The Goop Lab February 3, 2020
wyneth Paltrow knows that when most people think of her lifestyle brand Goop, they’re wont to at first think of a jade egg. If you insert this egg in your vagina, you could allegedly improve your sex life, bring harmony to your menstrual cycle, and harness its “power to cleanse and clear.” (There is no scientific proof that any of these things are true, but you can nonetheless purchase the egg on the Goop website for $66.) Paltrow also
knows most of us will remember the time she extolled the virtues on Goop of
steaming your vagina, or her recent decision to sell on Goop a candle that ostensibly smells like her own. (It’s called the “This Smells Like My Vagina” candle; you can buy it for a cheap $58.) We know she knows the general populace's visual and material associations to Goop because the promotional posters for Paltrow's new six-episode reality series The Goop Lab see her standing in front of a cartoon facsimile of a vulva. This nod to self-awareness, we come to find out, hints at
what the behind-the-scenes-style show is. It's a combination of serious brand-confirmation and carefully contrived self-mockery. There is a sense that through
The Goop Lab, Paltrow is looking to cement continued support from the brand's customers and possibly have its naysayers reconsider what they think they know. A display of self-awareness is a sensible, if a bit dubious, move.
Goop has happily admixed self-improvement recommendations with the selling of general living items and very-questionable health products for more than a decade. It has notoriously gotten into trouble for its suspect, sometimes snake-oil-like floggings. The jade egg thing led the gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter to pen an open letter a few years back in which she informed research-lazy buyers that if inserted, the little sphere could cause toxic shock syndrome. In 2018, the company was fined by California for making 50 “unsubstantiated claims” about several of its products, including said egg.
At the top of every episode of The Goop Lab a title card tells us that what we’re about to see — Paltrow’s echt, young, and diverse employees and sometimes herself testing out an assortment of self-improvement practices led by everyone from ultra-zen psychic mediums to bearded Scandanavians who heart polar plunges — is for the purpose of entertainment above all else. While we have the autonomy to meet up with any of the specialists to whom Goop gives a platform, the brand on the face of it isn’t trying to outrightly suade you to do anything. “You should always consult your doctor when it comes to personal health and before you start treatment,” the card emphasizes.
But while the show I guess functions decently as entertainment and while I never really felt as though Paltrow and her acolytes were aggressively eager to give me medical advice, what never left me while watching the series was that this is just an extended session of damage control. If not that, a six-episode-long infomercial that tacitly claims not to be an infomercial. In the psychic-centric episode, for instance, the underlying idea is that many doctors are too close-minded — that you might be missing out on something that works as an effect. Don’t trust in Goop, disclaimers say. But also, trust in Goop, this and other episodes tell us with a wink. It's strange, too, that for a brand primarily selling products, no products are tested on screen. Exclusively spotlighted are in-person treatment methods to which you have to travel.
People incensed by Goop will continue to be if they choose to watch The Goop Lab. Believers will keep on believing. It probably is supposed to change minds on both ends of the spectrum in some way or another. But I'm not sure how it could, since only a sliver of Goop as a whole is being focused on. Sitting atop an ambivalent middle ground myself, I finished the series thinking of Goop the same way I always have. I still consider it an exorbitantly priced lifestyle brand with a woo-woo ethos primarily affecting the out-of-touch and gullible wealthy, of which I will hopefully never be part even if I get promoted or something.
Paltrow, as usual, is charming — I’m admittedly easily swayed by her. She puts up a generally convincing front of self-flagellation-prone sarcasm that goes well with her earnest (and surprisingly/frequently skepticism-tinged) curiosity. One of the first things she tells us in The Goop Lab is that the move from actress to lifestyle guru was in part a rejoinder to her fatigue from making out on screen with Matt Damon. Goop, to Paltrow, is an opportunity for people to harness the chance to “milk the shit” out of life. Paltrow is undoubtedly engaged. She asks thoughtful questions. Do I believe Goop is overarchingly ethical? Do I think Goop is ultimately a coherent brand? Do I believe Goop is genuinely rooted in self-improvement or do I think indulgence is in this case misguidedly conflated with self-improvement? Does it matter? C+