the goop lab on Netflix: Selling quackery under the guise of female “empowerment”

It will come as no surprise that I’m not a fan of either Gwyneth Paltrow or her “wellness” empire known as Goop. True, I’m not nearly as well known for refuting the pseudoscientific and mystical New Age nonsense that Goop markets to women with more money than sense, thus acting like my favorite line from the Mitchell and Webb sketch “Homeopathic A&E” about being there when “someone comes in with a vague sense of unease, or a touch of the nerves, or even just more money than sense” with a “bottle of basically just water in one hand and a huge invoice in the other.” Of course, in Goop’s case, it’s jade eggs in the vagina, psychic vampire repellant, bee venom acupuncture, magic pieces of tape, and the now regular “In Goop Health” confabs where all manner of quacks peddle their wares using Paltrow’s star power, including antivaxxers, HIV/AIDS denialists, psychic mediums, and worse. So I wasn’t at all pleased to finally see the announcement by Netflix that the long dreaded Goop show is going to premere on January 24. The name of the show? the goop lab (yes, all lower case e.e. cummings-like):

Paltrow is also totally trolling skeptics with this poster:

the goop lab poster

Yes, that is a real promotional poster. It’s not a parody or a meme. It’s clearly a reference to the vaginal jade eggs that made Goop (in)famous. The only way it could have been more obvious would be if Paltrow had worn a green dress.

The purpose of the goop lab is to “explore ideas that might seem too out there or too scary”? No, none of the “ideas” that I saw in that video were anything of the sort: psychic mediums, orgasms, energy healing (of which, apparently, exorcism is a subset), psychedelic drugs, and cold therapy. Of course, applying cold to injuries is a longstanding method for symptom relief, but you know that the goop lab will look at the most woo-filled version, like this or perhaps liquid nitrogen treatments.

I rather like R. Eric Thomas’ characterization in ELLE of the goop lab based on the trailer:

The areas of “study” in the “lab” include “Psychedelics”, “Cold Therapy”, “Psychic Mediums”, “Orgasms”, and “Energy Healing”, all of which seem like categories on the most deranged episode of Jeopardy! yet. Cold Therapy, for instance, seems to involve bringing a bunch of Goop employees in bathrobes into a tundra and then… I don’t know, Lord of the Flies-ing it? Who can say? I am willing to entertain the idea that Gwyneth is performing a psychological experiment to see how far she can push people before they band together and overthrow her.

The thing I find so fascinating about Goop-era Gwyneth is that she consistently maintains the energy of that one friend you have who is always doing things that seem like cries for help but are kind of working out for her nonetheless. Once a month you meet her for bottomless brunch and she tells you about throwing up her soul while doing ayahuasca or spending two weeks at a silent retreat run by a Komodo dragon and you have to figure out how one asks follow-up questions. She’s like “Anyway, I’m sure you already guessed this but I found out that one of the things affecting my productivity was that my clitoris is haunted.” And you’re like “Oh, well that sounds like a real pickle. My washing machine has been making a strange noise so I… I get it.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time Paltrow and Goop have faced pushback from doctors and scientists over her promotion of pseudoscience, and the goop lab is no exception. For example, a couple of years ago, Paltrow published attacks by several of the quacks with whom she collaborates on her most prominent critic, Dr. Jen Gunter, a physician who was among the first to mock and debunk goop’s claims for the vaginal jade eggs it was selling. One of those quacks, possibly embarrassed, possibly not (who knows?) even tried to back off and distance herself from Goop. Despite occasionally promising to do better with respect to publishing pseudoscience, Paltrow and Goop remain stubbornly resistant to fact checking. Indeed, she wanted to do a Goop magazine with Conde Nast, but the deal fell through because Conde Nast insists that all articles be rigorously fact-checked.

Not surprisingly, Paltrow showed up on Power Lunch on CNBC Monday to promote her brand, her show, and also a new collaboration she has with Sephora. Here’s a snippet:

Here’s the whole interview, if you can stomach it:

It’s annoying how the host goes on about how the trailer for the goop lab has gone viral. In any event, not surprisingly, Paltrow defended goop yet again, defending seeking out “alternative ways of healing” that may help women. She also dismisses Goop’s promotion of pseudoscience as, in essence, minor mistakes that Goop made when it was a startup because she and those running Goop didn’t know about regulatory issues and “making claims.” She even claims that for over a year goop has had an “incredibly robust and brilliant science and regulatory team in house” led by an MIT scientist. (I chuckled. Maybe that scientist runs the goop lab too.) Of course being affiliated with MIT (or Harvard or Stanford or any other famous school) is no guarantee against pseudoscience, as those who’ve followed the infiltration (or should I say, “integration”?) of pseudoscience into medicine in academic medical centers under the label “integrative medicine.”

She’s also full of crap here:

But it is really important, you know, it’s like, people say sometimes, you know, we’ll talk about something that’s controversial, and then in six months it’s a more widely adopted thing. To generalize and say there’s been controversy around us, I don’t think, is quite fair when you look at other businesses and some of the hot water they’ve gotten into along the way.

Great defense of Goop and the goop lab! “We’re not as bad as some companies!” Also, what Goop has promoted (and the trailer for the goop lab tells me it will continue to promote) is not “controversial.” “Controversial” implies two sides to an argument that are not unreasonable. No, what Goop and the goop lab promote are pseudoscience and quackery.

I also laughed at the part where Paltro claims that Goop has learned from past mistakes promoting “controversial treatments” while wrapping herself in the mantra of female empowerment:

Like, we’re really just trying to move culture forward, especially as it comes to women, and I think the reason why Goop has become as popular as it has become is because women feel largely ignored when it comes to talking to their doctors about how they’re feeling, and so they want to check out alternative ways of healing and having autonomy over their own health, and their own selves, and their own sexuality, and their own relationships, whether it’s parenting or at work. And, so, I think we feel really proud about the fact that we’re blazing trails a little bit and that we changed the conversation and that people, you know, seem to follow suit.

It is true that women have been ignored too often by medicine, which until recently (and still to too great an extent) has been patriarchal and often dismissive of women’s concerns. It is not “empowerment,” though, to use that dissatisfaction and disgruntlement over the way medicine has treated women in the past as an “in” to sell them quackery, pseudoscience, and, outright bullshit. the goop lab is just the latest marketing tool in the Goop armamentarium to do just that.