a novel about celebrity and our obsession with it, by JOHN GRABOWSKI

Going down…going up… (or, Charlie Sheen is having a moment, but so is Gwyneth Paltrow!)

Gleeful Gwynnie.

Someone is always going down in the celeb world. Currently it seems to be Christina Aguilera, who blew the National Anthem at the Superbowl, has been having drunken escapades and alienating friends, and this morning got arrested for public drunkenness, and Charlie Sheen, who has done more in the past week than this column has room for. A few weeks ago Lindsay Lohan was continuing her spiral down, but she’s cooled off—for now at least. Who knows who it will be next week?  A couple years ago, everyone was expecting Britney Spears to drive off a Malibu cliff in her Mercedes. Never happened.

Happily, there are also reputations that rise back up. I don’t want to imply that Gwyneth Paltrow, whose biggest crime seems to be her website, is or has ever been as far down as Mr. Sheen or Ms. Lohan, but she has suffered a lot for her perceived WASPY, aloof ways. Back in the late 90s she was the toast of Hollywood, appearing in Miramax hit after Miramax hit.

Then the career stalled. Yeah, she took time off for motherhood and to bask in the life as the wife of a super-famous rock star. But she was also in a lot of bad movies and seemed to have trouble advancing her persona to more than that of ice-queen, a poor man’s Grace Kelly. On top of that, she chose to hop onto the Internet and start telling people what the best cleanses and purges were, how to buy an $800 water filtration system, and where to vacation. (It’s not anywhere most of us can afford for a weekend getaway.) Why she thinks anyone is interested in knowing about her bowl movements is a mystery only God knows. Then again, her website is called “Goop.”

For a while poking fun at out-of-touch Gwyneth Paltrow became sort of a sanctioned sport. A Salon article from last year asked “Why Do So Many People Hate Gwyneth Paltrow?” She herself said, “People are so mean to me.” What makes it tough to sympathize is that she probably said it from St. Baart’s while slathering on free-range suntan lotion and telling the nanny following her around with a custom silk umbrella that she didn’t want Apple and Moses out in the sun because as she’d pointed out on GOOP, solar rays can damage cells, and brains are made of cells, right?

But recently Paltrow seems to be turning things around. She’s had a good guest-starring stint on Glee, is coming back for more, and while her country movie didn’t do well, her own performance has brought her some new street cred.  Most of all, though, she seems to be celebrating her WASPiness—the very thing that had been held against her by so many for so long.

That’s the funny things about reputations. They can go up for little reason, down for little reason, or one can go down for something that does not affect another guilty of the same charge.

A few years ago Claire Danes was reviled by so many because she “stole” Billy Crudup from his eight-months pregnant wife Mary Louise (“Weeds“) Parker. The vitriol was pretty intense, and Danes has made it a point not to talk about her personal life in interviews anymore.

But not nearly as much hatred followed Angelina Jolie when she wedged herself in between Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. Sure there was backlash, but somehow we forgave her because we were carpet-bombed with photos of her adopting shopping baskets of poor orphans. As the New York Times indicated in a piece once, she is brilliant at manipulating her public image, which he does herself, without paid consultants.

I’m glad to see Gwyneth is back to doing well these days, and happy that Claire is riding high, with a Golden Globe, AFTRA Award and Emmy for her role in HBO’s Temple Grandin. But in the glare of celebrity, it’s so easy to tear down a career with one misstep. All Gwynnie need do is recommend a weekend jaunt that’s too expensive, all Claire has to say is that her marriage is perhaps a little tougher than she’d imagined, for not just tongues to wag, but sharks to circle in the water, smelling blood. People love to tear down the mighty as much as they love building them up.

And that, as they say, is showbiz.

UPDATE, Tue March 8th: To see a preview of Gwyneth’s latest appearance on Glee, scheduled for tonight, in glorious 720p, click here.


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