Although I’ve no personal views on the matter, it seems Gwyneth Paltrow can count herself among a select posse of celebrities who divide public opinion. Like Margaret Thatcher, Madonna, Elton John and a few more besides, Paltrow followers fall into two distinct factions: lovers and haters.
Paltrow’s divisive media persona is the subject of a recent article, to which I contributed, in The Daily Telegraph: Is Gwyneth Paltrow the Marmite of Hollywood? In the article I argue that the main stimulus behind this love/hate relationship is the emulative dimension to celebrity – especially with regard to women celebrities. The reason why some people hate Paltrow is the same reason why others adore her: because, at fortysomething with a successful acting career, happy family, money to throw around and looks that would do justice to a woman twenty years her younger, she’s the archetypal Golden Girl living the Hollywood/American Dream. So you either respect, admire and look up to her; or you compare her to yourself (assuming you are vaguely ordinary) and feel personal dissatisfaction coupled with envy bordering on jealousy.
It’s a no-brainer that some people will turn against this Golden Girl persona. Some of Paltrow’s earliest acting roles, in films like Seven and Shakespeare in Love, consolidated that enduring image of the goody-goody paragon of virtue (beauty is truth, truth beauty and all that Keatsian rhetoric).
And the real Paltrow, moreover, can afford all the luxuries of expensive cosmetics and carefully tailored diets and personal training programmes that most ordinary mortals cannot, which is why envy/jealousy quickly turns into feelings of low self-esteem. What the majority of Paltrow haters neglect to understand, however, is that the airbrushed version of Paltrow they encounter most of the time bears no resemblance to the real human being. Celebrity culture is all about constructing an illusory reality and profiting from people’s obsession with a fantasy ideal; one that doesn’t actually exist behind closed doors.