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In today's post I will defend the honor of Gwyneth Paltrow. This week she got some heat for saying in an interview for Popeater that "Everything in my life that's good is because I worked my ass off to get it and to maintain it."

Who has a problem with that? An ambitious writer named Keli Goff does. In a lengthy article in The Huffington Post she accuses Gwyneth of "gloating" and says this is part of the bigger problem of an "attitude of entitlement" by those born rich and advantaged. The Huffington Post thought Goff's point of view was worthy of a lot of real estate online. And because the story involves a celebrity, it got picked up by other sites and bounced all over the Internet.

As my regular readers know, I recently learned that there is an unwritten rule to the effect that celebrities should not defend themselves in the media, even against unfair, false, libelous, and career-ending claims. If a celebrity is foolish enough to try, it is seen as "digging deeper." The media likes to keep a controversy alive, so anything said in defense will be taken out of context and it will indeed make things worse. Gwyneth just found this out too. Her statement that she works hard was in the context of answering a question about the nasty criticism she's been getting lately. She did in fact dig herself deeper. And if she takes another run at it, things will only get worse.

Luckily, for Gwyneth, I'm here to help. I bring to this fight one major advantage: I am not Gwyneth Paltrow. Nor do I have any connection to her. And I hereby offer my Internet Reputation Defense services to any other celebrity who gets the hatchet treatment from the lower rung of the media. Gwyneth will be my first case. If she still has a career when I'm done helping her, I hope to get more non-paying clients.

Let's start with some background that you need to understand about the writing industry. It's a hard field to break into. Newspapers are struggling. Magazines are shrinking. Publishers would rather sell a poorly written book from a well-known author than a masterpiece from someone new. The Internet is so vast that it's hard to get noticed. What's an ambitious writer to do?

If you're both ambitious and unscrupulous, there's a simple formula for getting attention. It goes like this:

1.       Pick a hot social theme that's on everyone's mind.

2.       Find a celebrity to tie to the theme.

3.       Take the celebrity's words out of context to link him/her to the larger theme.

4.       Write some celebrity career-snuff-porn disguised as social commentary.

5.       Offer your piece for free to The Huffington Post or other blogger-friendly sites.

6.       Use the exposure to puff up your credentials.

You could call this writing technique "putting a face on an issue." Let's see how Keli Goff did it. You can start by looking at her background  on her web site. She's evidently talented and has had some success.  Someday she might be a household name. But at this point in her career she needs to fatten up her credentials to take the next leap.

To start, she needed a hot social theme to plug into the formula. In this case she cleverly picked class friction between the rich and the poor. The budget debate has put a spotlight on that issue. It's the perfect theme for the times. Now she needs to put a face on it. But who?

The obvious choice might be a fat cat billionaire. But most of them are not interesting enough to bring sparkle to a story. Worse yet, billionaires might have the means and the meanness to retaliate. If you're a writer just starting out, you don't want to piss off someone who golfs with publishing tycoons. That's burning your bridges before you even cross them.

Then Goff's radar picked up Gwyneth's interview for Popeater. It wasn't a perfect fit, but with some creative writing, Goff realized this could work. For step one, Goff equated Gwyneth's quote about working hard to "gloating." If you read it quickly, as most people will, you don't notice this sleight of hand. You're predisposed to think celebrities have oversized egos and surely must gloat, so you don't notice that the evidence doesn't match the conclusion. It's not even close. In your wildest imagination, speaking of your own hard work is not similar to gloating. But Goff somehow connects those dots.

Now that Goff has established Gwyneth as a damned gloater, any other charge against her is likely to stick. The reader has been primed. Is Gwyneth also a serial puppy choker? It would seem likely, given her gloating ways.

Next, it's time for Goff to manage the context in a way that makes her case more compelling. Goff notes that Gwyneth credits her work ethic for her success as if it didn't matter that she had famous Hollywood parents and her "uncle" is Steven Spielberg. To Goff, that means Gwyneth is "...under the delusion that she earned everything that she has..." Ouch.

Here's some context that Goff could have mentioned: When people talk, they normally leave out the obvious. If people didn't leave out the obvious, no conversation would ever end. In addition to Gwyneth leaving out the part about her well-known past, she also failed to mention that she's beautiful and talented. She didn't even mention that she is alive, which is totally an advantage. I can think of quite a few advantages Gwyneth didn't mention. Does that mean she's not aware of them? I'm almost positive she knows who Steven Spielberg is. Her background is known by anyone who might read an interview on Popeater. In that context, leaving it out makes sense. When Goff moves the context to the Huffington Post, where readers are far less likely to know celebrity minutia, it looks like a grievous omission.

It's worth noting, in the interest of context, that Goff was born with a few advantages herself. She's beautiful, smart, and apparently had the resources she needed to make it through NYU and go on to get her Master's Degree at Columbia University.  If you ask Goff what made her successful, would she credit her hard work and leave out her other obvious advantages? Or would she answer honestly and say, "I worked hard for what I've achieved, but it didn't hurt that I'm a brilliant, smoking-hot African-American woman in 2011." I'm just saying that people don't generally talk about their advantages. To do so would be...wait for it...gloating.

We demand that our celebrities be role models. Isn't it better if they say in interviews that hard work is the main key to success? Or would we be happier with Gwyneth if she said something more along the lines of "Honestly, if I didn't have connections I'd be a crack whore right now."

Here's some more context: What percentage of well-connected children of Hollywood power couples go on to win Academy Awards and then transition into music careers without hard work? I can think of a dozen or so kids of famous actors who went on to do great things, but don't 95% of them fail to reach the standard of their famous parents? Hard work probably counts for something.

I think Keli Goff has a bright future ahead of her. I just hope she stops saying that children should not work hard to get ahead. (See what I did right there?)
 
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+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 21, 2011
Everyone has advantages over somebody else. An only child of two parents, one earning 50,000 a year and the other being a stay home parent, certainly has an advantage over a child with 2 siblings and two working parents whose combined income is 60,000-70,000 a year. ON the surface, you might look at the high household income and conclude one thing, but then you'd be missing out on the larger context.

I've also gone to public school with fairly poor kids who were nonetheless popular with students and teachers alike. They weren't especially intelligent or capable, but they were so well liked, they ended up getting all the "help" from teachers and others that well off but less popular kids that I know didn't receive. There are also plenty of rich kids who grow up to be uncoordinated planners and up failing to get much further than a high school drop out. I also know kids who were born poor, but married somebody who was well off enough that they were able to go to college and get a degree without having to support themselves who ended up pretty well off, just as I know a lot of rich kids who had parents dump all of their expectations on them who ended up defaulting on their student loans and now live in a one bedroom apartment, single, with a ton of debt to pay off and no decent job to show for it.

The truth of the matter is that life can be difficult for everyone, no matter how fortunate they may appear to outsiders. The author that was criticizing Paltrow sounds like the ugly kid in high school who complains that the popular kids have it so good, when they don't even know anything about that other persons life at all. It's really easy for the dorky kid to think that the attractive, popular kids have it so good, just as it is easy for poor people to assume that everyone who is born into a family making 100k is living life on easy street. Jealousy tends to bring out the worst in people, including stupidity and ignorance.
 
 
-10 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 21, 2011
Scott, we all knew you were sexist but now you're racist as well?!

---

But seriously, I hate this whole "attitude of entitlement" debate. It's very polarising for a start, with a tendency for black people to take one side and whites the other. I'd like to see a society where we celebrate people's hard work rather than criticise it. America has been somewhat free of Tall Poppy Syndrome until recently; I genuinely hope this is a passing phase, just like that negro wench's popularity.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 21, 2011
Dang it! I just snorted coffee all over my last clean white tank top. It wasn't the blog post itself, though that was nicely done. It was Dwigt's comment and Scott's response. Very funny. Good thing I work from home, though!
 
 
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 21, 2011
Tomorrow's blog topic: 'Defending Keli Goff' by SockPuppet X. ... Discredited Dilbert author Scott Adams, recently accused the noted Huffington Post journalist of being 'ambitious and unscrupulous'. Adams' use of this simple formula for getting attention, known as "putting a face on the issue", was evidently part of his ongoing defense against unfair, false, libelous, and career-ending claims that he believes that humans are merely moist robots and also that he eats baby turnips.
 
 
Apr 21, 2011
While I do agree that Keli's piece is a lazy character assassination created to gain readership, I strongly disagree with your implication that being related to Steven Spielberg didn't open up any doors for Paltrow. That's laughably absurd and Paltrow would be absolutely delusional if she doesn't think that was a massive contributing factor in her early opportunities (I don't know if she thinks this or not).


And that's really what connections do - they don't "make you successful". But they give you opportunities that you would not otherwise.
 
 
Apr 21, 2011
Wow, I never thought I'd feel sorry for Gwyneth Paltrow, who I have always viewed as marginally talented and one of the most unattractive "beautiful" people in the world. (Seriously, I don't get it, she is one of plainest looking women ever to be in the movies; granted you're working with a weirdly skewed dataset at that point, but still.) She also frankly doesn't seem that intelligent. Pile on that my distate for parents who give their kids unusual names because, clearly, have a common, ordinary name will make you common and ordinary, right? Oh, and no, she can't sing. All in all, not a fan.

But jeez, even she doesn't deserve the kind of hack job this -- writer? blogger? what the heck is her job, anyway? -- gave her. Straw Man, thy name is Keli Goff.
 
 
+24 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 21, 2011
As an established serial puppy choker, I'm offended by your attempt to link my profession to the likes of that obscene gloater, Gwyneth Paltrow.
 
 
Apr 21, 2011
I think you've found a new niche, Scott. Where can I pick up some shares? Or are you giving them out to rich needy celebs pro bono?
 
 
Apr 21, 2011
Scott-

You are Keli Goff's editor. Do you let her run the story?

You are Keli Goff's mentor. Do you encourage her to run the story?

You are Scott Adams. Do you encourage her to run the story?
 
 
Apr 21, 2011
My anecdotal bias is in the entertainment business. It varies.
 
 
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 21, 2011
How can we be sure that you're not actually a sock-puppet of Gwyneth Paltrow?
 
 
Apr 21, 2011
Non-paying, not unpaid.

And her point is valid. Not everyone who is successful made it through connections. But connections are far, far and away the most important advantage – much more than talent. Talent and $4.50 will get you a cup of coffee.

But you will never convince someone of that who was born on third base and thinks they hit a triple.

[I've met hundreds of successful people in my life and I can't think of any that had special connections that they didn't forge on their own. That's my anecdotal bias. Your mileage may vary. -- Scott]
 
 
+39 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 21, 2011
I eagerly await the future HuffPost article about how you are a sexist/racist hell-bent on destroying the career of a "smoking-hot African-American woman."

[Gosh, I hope not. I don't like attention. -- Scott]
 
 
-5 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 21, 2011
Ok, actually Nick has been in a couple good movies, but most of the others were so blindingly awful they must have purged any positive reollections of old Nick from my mind.

 
 
Apr 21, 2011
the problem is she didn't thank god for her stuff. it is inherently un american to refuse to thank god for your good fortune. that's why everyone has a problem with it.
 
 
Apr 21, 2011
Could you please redirect your rants back in the direction of entertaining me? I already know infinitely more than I care to about how the world works.
 
 
Apr 21, 2011
I read both of the other articles before posting this. I was not surprised to find that Gwyneth Paltrow does attribute her success to some "luck" in the original article. She mentions family and being sent to a good school. Then goes on to tie that to a decision to work hard to make the most of that advantage. It becomes clear that Goff's article ignores those factual statements, since she seems to chastise her for ignoring her good fortune when Paltrow clearly mentions it.

It seem that most people don't want to hear the "hard work" argument, because they erroneously define "hard work" as "working many hours." Paltrow's hard work is clearly focused and meant to achieve goals. Many people don't want to hear that...
 
 
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 21, 2011
And just let me say that I have no dislike of Mr. Cage, he seems like a pretty affable fellow, but look at his Filmogaphy on imdb... ack! But I will say he was good in Kick-Ass, again as a motley loser, so maybe there is possible redemption.
 
 
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 21, 2011
Scott, I seem to agree with you here. Am I missing something? Aren't you meant to be winding us up with obvious trolls?
 
 
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 21, 2011
How would you defend Nicholas Cage?
Nephew of Francis Ford Coppala.
Is in a crappy movie every two weeks making gobs of money.
Despite being a dorky looking doofus with no talent who hasn't been funny since he played a dorky looking doofus loser in Raising Arizona?

At least Gwynneth is talented and hot.
 
 
 
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