Long before the pandemic took the lives of more than 5.6 million people and created a lucrative market for COVID grifts, misinformation, and snake oil, there was Goop.
The aspirational lifestyle brand and its lustrous “contextual commerce” products are helmed by actor Gwyneth Paltrow, who has used her fame, wealth, and enviable genetics to peddle all manner of wellness pseudoscience and quackery. With the manipulative mantra of “empowering” women to seize control of their health and destinies, Paltrow’s Goop has touted extremely questionable—if not downright dangerous—products. Perhaps the most notorious is the jade egg, a $66 egg-shaped rock Goop advised women to shove up their vaginas while claiming it could treat medical conditions, “detox” lady bits, and invigorate mystical life forces (of course).
But let’s not forget the $135 “Implant O’Rama” enema device intended to squirt scalding coffee into your colon, the $90 luxury vitamins that almost certainly do nothing, or the $85 “medicine bag” of small, polished rocks that Goop suggests have magical wellness properties. Then there was the bee-sting therapy—no, not therapy for bee stings but therapy imparted from bee stings. Paltrow personally endorsed the practice, which was blamed for the death of a 55-year-old Spanish woman in 2018.
And, of course, Goop embraces the long-standing hokum known as homeopathy, which essentially claims ritualized dilutions of poisons can cure disease and anthropomorphic water molecules can remember how to heal you. (A startling number of homeopathic products are for sale in the US, including baby teething tablets and gels linked to the deaths of 10 infants and poisonings of 400 others.)
Since Goop’s pre-pandemic heyday of generating startling headlines with brazen balderdash, the company has toned down some of its marketing, added disclaimers to products and endorsements, settled lawsuits, and paid out six-figure penalties for making false health claims. But in case you’re concerned that any of this hurt Goop’s bottom line or had Paltrow reconsidering her business, don’t worry. As of late last year, Goop was valued at more than $430 million. The Goop website is still happy to tell you that your liver and kidneys don’t work and you need to “detox.”
Alas, Goop’s success is yet another example of how hawking misinformation, pseudoscience, and nostrum to the disaffected is extremely lucrative. Though, to be fair, most peddlers of nonsense don’t have anything close to Paltrow’s glamorous flare. In fact, as Goop responded to backlash from health experts in 2017, we all got to witness the Oscar winner-turned-CEO’s deft defense of her chic bottles of snake oil. It was truly a master class of elite-level quackery—one that clearly reverberates today.
Paltrow’s 2017 defense of Goop sprung to my mind as I read the transcript of Joe Rogan’s recent nonapology for hosting, elevating, and endorsing an endless stream of harmful misinformation about COVID-19 on his $100 million podcast. Among other things, he has promoted unproven and potentially dangerous treatments, spread falsehoods and misinformation about vaccines, and downplayed the risks of the virus, which—again—has killed more than 5.6 million people worldwide and counting.
I won’t spend time debunking all of Rogan’s bunkum. Plenty of outlets have done that work—see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc. The fact that his podcast is rife with misinformation and falsehoods is not in question. Last month, hundreds of doctors and public health experts called out Spotify in an open letter for allowing Rogan to continue spewing “false and societally harmful assertions” about the pandemic. The misinformation is why he gave his nonapology in the first place.
Instead, I’ll focus on his defense of platforming misinformation because, just like Paltrow’s defense of Goop, Rogan’s rationalizations are a modern, skillful take on a classic snake oil sales pitch. In fact, if you plucked sentences from each without attribution, you’d have a killer quackery-themed Mad Libs, as well as a challenging guessing game of “who said it best?”