Star Hazing


We’re all familiar with the DiCaprio mania fueled by teenyboppers who would eagerly take a bullet for Leo. Gwyneth Paltrow, by contrast, seems to produce the more perplexing phenomenon of the anti-fan: people who follow her career as rabidly, but with the ultimate purpose of invalidating it. Everywhere you turn—from video stores to cafés to online chat rooms—Paltrow hating is in venomous vogue. On the Net, the celeb watchers of the newsgroup alt.gossip.celebrities have drawn up a 30-count indictment of Gwyneth, charging her with such high crimes as stealing scripts from best friend Winona Ryder and being blasé about the Brad Pitt breakup. Camille Paglia cited her career as an example of “Affirmative Action for show-biz brats.” Other movie buffs have dubbed her a “glorified Meg Ryan,” a “rich man’s Melanie Griffith,” and, most intriguingly, a “Sandra Dee without the innocence.” Even songs about Gwyneth seem hostile, as in “6ix” the Lemonheads 1996 ode to her character’s decapitation in Seven (“Here comes Gwyneth’s head in a box”)—an apt reference, considering that Gwyneth is fast becoming the Marie Antoinette of Young Hollywood.

“Paltrow bashing,” according to one online anti-fan, “is about the 3 p’s: privilege, princesshood, and Paltrow self-love.” Paltrow demonology is centered on the belief that her career has been one long coattail ride: daughter of actress Blythe Danner and producer Bruce Paltrow, cast in her first film role by family friend Steven Spielberg (whom she calls “Uncle Morty”), then girlfriend of “The World’s Sexiest Man.” Add to this the glaring divergence between the media gushing over Gwyneth (New York magazine called her “a funky angel come to earth to do some good deeds and maybe get in some shopping at Agnes b.”) and the widespread public perception that she has been foisted on them by the media—or, as one woman put it, “anointed a star without being one.”

Then there’s Gwyneth’s uncanny ability to transport many young women back to that low–self-esteem vortex known as high school, making them feel jealous, angry, and flawed vis-à-vis Gwyneth, the Homecoming Queen of their collective subconscious. But there’s a new twist: if Young Hollywood is simply high school’s “cool kids” with publicists, the rest of the class has become the American film audiences who pay their salaries—which sort of alters the power dynamic.

Now American audiences generally want to believe that multimillionaire celebrities can be “just like you and me,” providing stars (particularly women) convey a certain humility. But it seems that Gwyneth can’t walk that self-effacing–celebrity tightrope without falling off. Her expressed desire to “learn better manners” was nullified by her wayward assertion that no “regular people” live in New York City. Her ambiguous remarks about turning down Kate Winslet’s role in Titanic because “it just wasn’t my cup of tea,” perhaps meant to flaunt her indie credentials, were interpreted instead by anti-fans as face-saving haughtiness.

What can Gwyneth do to redeem herself? One Paltrow hater suggests a strict diet of “self-deprecating supporting film roles”: not Emma, but perhaps Harriet, her awkward sidekick. Then again, avoiding English accents altogether might be a better idea. In all likelihood, though, Gwyneth has nothing to worry about, considering that even her detractors will avidly follow her career in search of further indictments, as “She’s no Audrey Hepburn” becomes the cry of a generation.