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Sunday Column: on behalf of Gwyneth and others – enough with the snark.

Gwyneth has been emailing me a lot lately. She’s been telling me about
the books she’s been reading, the cities she’s visited, the clothes
she’s bought and even the punishing detox she did in February.

“I need
to lose a few pounds of holiday excess” she told me before describing
her gruelling Master Cleanse……

…….“Excess?” I exclaimed. “Gwyneth, you
don’t need to lose any weight! Your body is a wonderland!”

See? I’m supportive like that. I really meant to put those words of encouragement in a reply to Gwyneth but I forgot to hit send. No matter. As one of the 150,000 people who subscribe to Gwyneth’s free weekly newsletter called GOOP (which is derived from a nickname based on her initials and carries the tagline, Nourish The Inner Aspect), my silence won’t be too devastating.

Thankfully, she’s not dieting anymore. No more vegie juice and GOOP poop. “The cookie” she wrote this week. “Butter. Brown sugar. Chocolate. I’ve rounded up some of my all-time faves, the ones that you find on my kitchen table most often. Bliss.”

So why does a millionaire Oscar-winning actress want to email ordinary shmucks like me with her personal recipes, book suggestions, spiritual musings and travel tips?
Altruism? Maybe. Creative expression? Certainly. Or is it an attempt to re-invent herself as a younger, hipper Martha Stewart lifestyle guru? Whatever. It’s certainly freaking out a lot of people.

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Gwyneth insists her motivations for starting GOOP were simple and harmless. “I felt like I had a lot of really useful information that I was privileged enough to get, because I have this amazing, super, fortunate life” she told People magazine, “My friends call me all the time to say, ‘Where should I go?’ or ‘What should I do?’ And I thought, you know maybe some other people would be interested in it as well.”

I was interested enough. So I signed up. I don’t bake Gwyneth’s cookies or buy her wardrobe staples and I know I never will but I find the glimpse into her glossy life mildly diverting. There’s another type of person who signed up for GOOP: Gwyneth haters. Why choose to receive a newsletter you find annoying from someone you can’t stand? So you can be snarky.

If you’re not familiar with the term ‘snark’ (a hybrid of the words ‘snide’ and ‘remark’), it’s a pervasive feature of online life. This is because it’s easier to throw stones at people while hiding behind your computer.

Snarking is a lot like heckling. It’s about tall poppies and sarcasm and it’s always sneerily, mockingly negative.
I hate snark but that doesn’t mean I’m advocating a bland, happy-clappy bubble of indiscriminate acceptance instead. Being anti-snark is not about suspending critical thought. You can be critical or contrary without being snarky.
Snark is also different to outrage. The explosive debates about Matthew Johns, The Chaser and Gordon Ramsay haven’t been snarky. They’ve been too heated. Snark is a more passive-aggressive beast.

Like this: [itals]“She really is a pretentious windbag,” [itals] wrote a commenter on a Huffington Post story about Gwyneth. [itals]“However, I don’t want her to give up GOOP. During these tough times, it’s nice to have something to laugh at!”[itals] Or this: [itals]“Why is it called GOOP?”[itals] sniped another. [itals]“Perhaps ‘Any Old Load of Rubbish’ and ‘Learn From Me, Ungrateful Peasant’ were both taken.”[itals]

Gwyneth says she’s baffled by the vitriol. “I find it really interesting because it’s a harmless newsletter” she told a journalist. “People get a hit of energy when they are negative about something. And they do not understand why they do not have a happy life. I am who I am. I can’t pretend to be somebody who makes $25,000 a year.” And really, why should she?

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You don’t have to be married to the lead singer of Coldplay to inspire snark. Just ask blogger Danielle Smith. After posting a benign photo of her family on Facebook last year, somehow it ended up as a giant advertisement in the window of a Czech supermarket.

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When the story made news, it sent huge traffic to her website, extraordinarymommmy.com. Many people left messages of support but others were snarky. In a follow up post, she wrote:

Seriously? You just felt compelled to tell me my husband is the unluckiest guy in the world because he got ‘stuck’ with me? Or that he is ugly? Or something even more hideous about my kids? You think I’m a terrible mom for posting family pictures? I’m a moron for not knowing this could happen? And you with the big and nasty words – you hide behind your anonymity. Why? Because you are a coward. You hide behind your computer – somehow this makes you feel powerful. Strange.”

This is the perfect example of snark; go to someone’s website and make nasty comments which contribute nothing to the collective discussion. It’s a lot like turning up to someone’s party uninvited and then vomiting all over the floor. Wait, I have an idea. If Gwyneth irritates you and you think she’s a pampered tosser? Don’t subscribe to her newsletter. It’s that easy. Or, as Gwyneth declared to UK Elle recently ‘F*** the haters!”

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