Hanlon’s Razor and Gwyneth Paltrow

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”

–F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Speaking only for myself, I’ve never been all that impressed with Gwyneth Paltrow. That shouldn’t suggest that I hate her – quite the contrary. I find her often a capable actress and actually think she deserved her Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, one of my favourite films. She has seemingly since given up any challenge her craft would present in favour of just being on screen every now and then, but as I never invested into her career as much as more talented actresses of her generation (e.g. Parker Posey, Gretchen Mol, etc.). As such I’m not all that sorry to see her slip into the second-fiddle shadow in movies like The Avengers.

As far as her celebrity status goes, I treat it like I treat those of all other celebs: I’m aware of it, but don’t care. I remember when she was engaged to Brad Pitt, went out with Affleck, and know she’s married to what’s-his-face from Coldplay. I know this not because I follow such developments with great interest, but because “legitimate” news sources have decorated their headlines with material once reserved for supermarket tabloids. I can’t look up a story about women trying to win their God-given rights in Iran without first learning about what Hollywood dumbass typed word-vomit all over their Twitter.

This ofcourse brings me to the topic of dear, dumb Gwynnie appearing in the news. In short: she quoted the title of Kanye West’s “Niggas in Paris” out of context and now everyone wonders if she’s racist.

Short answer: No, she just rich, White, and stupid.

“What, me worry?”

Perhaps, dear reader, you’re familiar with the principle of “Occum’s Razor”? Quite simply: “All things in the universe being equal, the simplest answer is usually the correct one.”

There are a number of principles in the “razor” family of bumper-sticker quotes – feel free to look them up and ponder them as you would all fortune cookie papers (add the supplemental “in bed” if you wish). My favourite would have to be “Hanlon’s Razor”, which advises that one should “never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity”.

Before I go on, let’s do a little background on Gwynnie, shall we? She was born in Los Angeles to actress Blythe Danner and Bruce Paltrow. They raised her in the beachside community of Santa Monica and she attended the (in)famous Crossroads School. The family later moved to New York where she attended the affluent Spence School for Girls. Her godfather is Steven Spielberg, who supplied her first big break with a small role as “Young Wendy” in his film Hook. In short: she was born rich, blonde, White, and sheltered; she was raised rich, blonde, White, and sheltered; she has lived, continues to live, and raises her children to be – all together now – rich, blonde, White, and sheltered. With the exception of childhood friend Maya Rudolph, I’m willing to bet all the Black people she knew growing up acted like Hilary and Carlton Banks.

And therein lies the source of her ignorance. Remember that Fresh Prince from one of the first years; the one where Will and Carlton get arrested for “Driving While Black”? Throughout the entire episode privileged, naïve Carlton rebuffs the streetwise Will’s suggestion that they were victims of racial profiling, all evidence to the contrary. Carlton holds firm to his belief that the whole thing was a misunderstanding and that, were he in the same situation, he probably would have “innocently” pulled them over as well. The episode ends with Carlton recounting the incident to his father in the hopes that the elder Banks will reassure the younger that racism is a thing of the past. Because he couldn’t possibly have been the target of such prejudice, could he? Uncle Phil is straight with him: “I asked myself that same question the first time I was stopped.”

I may return to the later-abandoned racial politics of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in a future post, but I will now say that the show was surprisingly poignant in covering such topics in its early years. If you look past the sometimes-irritating forced “comedy” (although a lot is actually funny and still holds up), the character dynamics of show are actually quite compelling. Phillip is angry at Will not because of the clichéd “this uncouth vagabond hath insulted me in front of my fellow blue bloods” trope, but because Will represents all Phillip willfully abandoned in order to achieve his affluence. He’s done much to put that life behind him – including, as those early episodes show, keeping his parents far enough away that regular interaction is all-but-impossible – and to “protect” his children from such a world. As a result, his eldest daughter is shallow and ditzy, his son is narcissistic and elitist, and his younger daughter… well, there’s still hope that Ashley won’t emulate her siblings.

Now replace “Bel-Air” with “Santa Monica”, “Banks” with “Danner-Paltrow”, and add “blonde and White” to the character traits I’ve listed above and you’ve got one Gwyneth Paltrow – someone who has never had to work a day in her nor struggle for any reward.

I’m a lifelong Black suburbanite. I’m neither from “tha ‘hood” nor prince of Bel-Air. If you’re the myopic sort whose only knowledge of Black people is from rap music, then mine is best reflected in the lyrics of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Kanye West. Yet, I’ve known my share of first-hand racism: from the “perfectly reasonable” stoppages and pat-downs from the SF, Oakland, and Daly City police departments; to crochety old women yelling “nigger” at me at bus stops; to clerks following me around stores; to on-line chatrooms; to tokenism; to a laundry list more. And I’m not ignorant enough to think such an experience even compares to the stories I’ve heard from my Chicago-born/farm-raised father and Kansas-born mother (nor my grand- and great grand-parents for that matter), but it has given me a good level of insight into racism borne of genuine hatred, as opposed to that resulting from blissful ignorance.

And if there’s one on which Gwyneth Paltrow can be counted – so far as her public persona goes – it’s ignorance. Rich, blonde, White ignorance. This is a woman whose attempts to connect the common people (through her website and newsletter, Goop) are to tell her lower middle-class readers that the keys being happy are to hire a personal assistant, get a personal trainer, and get atleast seven hours of sleep per night. Just like any working mom, right? This is a woman who thinks starring in a movie about country music makes her the Second Coming of Patsy Cline. This is a woman who dares to say she knows – better than most hard-working actresses – the struggles of being a woman in her industry because she was the mere second choice to play Kate Winslet’s “Rose” in Titanic. Second choice?! There is no justice in the world!! (Ofcourse she was also second choice – after Winona Ryder – for her Oscar-winning “Viola” in Shakespeare in Love, but who’s counting?) (http://www.cracked.com/blog/dear-gwyneth-paltrow-understanding-why-everyone-hates-you)

And so, my friends, let us not lump dear dumb Gwynnie in the same category as racist killer cops or ignorant-YA-lit-fans-who-skipped-over-the-description-of-key-characters-being-Black. No, I doubt the poor creature has a single hateful bone in her body. This is no Paris Hilton believing the word “nigger” is an actual racial classification as one would find on a job application. Gwyneth just has the terrible misfortune of being rich, White, and ignorant.

Let’s leave her be. But not for too long or she’ll likely fall in a river attempting to save her own reflection from drowning.

And what do YOU think?

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