TORONTO — Canadian researcher Mark Haden is quickly getting up to speed on the media circus and skepticism that follows Gwyneth Paltrow’s juggernaut wellness brand, Goop.
The 65-year-old Vancouver professor is the very first interview in Paltrow’s new Netflix series “The Goop Lab,” featured in an episode about the potential healing power of psychedelic drugs.
He says he only learned of Goop’s many detractors after taping his interview with Paltrow, but he adds that he’s faced a few critics of his own as executive director of MAPS Canada, which is the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
MAPS’ mission is to explore the potential psychedelic drugs hold for medical treatment, and so the invitation to appear on a Netflix show helmed by one of Hollywood’s biggest stars appealed to Haden, also an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health.
“We already have engaged fringy folks of the world and so now our next task is to engage the mainstream. You know, we want to heal cops — we’re targeting cops and veterans,” says Haden, whose U.S. counterparts are studying whether MDMA — better known as the club drug Ecstasy — can treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We want to appeal to guys in suits and housewives.”
To be sure, Goop’s dedicated following is large and ardent but Haden is now aware that its most famous products are resoundingly fringy — among them jade eggs for vaginas and psychic vampire repellent.
Meanwhile its wackier health claims, including coffee enemas and vaginal steaming, have drawn the ire of much of the medical community.
Nevertheless, Haden said he was pleased with the way his episode turned out, deeming it balanced and concerned with “real issues.”
Judging by the six episodes that rolled out Friday, denouncements by mainstream authorities are a badge of honour for Paltrow and the Goop crew, who seem to revel in declaring the topics they tackle as “unproven” and “out there.”
The trailer certainly highlights a seeming effort to appear cutting-edge with outtakes proclaiming that what you’re about to see is “dangerous” and “unregulated.”
The six episodes range from 29 to 36 minutes, with each tackling a specific topic: psychedelics, cold therapy, sexual health, reversing biological age, energy fields and psychic ability.
But none of this is cutting edge, says longtime Goop critic Tim Caulfield, who took Paltrow and the Goop ethos to task in his book “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything?” and his (no longer airing) Netflix series “A User’s Guide to Cheating Death.”
“On the contrary, a lot of these things are regressive in their approach to health,” says Caulfield, who blames celebrities including Paltrow, Kim Kardashian West, David and Victoria Beckham and Madonna with spreading a decade of health and wellness misinformation.
“It’s frustrating that she’s given the opportunity to spread not just misinformation about particular therapies, but (also) this idea that we should embrace magical thinking and distrust conventional sources of scientific information…. Whether you’re talking about the cold therapy, energy therapy, the use of mediums, all of these things have no evidence behind them.”
Each episode is prefaced by a disclaimer insisting the content is “designed to entertain and inform — not provide medical advice.”
And it’s hard to believe the media-savvy Paltrow would not be hyper-aware of the scrutiny she seems to invite — one of Goop’s more defiant products, a candle named “This Smells Like My Vagina,” hit the market just before the Netflix premiere.
The show itself includes a lighthearted dig at which Goop staffer is “goopier,” and a jab at Paltrow for being a “princess.”
Still, none of that self-awareness gives Paltrow licence “to push pseudoscience,” says Caulfield.
Especially problematic for him is the fact that “The Goop Lab” functions as an extended infomercial for Paltrow’s online and brick-and-mortar retail outlets.
While products are not overtly pitched on the series, the Goop website includes a dedicated section known as “The Goop Lab Shop” where devotees can buy items associated with themes featured on the show.
Toronto brand consultant Angela Wallace stops short of describing herself as a Goop fan but says she likes the fact it explores non-traditional approaches to wellness, believing “a lot of women feel let down by more traditional health-care systems.”
“A lot of the criticism does seem like: ‘Aren’t women silly? Aren’t they frivolous? Aren’t they ridiculous for buying a jade egg or doing whatever they want in terms of making themselves happy and feeling well?'” says Wallace, who has shopped at Goop’s Yorkville outlet and subscribes to the newsletter.
She feels there is a gender bias in the way women are derided for their choices.
“Men have been doing … what they want for a really long time and not necessarily receiving the cultural criticism that women have,” she says.
“Shouldn’t we have some agency in whether we decide to do that or not?”
Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press