I don’t know when the Internet decided that it was forever open season on the “Iron Man 3″ star, but it seems that it has been this way for some time. And when People Magazine dubbed her the “World’s Most Beautiful Woman,” the floodgates burst.

The Atlantic Wire’s Richard Lawson called her “the collection of dandelion fuzz blown into human form by mysterious winds.” He joked that she credits “her youthful features to the strange glowing orb she found in a cave in Bhutan, her silky hair to the mysterious straw-spinning gnome Rumpelstiltskin, and her trim figure to her regular diet of songs about protein that she plays on the triangle every day at dawn in her backyard. At the end of the interview, the reporter looked down at his notes to make sure he had no more questions, but when he looked up she was gone, only a faint glimmer of light passing through the walls and then disappearing.”

We do this on a fairly routine basis. Gwyneth, Gwyneth, Gwyneth. Light of our life, fire of our loins. Monica Hesse writes, “There are other celebrities in America who are more clueless, more doe-dazed than Gwyneth. But they don’t lay themselves bare the way she does, nakedly offering herself up for scrutiny again and again, a flayed fillet of fame.” 

Why exactly? Is it Goop, her lifestyle Web site?

Yes, probably. It is impossible to take seriously anybody who insists that “When traveling with a family, a terrific and often more economical way to go is to rent a house or an apartment.” Yes. So economical.

This month, in the Be section of her much-maligned newsletter, she noted, “Habits are much more powerful than we realize. So often we act out of what we are used to, what we know, what we have done in the past instead of making a better choice. A choice in the moment that might be for our higher good. In researching for this issue, I saw that oftentimes, detrimental behaviors can be modified by focusing on changing patterns, and forming new neural pathways. Now, I am not saying I don’t need a shrink. But how empowering to have the tools to make significant change by identifying the kind of choices you want to be making and habitualizing them? Below, we share what we have learned on the subject.”


It’s the Internet equivalent of a Kick Me sign.

It’s no crime to be clueless and overprivileged and take it for granted — until the moment when, no longer content to be ridiculous by yourself, you start to inflict this on others, thinking that you are sharing brilliant and illuminating insights for which we will be grateful.

Most of us know this general attitude as adolescence.

I couldn’t help thinking about Gwyneth when a number of college essays that had gotten this year’s high school seniors into Columbia (congratulations, folks!) leaked online, to rampant mockery.

John Barrymore once wisely described love as “the delightful interval between meeting a beautiful girl and discovering that she looks like a haddock.” There is a similar interval between writing your college essay, knowing that it is one of the most incisive, brilliant and beautiful pieces of writing ever penned by a human being, and discovering that you were just one more aspiring, pretentious teen in a vast forest of aspiring, pretentious teens. That interval starts the moment you are admitted and ends — well, it varies.

It’s not that the essays are badly written. They’re shining examples of their genre (you try to interest an elite university in yourself in fewer than 1,000 words and see how well you do without sounding like a jerk). But the attitude still makes us wince. It’s not that they are particularly mockable on their own, although some of them are (“All week as I looked at the Drum Circle, waiting for the Flag Ceremony to begin”). It’s that they remind us of how we used to sound. (“‘You’re such a hipster.’ It’s a phrase heard everyday in school hallways across America, and its usage often operates as a conundrum that obscures teenagers’ perceptions of themselves and who they want to be.”)

Most of us experience a moment of revulsion, the moment when That Brilliant Story I Wrote That Should Be In The New Yorker, Like, Six Times turns into cringeworthy juvenilia. It’s the shock of seeing a recording of yourself for the first time. You have this idea that you are really suave and impeccably dressed and do not wave your arms, say “Uh” constantly, and squint oddly at people when they speak.  “Do I really sound like that?” you say timidly. There’s a whole show devoted to this moment, called “Mortified,” where people read aloud their adolescent writings and shudder. You had this idea that you speak, people listen, and that when you write, the words flow trippingly off the pen like rainbow unicorns frolicking in a meadow of, uh, literateness. Most of us survive the moment of realizing how we sound.

Gwyneth Paltrow has never had to. Gwyneth Paltrow is your college essay. Gwyneth Paltrow is the really profound note you wrote to yourself at 3 a.m. with the Real Key To The Universe. Gwyneth Paltrow is your best friend’s band that you have never told her is no good. She seems perfectly nice but totally clueless of the effect she produces on others. She was literally wearing the Emperor’s New Dress on the red carpet just now. “No, Gwyneth,” everyone in the kingdom said. “That’s perfectly adequate coverage.” And there’s a certain delightful goofiness to her because of it.

Over at Jezebel, Lindy West admits to love-hating her in a round-up of the brilliant transcendent cluelessness that we have come to know and love. “Yeah, I get that making fun of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop empire is a bit 2009 (vintage!), but the thing is that she just keeps doing stuff. I’m supposed to stop making fun of her just because we already made fun of her a bunch some other time? When she insists on continuing to do hilarious stuff? NNNNNOPE, SORRY. I find it impossible to really dislike Gwyneth—she seems genuinely sweet, plus Chris Martin was so utterly delightful on Extras—but I still think she’s goofy as hell. Commitment to whimsy + clueless gusto + impenetrable privilege = the world’s best comedy. And making fun of her is pretty much a victimless crime because she’s literally the queen of earth and space.”

This is pretty much every point I would make, but with more panache in its capitalization.

Maybe we don’t need to stop being mean to Gwyneth Paltrow. But let’s be grateful just a moment. There, but for the moment of realizing how we sounded, goop all of us.

This week I’m trying the fun experiment of including my Twitter handle at the end of everything, even though my response to reading something is seldom  “WHAT AN ARTICLE! I MUST KNOW EVERY THOUGHT OF THE HUMAN RESPONSIBLE!” But let’s see how it goes. I’m @petridishes. 

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".