you can write about that thing. It'd be like, "Get a load of this, lady," and you will get pretty good traffic. I think it's like a [Mike groans] gross realization to go, "Oh, no." The things that benefit Gwyneth Paltrow's critics are the same things that benefit Gwyneth Paltrow. And that feels icky and sticky and gross.
Mike: Dude, one of my first jobs in journalism was at MSN, which was your homepage when you had to check your Hotmail. It wasn't an official rule, but it was informal rule that there had to be at least one story about Paris Hilton on the homepage. Anything. If it was like she switched from Coke to Diet Coke, "Write it up. We're going to get a shitload of clicks for it."
Aubrey: Did you have a quota for stories you had to write in the day?
Mike: No, because I was editing, it was stories that were already written.
Mike: I know people though that have to write like three stories a day. They're such smart journalists and they're so great. But nobody can produce three good stories a day. Literally, it is humanly impossible.
Aubrey: No. Part of the reason that there is this kind of viral industrial complex thing happening is because journalists and writers are so under the gun. So, if you get something that feels like a slam dunk, it is certainly in your self-interest to take that story. And it does bad things in the long term. It is corrosive in the long term. Which leads us to our next act, are you ready for our next act, Act Two?
Mike: Ooh. Yeah, give it to me.
Aubrey: I'm calling Act Two, The Food Stamp Challenge or Why We're All So Mad?
Mike: Okay. [chuckles]
Aubrey: Act Two begins with a tweet. I'm sending you a tweet, Michael.
Mike: What's a Gwyneth Paltrow tweet? I didn't know Gwyneth Paltrow was on Twitter.
Aubrey: She's definitely on Twitter.
Mike: Wait, can I go on Gwyneth Paltrow's timeline right now and see what she's tweeting about?
Aubrey: Sure. Go for it.
Mike: Oh, no, she's peddling NFT's. Her last tweet is from February 4th, and it is an NFT.
Aubrey: She's big on Bored Ape Yacht Club.
Mike: And then, what the fuck? Oh, no. "Buying crypto has often felt exclusionary in order to democratize, you can participate Cash App is now making it easy to gift Bitcoin. I'm giving out 500k worth of bitcoin for the holidays." That's from December. [inhales and exhales]
Aubrey: I love to hear what is exclusionary from the single most exclusionary public figure that I can think of.
Mike: Man, she barely tweets though, because before that, it's like 2019. Oh, wow. So, it's like she left Twitter for two fucking years. And then, tweeted like seven times about crypto and then stopped tweeting. [laughs]
Aubrey: Okay, so I'm sending you a tweet, Michael. I'm going to see if you remember this one.
Mike: I do remember this. So, the tweet is from April 9th, 2015. And it's a photo of a bunch of groceries, like lettuce, rice, eggs, like normal grocery store groceries. It says, "This is what $29 gets you at the grocery store. What families on SNAP, i.e., food stamps have to live on for a week." So, this is one of those tweets that's instant pre cringe for me because it's like Gwyneth Paltrow or anyone is talking about poverty and welfare in America. It's not going to go well.
Aubrey: Yeah, exactly. The photo that she has includes a dozen eggs, a head of romaine lettuce and avocado, an onion, a bunch of green onions, the ear of corn, a tomato, head of garlic, a bunch of curly kale, some cilantro, corn tortillas, seven limes.
Mike: Okay. Yeah. [chuckles]
Aubrey: The Washington Post describes as a baffling number of limes.
Mike: Fair point.
Aubrey: A bag of frozen peas, one chili of some kind, a sweet potato, a bag of black beans and a bag of brown rice. So, Gwyneth Paltrow tweets out this picture in 2015, at that time, the internet just all at once turns into the Christian Bale temper tantrum on the set of The Dark Knight. "Oh, good, good for you." I fucking hate this. One of the tweets is, "Don't worry, poor people. Gwyneth Paltrow is here to show you how to Goop your food stamp benefits."
Mike: What's so funny about this is Gwyneth Paltrow is completely right.
Mike: She's absolutely correct to highlight this. But also, it's just the worst imaginable messenger.
Aubrey: Right. At this point, she has been a professionally out of touch rich lady for seven years. So people are totally understandably primed to be like, "Look at this fucking shit." She said she was going to live on $29 for a week. So that's what this tweet is announcing. And she goes here's what you can get. And what that leading up to is she's doing a thing where she says, "I'm going to live on this $29 of groceries and my staff is going to do it too. And we're all going to talk about what we eat and make," and all that kind of that stuff
Mike: She's making other people do it, that's so mean.
Aubrey: I know how fucking pissed off would you be? Argh.
Mike: Isn't that like a labor rights violation?
Mike: Your boss can just take away your food money.
Aubrey: So, the Washington Post wrote a piece where the headline was, "A hungry Gwyneth Paltrow fails the food stamp challenge four days in." That's the first big story about this. And then there's the image that they use is a picture of her at a red-carpet premiere in a very fancy dress with very fancy jewelry. And the lead is, "After four long days living like America's poor, Gwyneth Paltrow broke her much mocked attempt at shopping on a food stamp budget in search of some chicken and black licorice."
"As I suspected, we only made it through about four days when I personally broke and had some chicken and fresh vegetables. And in full transparency, half a bag of black licorice." She wrote on her blog, Goop. "My perspective has forever been altered by how difficult it was to eat wholesome, nutritious food on that budget even for just a few days. A challenge that 47 million Americans face every day, week and year."
Here's the thing that is fascinating to me that is missing from this entire account. This was the point was to illustrate that it's not possible to survive on $29 of food stamps. Gwyneth Paltrow was responding to a request that was originally issued by the New York Food Bank. They had initially challenged a number of celebrities, sort of Ice Bucket Challenge style, to try and eat for a week on $29. That was the average amount of person on SNAP was receiving at that time. And the point of this exercise was to go, even if you have a personal chef, even if you have all the resources at your disposal, it is not possible for a human being to subsist on $29 worth of groceries. So, they issue this challenge and celebrities start doing it and start challenging each other. In a particularly cursed moment, Gwyneth Paltrow was challenged to do this by Mario Batali. And at the start of the challenge, she also makes a pretty significant contribution to the food bank, which is also part of the challenge was like, "Give to the food bank."
She really is following the assignment, but she is so deeply the worst messenger that the internet explodes at Gwyneth Paltrow and paradoxically, obscures the entire effort from the food bank. The Guardian did a fantastic piece about how Gwyneth's groceries stack up to what food stamp recipients actually do buy and why they buy those things. 47 million Americans were on SNAP, and 22% had zero gross income. So, for 22% of SNAP recipients, that average $29 is what they have period. And they, in this piece, talk to staffers from food banks who talk about like, "Yeah, actually, like foods that we think of as being sort of less nutrient dense are the foods that you can afford when you're on SNAP, you're just trying to straight up make sure you have enough meals for the week." And they include this really fantastic illuminating quote, I think, "Though the food stamp challenge shines a light on the tight food budget of SNAP recipients. It also opens the door to criticism in terms of what they buy. Similar to the criticism Paltrow has received for her choice of limes, kale and avocado. Poor Americans are often judged for purchasing unhealthy processed food." Again, by her participation in this thing, it is actually ramped up the thing that they're trying to ramp down.
Mike: Well, it's also interesting, because if she had done it, that also sends a really bad message.
Aubrey: Yes, absolutely.
Mike: If she's like, "Ah, it's day eight, and I got a buck 23 left," then it's like, "Well, then what are people on food stamps always complaining about?"
Aubrey: What is even weirder than that is Gwyneth Paltrow's take home point that she talks about in her blog post.
Mike: Oh, no. It's worse in context.
Aubrey: It's just weird. Half of the blog post is about how she's now madder than ever that women don't receive equal pay.
Mike: Wait, what?
Aubrey: Right. She's like, "Women are the ones who have to take care of our kids. And we're doing that on less pay," and blah, blah, blah. And I was like, "But SNAP is an income-limited program." You have to have low income to access SNAP. This is confusing. And it felt like a really weird way to turn this into a classically white lady class privilege, deeply white feminist argument, which is like "Women's equal pay," rather than being like, "Hey, so food stamps are fucking broken from the jump," and people need to be receiving at least twice this much. And we got to remove restrictions from food stamps for things like medication, tampons, and diapers, and other shit that people need.
Mike: Yeah. It should just be cash. There shouldn't be food stamps, it should just be fucking cash.
Aubrey: Right. She could have gone in deeper on this issue of like, what does it mean for people to be on food stamps? What does it mean for this program to be run this way? And instead, she takes this weird sharp turn into, "And that's why we need equal pay."
Mike: Yeah, which she's also correct about. That will be great.
Aubrey: It would be good. But that's not the conclusion of this particular exercise, ma'am.
Mike: It would have been interesting if she had actually sat down with somebody who lives on food stamps.
Mike: The mental toll that it takes on you is so different when it's for a longer term.
Mike: The idea of, "I lived on 29 bucks for a week", fine. Gwyneth Paltrow has been hungry for her entire adult life, so she probably could have done this and just not fucking eaten for three days, which is what half the diet she recommends are, right?
Aubrey: Sure. But her shit is like, "You don't eat for three days, but somehow it costs you $1,000."
Mike: Yeah, I know.
Aubrey: The most expensive way not to eat. So, I'm not sure that she could not eat on a budget.
Mike: She would still need the celery juice or whatever. And this would get her two celery juices.
Aubrey: Yeah, that's right. As I did the research on Goop broadly, there were some sort of theories about the appeal of Goop. There was the one that we talked about earlier, that they're sort of selling a celebrity lifestyle, that's going to be expensive, it's going to be very woo, it's going to be exclusive. That's what people want is the thinking. There is another theory that Goop is reaching and either offering alternatives to or taking advantage of people who have been failed by medical systems. There's another theory that is sort of that Goop is selling self-care to women who've been taught to put themselves on the back burner, that they're saying, "No, no, put yourself first."
Mike: I know.
Aubrey: Mike, that is my reaction as well. I call fucking bullshit.
Mike: Yeah, that seems [unintelligible 00:39:35].
Aubrey: So, in Act Three, our final act, we're going to dig in on the company's signature event, which is called In Goop Health.
Mike: In Goop Health, okay.
Aubrey: It is a summit. It's an in-person event that they sort of travel around the country/world. It's one of the few places where actual Goop followers physically show up and there's some reporting about who those folks are and why they're in it, and all that kind of stuff.
Mike: Oh, it's the Gathering of the Juggalos. They're like skincare products.
Aubrey: [laughs] The gathering of the Goopalos.
Mike: It's the Goopalos. Yeah.
Aubrey: So, the first In Goop Health summit happens in LA in 2017. It is very lavish and it's focused on absolutely everything you think it's focused on. Tickets cost between $500 and $1500. At a later New York summit, the highest price tier is actually the first one to sell out, which feels telling.
Mike: Yeah, wow.
Aubrey: Summits that happened later had ticket prices that vary really widely. So, the high end at one point goes up to $4,500 for a ticket.
Mike: Jesus Christ.
Aubrey: The other thing to know about the In Goop Health summit, is that the crowd is really clear. USA Today sends a reporter who describes the crowd as "predominantly white affluent women dressed in athleisure." It's everything you think it's going to be.
Mike: [laughs] Wait, why the athleisure though?
Aubrey: Athleisure or wide leg linen pants. Like gauzy and ethereal or it might work out, but I am not going to. A whole lot of the press coverage of In Goop Health is just listing things that are happening. They're doing aura photography and sound baths, and blah, blah, blah. And like every piece, it's like 100 to 200 words of just like, "Here's a list of some stuff."
Mike: It just sounds like a huge waste of more than I spent on my first car.
Aubrey: Would you like to hear a list of some stuff that they have at the Goop summit?
Mike: Please, please.
Aubrey: Let me send you a quote from one of them. So, one of the things that the Goop summit has, in addition to aura photography, Jade Eggs, all that kind of stuff, they have a flavored oxygen bar.
Mike: I remember that mini-trend lit.
Aubrey: "They're going to have bars, they're going to have oxygen bars. We're all going to the oxygen bars." No, we're not.
Mike: No, we're not. We all just watch 1500 news stories about it, but nobody ever actually went to one.
Aubrey: All right, so I sent you that quote.
Mike: Wait, I'm still on Gwyneth Paltrow twitter feed. I have to click away. It's mesmerizing to me. It says, "My experience involved waiting 45 minutes in line to breathe in flavored oxygen for 10 minutes. Breathing in highly concentrated oxygen is purported to have a number of health benefits, such as detoxifying blood, increasing circulation, strengthening the immune system, heightening concentration, improving relaxation and relieving headaches. I didn't notice any immediate effects, but I did enjoy the smell." I mean, yeah, that kind of just seems fine. It's like, "Yeah, it's bullshit."
Aubrey: Absolutely. Hilariously, they go through in detail what is in the food court. There is a booth four, bulletproof coffee.
Mike: Of course.
Aubrey: They have a million sorts of branded samples. They have probiotic drinks. There are fresh fruits and vegetables everywhere, but the things that the attendees really gravitate toward are these branded potions and elixirs that are making claims about things, right?
Mike: Yeah, of course.
Aubrey: Hilariously, one of the things in the food court is a place called Chloe Ice Cream, which has a kale cookies and cream flavor.
Mike: That sounds grassy.
Aubrey: But then, People magazine also covers it and they're like, "It was good," and then they include an affiliate link, which is also like that is a big dividing line in the press around Goop, is who includes affiliate links to a bunch of Goopy shit?
Mike: It's funny to think back on the time, it was like you just had to put kale in fucking everything. People thought kale was this magical vitamin.
Aubrey: Absolutely, kale and bacon are happening at the same time.
Mike: Yeah. Oh, my Jesus, God, the bacon days.
Aubrey: They have swag bags as you can imagine that have a bunch of a specific brand of a collagen supplement, a particular kind of fancy hair towel. These nail polishes, this protein bars made by Gwyneth Paltrow's personal trainer.
Mike: Oh, my God, you know what it is? Something just clicked in my brain.
Aubrey: Tell me.
Mike: It's fucking As Seen On TV.
Aubrey: Yeah, it absolutely is.
Mike: Remember like As Seen On TV, they would just have these random fucking products and it's like, "Are you tired of juicing your lemons with a lemon juicer?" And then, they'd have some dumb thing that you had to plug in. It was like a fancy lemon juicery thing. It was weird little gadgets and things that solved extremely minor problems. Maybe the towel you use to dry your hair is fine.
Aubrey: Yeah. I mean, the In Goop Health summit is like the internet comes to life and everything you have imagined about Goop is actually happening all around you, is really what it sounds like to me. They also have panels. The early summits are mostly celebrity. Drew Barrymore was there, Chelsea Handler, Meg Ryan, Laura Linney, and Bryce Dallas Howard.
Aubrey: And Bryce Dallas Howard moderated a panel set to address, "The hard problem of consciousness."
Mike: Oh, my fucking God.
Aubrey: The real problems with the Goop summit seem to lie with what is happening on stage.
Mike: So, the main thing [crosstalk] doing.
Aubrey: The main fucking event. So, most of what is happening is the problem. There's an LA Times reporter who goes to a Goop Summit and tweets out-- live tweets what she's seeing. She goes to a session on gut health that is led by Dr. Michael Gundry, who gives some truly bananas advice from the stage. He says, "Don't eat. I can't stress that enough. We have the ability to store fat."
Mike: Finally, we've cracked it, the secret to weight loss.
Aubrey: "Don’t eat, stop it." He says that for six months a year, he forgos both breakfast and lunch, and just has one meal a day. So, he's OMAD, dude. A one meal a day guy. Then we move into a panel called The Tools. In that panel, there are two psychotherapists, according to People Magazine, who "Provided on demand therapy to audience members-
Aubrey: "-in front of the crowd."
Mike: Oh, that's just like carnival shit.
Aubrey: Yeah. Oh, so here is what USA Today has to say about these two psychotherapists. We're going to talk about them. One is someone whose last name is Michaels.
Mike: It says., "It's a remarkably raw honest 30 minutes and closes with a talk about positive entitlement. 60% to 80% of the women in my practice don't feel that basic sense of entitlement that I deserve this says, Michaels. At their prompting the room of women shout, 'I'm an animal.' The hour ends with Paltrow opening up about her struggle with perfectionism. The doctors coin our fear 'the shadow,' it's whatever you wish you weren't, says Michaels, no matter how much success you have." I know what you're going to say about this.
Aubrey: What do you think I'm going to say about this?
Mike: Well, it's like a bunch of people with not the biggest problems. You have a job that pays well, and you've got a family and all this stuff and everything's going well, and yet, there's still something missing. Which honestly, on an individual level, I know people that are going through this, I would never in any way mock this. But also, it's like Gwyneth Paltrow has a platform, and you can talk about anything at these things. And it's like self-help Tony Robbins stuff, ultimately, at the end of the day.
Aubrey: I mean, I think here's what I would say.
Mike: Well, what you're going to say is smarter than me. But that's what I think after reading the paragraph.
Aubrey: No, you're right. You're totally on the right track with how I feel about this. Absolutely. And also, I think context matters a great deal here, in order to understand why this is so troubling, you've got to kind of know where self-care comes from. So, this is all sourced from a fantastic Slate piece by Aisha Harris. Harris uses the Slate piece to lay out a broad history of self-care in the 20th century, which started as a medical concept designed as a way for patients with pretty profound needs to treat themselves. Prior to the 60s, self-care is talked about as a tactic for elders, for people with pretty profound mental illnesses. We're talking about people with very specific needs. Their health care providers are talking to them about how they can take care of those deep needs, both for themselves and through their medical treatment.
Then, it starts to catch on as a way for people in particularly intense interpersonal jobs to manage their own stress. So, it becomes a big point of concern amongst grief counselors and social workers and EMTs and therapists and people who have jobs that are emotionally weighty. But where it really takes off as a concept is when it is picked up by the Black Panthers.
Aubrey: Still Processing, a great podcast, has a great episode about that. There's also some more detailed history on this in a book by Alondra Nelson called Body and Soul. The Black Panther Party established service programs designed to provide for black communities where the government and nonprofits didn't. So here is a quote that I'm going to send you from that Slate piece by Aisha Harris. Boop,
Mike: it says, "Those programs were established both to make up for the dire lack of adequate social service programs after the waning of the war on poverty, as well as to provide a coping mechanism against the harassment and surveillance that black people suffered at the hands of police in the federal government. These nationwide clinics recruited nurses, doctors and students to test for illness and disease rampant within the black community, including lead poisoning and sickle cell anemia, as well as to provide basic preventive care. For black people and especially black women, this kind of self-care was brought to fill a desperate need. The survival programs of the Panthers were about just that, survival.
Aubrey: So, we've got this concept that is used overwhelmingly medically up to this point. From here, second wave feminist movements pick up the concept of self-care and sort of go, "Oh, doctors aren't really looking out for ladies at this point. So, we got to look out for ourselves." In the 80s and 90s, it really starts to drift into the mainstream and starts to become sort of monetized. That's when we start getting workout videos, that's when people start talking about wellness more broadly. And that's when all of this stuff starts to make money for people. And it drifts from being a practice of people on the margins who have been forced into this practice, to a pretty capitalist venture that is seen as being more for wealthy people, and frankly, for whiter people.
Given that history, to then gather together a roomful of very wealthy white women, and tell them, "You need to put yourself first. Many of you might be employers, we don't need to talk about how you're treating your employees. All of your white women, we don't need to talk about race. All of you are wealthy, we don't need to talk about class. The most important thing in your life needs to be you and your own peace of mind."
Mike: I've always been fascinated by the ways women are the middle managers of the American hierarchy of oppression. Women do face real oppression, very well documented discrimination.
Aubrey: Yes, no question.
Mike: But also, because women comprise such a large percentage of the population, there's also these really important stratifications within women.
Mike: And a lot of this self-care stuff seems like it wants to highlight the challenges that women face, while also ignoring the challenges that other people face. And also, the challenges that white wealthy women can impose upon other people.
Mike: Yeah, and I think when your primary directive is to focus on yourself and put yourself first, and you are a person with substantial power and privilege, that can lead to some yikes places. And then when other people come to you and say, "Hey, I have a need of you." "Hey, I need to set this boundary with you." "Hey, this thing that you're doing isn't really working for me." You go, "Uh-uh. My job is to put myself first, and this is toxic energy," or, "This is bad news," or this is like, "I'm not taking it." It feels both not necessarily a terrible thing, but when it is depoliticized this way, and when there's no caveats, and no structure around that conversation, and lets people just free associate into, "Here's what I think it is to be a toxic person. That feels really icky and challenging and straight up counterproductive.
Mike: I feel it's such a dilemma for people like Gwyneth Paltrow, because skincare is nice, lot of these products are nice. On some level, it's like you don't want everything to be a fucking lecture about all the structural problem-
Aubrey: Right. Totally.
Mike: -with America. You're like, "Man, I just want to go to a conference center drink some probiotic bullshit and have a smoothie." People are allowed to be into dumb bullshit. You know my main thing.
Aubrey: I mean, absolutely. Listen, on almost every Zoom that we have, you're like, "Tell me about your eye makeup." "Oh, my God. Thank you. This is the palette that I'm using." Definitely, definitely, I am into ridiculous shit. And definitely, definitely people should be able to be into ridiculous. But there is also a point at which that tips into encouraging other bad behavior. I think it's not terrible to ask Goop and to ask wellness influencers writ large to put up some fucking bumper lanes. Like, if you're bowling, keep folks from tipping into the gutter.
Mike: Right. I mean, to me, I feel this is the entire duality and also something that we keep coming up against on this show, is that at the most surface layer, yeah, it's totally harmless, frivolous stuff. But it never stays at the frivolous stuff. What happens almost immediately is it becomes this ideology. It becomes a way of looking at the world. They're doing panels on how to achieve the Light of Consciousness. It's not just this health stuff, because you can't sell health stuff by leaving it there. You have to take everything to the next level up. This is how marketing works. This is how they marketed cigarettes for years. You don't smoke because it's a burning stick that you're addicted to. You smoke because the Marlboro Man symbolizes all this rugged individualism and masculinity and all this kind of stuff. What they're essentially doing here is they're doing a form of marketing, where they're selling you this identity of someone who's taking control of your life and pushing back against the oppression, and you're leaning in or whatever. But what they're really doing is they're telling you all of this stuff, so that they can sell you skincare.
Aubrey: Michael, it's about to get a little darker.
Mike: Okay. [chuckles]
Aubrey: Here's a place where Goop did not put up bumper lanes. And in fact, I think carved out another gutter in the middle of the bowling lane, is that they also had a panelist whose name is Dr. Kelly Brogan. Is that a name you're familiar with?
Mike: I don't think so.
Aubrey: Dr. Brogan has famously claimed that vaccines are ineffective.
Mike: Oh God, of course.
Aubrey: And so are HIV medications.
Mike: Oh, fuck off. Really?
Aubrey: And that AIDS related deaths are actually probably caused by drug toxicity from AIDS treatments, and not from the virus itself. That's really bad. She also wrote a blog post in 2014. It's since been deleted, saying that these ideas that HIV leads to AIDS and that cholesterol contributes to heart disease are, "Memes we hold on to societally as truths." So, she's like, "That's not really real. That's just a thing that you heard. So now you believe it," blah, blah, blah, which is technically true, but that also doesn't mean that it's untrue.
Mike: Yeah, first of all, I believe all the memes that I see, there's nothing wrong with that.
Aubrey: Mike is a big believer in Salt Bae. The thing to note here is that Dr. Brogan is not the only antivax speaker at this conference. She's the most extreme, but she is far from the only one. There are repeated reports of antivax people talking about antivax shit at In Goop Health summits. And journalists start asking Gwyneth Paltrow like, "Do you believe this shit? What's going on here? Why are you giving this a platform?" She tells this to USA Today.
Mike: I realize I edit the show, but is it too late for me to take back the nice stuff I said about Gwyneth earlier?
Mike: Is that possible? Okay. She says, "Women are not lemmings. Just because we're raising a question, doesn't mean we're expecting somebody to follow our advice. We believe women are intuitive enough and intelligent enough to hear both sides of a lot of things and make a decision for themselves. That's resonant for them." Gwyneth. [sighs]
Aubrey: This is very classic misinformation and disinformation playbook shit.
Mike: You're giving people information, but like, "Oh, we don't expect them to act on it." But if someone tells you vaccines are harming your children, what do you fucking expect people to do? People care about the health of their children because you can't throw bombs into the middle of people's brains like this, and then be like, "Oh, it's not really a bomb."
Aubrey: Literally one of the antivax speakers is a pediatrician who's like, "I saw too many patients with these experiences. And then I saw it happen in my own son." And I'm like, "This is a bad influence."
Mike: Really irresponsible.
Aubrey: Deeply irresponsible. And then to say, "We're just offering people up with options and women can make up their own minds. We're smart, and people don't give us enough credit for being so smart."
Mike: You've got to have a line. The fuck you Gwyneth line. The antivax stuff is just like, "Fuck you, Gwyneth. This isn't cool."
Aubrey: I mean, I think there is an a through line throughout Goop's work that is a deep resistance to accountability. That's why it felt so important to me to do this episode in a way that sort of takes Goop at face value, because when you do that, when you strip away, eye rolling and all of that kind of stuff, what you see is a pretty cutthroat business model, that is kind of gross.
Mike: Yeah, I think you're right that it's time to just ask questions about whether Gwyneth is fully aware what she is doing and whether there's real cynicism behind this at this point.
Aubrey: Yeah, we're just asking a question.
Mike: Yeah. We're just asking questions.
Aubrey: We're just asking questions of Goop. We have some questions.
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