On Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s Divorce, Clickbait And The Death Throes Of The Media

Integrity: 1) the quality of being honest and having moral principles. 2) the quality of being sound in construction.

Sad news as Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announce publicly via Gwyneth’s website Goop.com that they’re getting a divorce. A divorce is almost invariably sad news, even when one half of the erstwhile couple wrote I Was Born To Fix You. So it ought to go without saying that hopefully they can be left to it to get the split finalised with a minimum of pain and anguish and without the sort of journalistic pile-up these affairs usually invite.

Like I said, it ought to go without saying but, y’know, clickbait…

The Goop.com statement itself is entirely dignified and thoughtful. Ok there’s also an Instagrammy snap of them in presumably happier times, and of course she’s wearing something floaty like a latter day earth goddess (and why not) that makes her look both, like, totally effortlessly glamorous and completely approachable. Which is a bit ick, but all in all it could and possibly should have been worse.

Of course in the celebriverse nothing is so simple. And they didn’t quite help themselves, what with that pseudospiritual/scientific-sounding title ‘Conscious Uncoupling’ and the much longer –insert pejorative term here– diatribe explaining the concept, which is exactly what you’d expect from a cursory glance around the rest of the website.

That’s the nicest way I can think to put it – being a crusty old cynic I take issue with anything quasi-thought-based that uses Paleolithic man as a rhetorical parry in the intellectual skirmish.

See also: the paleo diet (Paleolithic man had a life expectancy of about five minutes and a diet that consisted of whatever happened to be lying around, up to and including the contents of dead animals’ stomachs – they definitely wouldn’t have been sniffy about cereals or monosodium glutamate).

Anyhoo, the end result of all this is that a divorcing couple made an entirely uncontroversial public statement which they framed in a typically anodyne and precious fashion. But what else would anyone expect: a selfie of Gwyneth with a pint and a double bacon cheeseburger accompanied by a missive along the lines of ‘dumped the drip. Mama’s found her fancy underwear and her inner goddess wants a spanking; who’s gonna’ oblige’?

Or a Chris Martin selfie accompanied by a missive along the same lines for that matter.

That really ought to be the end of it. But modern journalism increasingly resembles an echo chamber of bollocks.

The Daily Mail has been its usual sensitive self, posting pictures of the couple’s real estate portfolio and Gwyneth in short shorts and asking rhetorically how they’re going to split their $150m and sparkly friends. Further downmarket and there’s a shit ton of schadenfreude with Gwyneth’s name on it. So far, so typical.

But the more interesting development is that of proper journalists trying to put it into a wider context, which is like trying to find meaning in a Paulie Shore movie (thanks Clueless, you’ve always been there for me).

The Guardian’s Anne Perkins posted a toxic little piece (she reserved most of her ire for the ‘snake oil salesmen of the soul’ experts, but do check out that final paragraph) about how this conscious uncoupling had nothing to teach ordinary people. To be fair Goop.com is a little didactic, but it’s mainly mildly self-congratulatory navel gazing, like most blogs (especially this one).

The Washington Post crayoned a thinkpiece about how actually maybe the ‘female celebrity’ doesn’t have it all, after all. You see, theoretically they do because they have high-powered careers and the finances to raise kids simultaneously and have agency and look totally hot in skinny jeans. To be fair, a lifetime of pressure to diet surely contradicts the fundamental conceit of ‘having it all’.

But anyway, celebrity divorces enable us to assess our and our society’s attitudes to marriage and divorce with emotional distance. Predictably, the Post concludes that maybe none of us can have it all, after all.

Well stick a knife in me, I’m done.

I mean, wow. Here was me thinking that journalism was in crisis because of money rather than a race to the bottom of the integrity barrel.

In the midst of the tawdry gossip of Gwyneth’s alleged affair(s), published with cowardly qualifiers such as ‘might’ because libel, speculation over asset splits and custody battles, memes and clickbait and snicker-snack paddywhack snark; and crocodile tears cried by commentators for no one but themselves; there’s a faux-profound need to understand, to find any old pop psychology that hasn’t already been claimed by one of the other tabloids to recast a commonplace personal catastrophe as a study in the ways and follies of man. And that, my darlings, is probably the longest sentence I’ve ever written.

There’s only one actual lesson to learn from all this: there’s a yawning chasm between ‘public interest’ and ‘things the public might be interested in’.

Beyond that, if you don’t know either of them then you’re not affected by their separation (if you think you are then you might want to reconsider your priorities in life). Their divorce can teach you nothing about the problems you may have in your own relationships. And while we’re on the subject, whatever enjoyment you might get from it all do bear in mind that it comes at the expense of actual people with actual feelings.

So while ‘conscious uncoupling’ sounds like pretentious self-parody, whatever panacea they self-prescribe for their pain is a matter for them. And it probably beats spending the next year getting pissed in your kitchen Facebook stalking and glazing your friends’ eyes over with never-ending volcanic rumblings about the many failings of ‘ting.