Why do we do what we do? This question, asked for millennia by everyone from pre-Socratic Ionian philosophers to 21st century advertising agencies, was the unexpected topic of conversation for most of the ride last Sunday as I drove my daughter Mary Kate back to her temporary Pittsburgh home after a weekend of family fun and culinary indulgence in the CLE.
As is so often the case, the discussion began with us laughing over some scene or other from one of our favorite shows. This led to our linking those shows together through the various actors who have crossed from one show to another, and the catalyst for the start of our great philosophical discussion was the actress Erinn Hayes. Until I looked her up just now on imdb.com I did not know her name; she was simply Colin’s mom on A.P. Bio and Annabel Porter on Parks and Recreation.
As Annabel Porter, she ran Bloosh, “The Weekly Lifestyle Blog of Pawnee”. On the Bloosh website (which really exists) you can read Annabel’s take on such things as baroque lampshades and veggie parfaits. If the common folk of Pawnee, Indiana, want to know what is hip and trendy then all they need to do is check out what Annabel has to say on just about any topic from puffer fish bath bombs to the latest food trend: beef milk. The uses of beef milk – which seems to be a huge hit in Europe – are almost infinite, and include pouring into your morning cup of ‘teaffee’ or your breakfast bowl of ‘oatreal’.
Being the type of yokel who was not aware of the subtext of the joke, I had to have my young and hip daughter explain it to me. It seems that there is a real-life Annabel Porter who runs, seemingly with a straight face, an actual, non-satirical website called…wait for it…Goop.
Now, I know what I – and probably most people – imagine when we hear the word ‘goop’, but I don’t think that the owner of this “lifestyle brand” had that same image in her head when she came up with it. And since I don’t tend to hang in the same circles as Goop founder and CEO Gwyneth Paltrow, I will probably never know exactly why she took her initials and put ‘oo’ between them.
As Mary Kate explained the premise behind Goop all I could think of was two apocryphal, yet very insightful, statements. The first is a line alleged to have been spoken by P.T. Barnum that there was a sucker born every minute and two con men willing to cash in on him. The second was supposedly uttered by G.K. Chesterton that when people stop believing in something then they are capable of believing in anything.
Why on earth would someone need to look to the founder of Goop to get advice on such things as thousand dollar sweaters, relationships (maybe in conjunction with her ex-husband Chris Martin), or wellness? Considering that the consumer advocacy group Truth in Advertising cited fifty faulty health claims made by Goop, maybe making an appointment with a person who has a medical degree might be a better option. But perhaps there are those who would prefer to harness their crown chakra and get in touch with their spirit animal rather than go to some quack from Harvard medical school.
Sadly, we live in a time and a place where very often the answer to the question of why we do what we do is because someone famous promotes it. The multi-billion dollar advertising industry is built on that answer. If you see Matthew McConaughey as a really good actor and aren’t creeped out by his car commercial persona you might want to drive a Lincoln Continental. If you think that wearing shoes named for Kobe Bryant will enable you to channel his basketball skills without also unwittingly bringing on board his penchant for “consensual” extra-marital encounters, then by all means lace up the latest $150 version of Kobe A.D. Mamba Mentality – but leave a few bucks behind for a Kobe diamond just in case.
As both our trip and discussion came to an end we concluded that no one is truly immune from the pitfalls of caring about what other people think of them. In fact, that concern can actually have a positive effect on our behavior as long as we choose the right people as our role models. Otherwise we might get mired in the goop of the rich and famous who peddle a high-priced lifestyle that is a poor substitute for an authentic life.
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