In today's post I will defend the honor of Gwyneth Paltrow. This week she got some heat for saying in an interview for Popeater that "Everything in my life that's good is because I worked my ass off to get it and to maintain it."
Who has a problem with that? An ambitious writer named Keli Goff does. In a lengthy article
in The Huffington Post she accuses Gwyneth of "gloating" and says this is part of the bigger problem of an "attitude of entitlement" by those born rich and advantaged. The Huffington Post thought Goff's point of view was worthy of a lot of real estate online. And because the story involves a celebrity, it got picked up by other sites and bounced all over the Internet.
As my regular readers know, I recently learned that there is an unwritten rule to the effect that celebrities should not defend themselves in the media, even against unfair, false, libelous, and career-ending claims. If a celebrity is foolish enough to try, it is seen as "digging deeper." The media likes to keep a controversy alive, so anything said in defense will be taken out of context and it will indeed make things worse. Gwyneth just found this out too. Her statement that she works hard was in the context of answering a question about the nasty criticism she's been getting lately. She did in fact dig herself deeper. And if she takes another run at it, things will only get worse.
Luckily, for Gwyneth, I'm here to help. I bring to this fight one major advantage: I am not Gwyneth Paltrow. Nor do I have any connection to her. And I hereby offer my Internet Reputation Defense services to any other celebrity who gets the hatchet treatment from the lower rung of the media. Gwyneth will be my first case. If she still has a career when I'm done helping her, I hope to get more non-paying clients.
Let's start with some background that you need to understand about the writing industry. It's a hard field to break into. Newspapers are struggling. Magazines are shrinking. Publishers would rather sell a poorly written book from a well-known author than a masterpiece from someone new. The Internet is so vast that it's hard to get noticed. What's an ambitious writer to do?
If you're both ambitious and unscrupulous, there's a simple formula for getting attention. It goes like this:
1. Pick a hot social theme that's on everyone's mind.
2. Find a celebrity to tie to the theme.
3. Take the celebrity's words out of context to link him/her to the larger theme.
4. Write some celebrity career-snuff-porn disguised as social commentary.
5. Offer your piece for free to The Huffington Post or other blogger-friendly sites.
6. Use the exposure to puff up your credentials.
You could call this writing technique "putting a face on an issue." Let's see how Keli Goff did it. You can start by looking at her background
on her web site. She's evidently talented and has had some success. Someday she might be a household name. But at this point in her career she needs to fatten up her credentials to take the next leap.
To start, she needed a hot social theme to plug into the formula. In this case she cleverly picked class friction between the rich and the poor. The budget debate has put a spotlight on that issue. It's the perfect theme for the times. Now she needs to put a face on it. But who?
The obvious choice might be a fat cat billionaire. But most of them are not interesting enough to bring sparkle to a story. Worse yet, billionaires might have the means and the meanness to retaliate. If you're a writer just starting out, you don't want to piss off someone who golfs with publishing tycoons. That's burning your bridges before you even cross them.
Then Goff's radar picked up Gwyneth's interview for Popeater. It wasn't a perfect fit, but with some creative writing, Goff realized this could work. For step one, Goff equated Gwyneth's quote about working hard to "gloating." If you read it quickly, as most people will, you don't notice this sleight of hand. You're predisposed to think celebrities have oversized egos and surely must
gloat, so you don't notice that the evidence doesn't match the conclusion. It's not even close. In your wildest imagination, speaking of your own hard work is not similar to gloating. But Goff somehow connects those dots.
Now that Goff has established Gwyneth as a damned gloater, any other charge against her is likely to stick. The reader has been primed. Is Gwyneth also a serial puppy choker? It would seem likely, given her gloating ways.
Next, it's time for Goff to manage the context in a way that makes her case more compelling. Goff notes that Gwyneth credits her work ethic for her success as if it didn't matter that she had famous Hollywood parents and her "uncle" is Steven Spielberg. To Goff, that means Gwyneth is "...under the delusion that she earned everything that she has..." Ouch.
Here's some context that Goff could have mentioned: When people talk, they normally leave out the obvious. If people didn't leave out the obvious, no conversation would ever end. In addition to Gwyneth leaving out the part about her well-known past, she also failed to mention that she's beautiful and talented. She didn't even mention that she is alive, which is totally an advantage. I can think of quite a few advantages Gwyneth didn't mention. Does that mean she's not aware of them? I'm almost positive she knows who Steven Spielberg is. Her background is known by anyone who might read an interview on Popeater. In that context, leaving it out makes sense. When Goff moves the context to the Huffington Post, where readers are far less likely to know celebrity minutia, it looks like a grievous omission.
It's worth noting, in the interest of context, that Goff was born with a few advantages herself. She's beautiful, smart, and apparently had the resources she needed to make it through NYU and go on to get her Master's Degree at Columbia University. If you ask Goff what made her successful, would she credit her hard work and leave out her other obvious advantages? Or would she answer honestly and say, "I worked hard for what I've achieved, but it didn't hurt that I'm a brilliant, smoking-hot African-American woman in 2011." I'm just saying that people don't generally talk about their advantages. To do so would be...wait for it...gloating.
We demand that our celebrities be role models. Isn't it better if they say in interviews that hard work is the main key to success? Or would we be happier with Gwyneth if she said something more along the lines of "Honestly, if I didn't have connections I'd be a crack whore right now."
Here's some more context: What percentage of well-connected children of Hollywood power couples go on to win Academy Awards and then transition into music careers without hard work? I can think of a dozen or so kids of famous actors who went on to do great things, but don't 95% of them fail to reach the standard of their famous parents? Hard work probably counts for something.
I think Keli Goff has a bright future ahead of her. I just hope she stops saying that children should not work hard to get ahead. (See what I did right there?)