This month will see the release of The Goop Lab, the new Netflix series from Gwyneth Paltrow’s divisive — as in, ethically dubious for its peddling of pseudoscience but nonetheless supported by countless fans and believers — wellness brand, currently valued at around $250 million. That the series exists at all shouldn’t be a surprising development. After all, Goop is a highly effective machine for capitalist achievement, growing at all costs in any and all directions. And what more obvious direction is there than television, with its peak status and golden age? (Apparently, a cruise experience.)
Every time a Goop story makes the rounds, I tend to hear the following inquiry bubble back up: Who on this burning planet believes in this stuff? Well, a ton of people, apparently, given that the wellness industry is said to be worth over $4 trillion these days … according to the wellness industry, anyway. Then again, that shouldn’t be all too surprising. There is an alluring emotional logic behind the “wellness” concept. That logic, ultimately, is rooted in a sense of anxiety — ostensibly about the chaos of the world, but mostly about death.
The Dream is a podcast that understands this, deeply and intimately. Hosted by Jane Marie, an alum of This American Life, and Dann Gallucci, her partner and creative collaborator, the series can be described as a vibrant and sustained inquiry into various systems of capitalist exploitation. Its second season, which began publishing in early December, is focused on the aforementioned $4 trillion-plus wellness industry, and it’s best interpreted as a continuation of the work it had done with its first season, which plunged deep into the world of multilevel marketing (MLM). For those unfamiliar, MLM is a controversial sales and marketing strategy that has a tendency to look a lot like a pyramid scheme, in that it creates a network of non-salaried salespeople who often find themselves pushed deep into debt by virtue of their participation in the scheme … unless they effectively recruit other souls into the sales network. Think It Follows, but for capitalism and debt. The scheme is the heartbeat of companies like Herbalife, Amway, Avon, and LuLaRoe.
The Dream does a good job illustrating the operational structure of these multilevel marketing systems: how they function, flourish, and sustain. But what it does really well is lay out the emotional architecture of these systems: why all sorts of people feel compelled to buy into the dream in the first place. A recurring theme in its explorations is a constant and effective seizing of gaps in social opportunity — specifically, how a combination of economic disparity, gender inequality, and other social factors can lead individuals from certain demographics to buy into these schemes in pursuit of something greater, or at least in pursuit of what everybody…