How hating Gwyneth Paltrow broke the Internet

Yesterday, Gwyneth Paltrow all but broke the Internet by announcing her split from Chris Martin after a decade of saddling their children with unfortunate names. In a letter entitled “Conscious Uncoupling,” Paltrow explains their reasons for the divorce on her lifestyle website, GOOP.

“It is with hearts full of sadness that we have decided to separate,” Ms. Paltrow explains to her loyal cult of GOOP subscribers and Yerba mate drinkers.

“We have been working hard for well over a year, some of it together, some of it separated, to see what might have been possible between us, and we have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much we will remain separate.”

After the admission, a few inevitable things happened: 1) “conscious uncoupling” took off on Twitter as everyone’s favorite future band name 2) rumors began to swirl about the reasons for the split and 3) people used the moment to remind you how much they hate her.

Despite earlier rumors about Martin’s own infidelity, the Internet has zeroed in on Paltrow’s alleged affairs, citing evidence from a mobile app (which wouldn’t even hold up in the court of Wikipedia) and what Graydon Carter may or may not have meant by an innocuous Vanity Fair headline (titled “The Paltrow Affair”). It’s the gossip blog equivalent of looking at dark water in the ocean and calling it evidence of a plane crash. The Internet has become Courtney Love.

For those who already have it out for her, there should exist a insta-Twitter reaction generator on the topic to help people perfect their easy armchair hate. If you’re new to the Gwyneth Paltrow bashing, allow me to catch you up. Last year, the actress was voted Star’s Most Hated Celebrity, and the widespread animosity falls into a few camps:

1. She’s pretentious and out of touch.

2. Her diet is ridiculous and gives people eating disorders.

3. She needs to stop telling women how to raise their kids.

4. She controls the weather and wrote the screenplay to Glitter.

But according to author Claire Zulkey, our reaction to Gwyneth Paltrow is tied to the complicated relationship our culture has with women, particularly famous ones.

“I think we make ourselves feel better for loving some celebrities while deciding that we hate others,” Zulkey writes on her personal blog. Zulkey argues that some celebrities are universally adored without question (Beyoncé, Sandra Bullock), while others are derided with the same unblinking passion (Kim Kardashian, Kristen Stewart). When Kardashian recently graced the cover of Vogue, the hate nearly broke the Internet.

Last year, Rolling Stone put the Boston Bomber, a mass murderer, on its cover—which was primed for backlash until everyone forgot about it. But a vapid reality TV star? Inconceivable! Putin himself couldn’t buy that kind of outrage.

Our society has weird priorities when it comes to inspiring hate, that gut feeling in the pit of our stomachs when something represents That Shit We Don’t Like, even if we don’t know why. In the case of Paltrow, who the public quickly soured on, Zulkey argues its a reaction to the actress’ veneer of PR perfection. She was People’s Most Beautiful, after all.

“We don’t always like being told who we’re gonna like, especially when it’s a pretty lady who doesn’t, on the outside anyway, seem to have a lot of problems,” Zulkey writes. “Ew—she’s too perfect and double-ew at her trying to act like she’s got problems.”

For those on the Paltrow-bashing bandwagon (which appears to be just about everyone), this idea merely confirms that she had it coming all along, that dirty bum. In terms of discourse, Martin is barely a part of the conversation at all. The median Chris Martin joke seems to be that his wife would have left him for his terrible music.

But who he is in real life never enters into the equation. Think about it. If Paltrow’s haters are right and she’s Rosemary’s Baby in Louboutins, wouldn’t Martin be the devil’s right-hand man? Two terrible people would seem to equal a terrible marriage.

But hey, I’m no math genius. I’ll leave that to Stephen Hawking.

However, the spotlight will continue to focus on Paltrow, the same way that it did Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie after Aniston split from her A-list husband, Brad Pitt. The Internet divided into Team Aniston and Team Jolie, with Aniston’s T-shirts outselling Jolie by a staggering 25 to 1. (Yes, these actually exist, for the low, low price of your dignity.)

But how about Team Over It? Do they make T-shirts for Hey, Isn’t That Guy Kind of a Dick? While Pitt’s PR did just fine, that sympathy narrative branded “Poor Jen” as a lonely cat lady for years, one whose greatest crime was being single and dating a lot. She became the tabloids’ own Carrie Bradshaw, which is nice on television but “pathetic” in real life.

Despite being one of the highest paid and most successful actresses in Hollywood, she still continues to be defined by that one relationship, nearly a decade later. Believe it or not, a CNN piece from just last year showed that people are still picking sides, a matter of “intense interest” as the actresses’ “wedding wars” heat up.

And as CNN’s Stephanie Goldberg reports, Aniston was still catching flack from commenters: “Something must be wrong with her, Brad dropped her like a bad habit.” Another article from last November, after a rumored split from her fiancé, shows that the actress can’t escape that narrative.

“Jennifer Aniston is going through yet another low point in her life, newly single just in time for the holidays with precious little to pull her out of her misery,” wrote Someone You Won’t Remember on Interchangable Gossip Site.

“The two began drifting apart months ago and now are conveniently living and working on opposite coasts. The writing really had been on the wall once they started stalling about making wedding plans. It became obvious fairly quickly that there was never going to be a wedding, once again crushing Jen’s hopes for babies and a happily ever after.”

See? What a sad, old snatch.

Whereas Aniston has ignored the tabloid press, describing it as “toxic,” Paltrow has embraced what people say about her. In a much-lampooned quote from Elle Magazine, she said of her hate: “I am who I am. I can’t pretend to be somebody who makes $25,000 a year.”

According to Sarah Hampson of Canada’s Globe and Mail, the public likes that level of honesty “only if you’re someone I can see as my best friend,” ala Jennifer Lawrence, and not if we can’t relate to you. “This, of course, is exactly where Gwynnie loses many women,” Hampson writes.

In a piece for Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams argued that Paltrow isn’t interested in being Just Like Us, because she doesn’t need another best friend. She already has Beyoncé. “To her credit, unlike a myriad of politicians and movie stars who play the game of being regular folks, she embraces her privilege and doesn’t apologize for it,” Williams writes.

“She’s a true-blue Hollywood queen. And that, in its peculiar, incredibly envy-inspiring way, is just as real as it gets.”

In being unabashedly herself and not giving a hoot what people think, Paltrow is making bank. After she posted her letter to GOOP yesterday, one which seems designed for trolling, the surge of traffic crashed the site. It’s back up and running now, but moving gingerly, like a fashion forward grandma with a $3,000 walker.

Say what you will about Gwyneth Paltrow, but there’s no business like the hate business, especially if you can take those T-shirt profits for yourself. You can hate her all you want, so long as you remember to buy something while you’re at it.

Photo via Flickr/brixton21 (CC BY 2.0)

Nico Lang

Nico Lang

Nico Lang is an essayist, movie critic, and reporter who specializes in the intersection of politics and LGBTQ issues. His work has been featured in Rolling Stone, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, Jezebel, Esquire, and BuzzFeed, among other notable publications.