In the old days, ladies would turn on the television set and find Donna Reed singing the praises of soup, with the idea that purchasing this soup would make your house tidy and your hair glossy and your children upstanding heterosexuals. Who wouldn't want that life?
But then "style" had to come along and create that most dreaded compound noun, lifestyle, and its patron saint was Oprah. Until this week, that is, with the introduction of Gwyneth Paltrow's new website, Goop.com. Why is it called Goop? Perhaps "Any Old Load of Rubbish" and "Learn From Me, Ungrateful Peasant" were both taken.
"My life is good because I am not passive about it," writes the woman last seen serving coffee in Iron Man. "I want to nourish what is real, and I want to do it without wasting time." The website is in its infancy, but you can sign up for the e-mail newsletter, which soon will tell you what cool restaurants to visit in London or where to stay in Austin. "Learn something new," it urges. "Don't be lazy. Work out and stick with it." It's as if John Calvin and Princess Grace got together and wrote a game plan on a cocktail napkin.
In essence, Gwyneth would like to reach down from her aerie in north London and show you how to live, and shop, meaningfully. Except that the point is completely moot: You and I will never be six-foot tall blonde goddesses constructed entirely of lentils and self-righteousness.
These people are different than us, not because they're better or more interesting, but because they are held aloft, much like Marie Antoinette's hair, by a team of dedicated professionals. They never have to swallow a dirty aspirin found at the bottom of their purse, nor do they look in the fridge on a school morning and realize all that's left for the kids' lunch is a can of cat food and a red cabbage.
They have staff. They have staff to find their shoes and write the content of the websites we are meant to emulate. Should we really take beauty advice from Gwyneth Paltrow, who is the face of Estée Lauder and as such probably has a team of technicians delivering vials of age-retarding whales' tears to her door every night?
Briefly, after spending time with Goop, I thought I might respond with my own lifestyle website - low-budget, practical advice for you and your kids and your misaligned chakras. I think I'll call it Poop (Gwyneth must be kicking herself for not thinking of it first!) On Poop, for example, you might pick up these nifty hints:
Scavenge last night's cake crumbs from the folds of your bra or stomach, put them on a pretty plate, and treat yourself to a picnic in the park.
Get your children excited about "cocktails" - I like to give mine soda water and a splash of lime cordial, sometimes with a grape if they've been particularly good. Watch them run around the house screaming, 'Where's my cocktail? I need another cocktail!' Fun for hours, particularly if you invite the neighbours over.
Take the kids to the local pool and let them play Treasure Hunt with whatever they find in the drain. Band-Aids are good, organic matter even better, and whoever gets the pool cleared is the winner.
Alas, the field is already too crowded with other women all too willing to dole out advice to their overburdened sisters, who clearly are not overburdened enough: Have you worked through your issues today? How about the kids' glove drawer? The dog's fur knots? If you don't, no one else will, you know, and the world will dissolve into a fiery ball of magma.
You don't see men falling for this, do you? They're not rushing out to buy Jeremy Clarkson's Fine Art of Gonad Scratching, or Vin Diesel Tidies Your Toolbox. Let us take a page from their book of sanity.
Because, ladies, your guilt box is full. There is not room in it for another recipe featuring ancho chiles, which you must spend five hours sourcing and another three soaking. There is no room in it for a course in woodworking, or Kabbalah, or thermonuclear yoga. Your guilt box is already full of calls you haven't made to your mother, birthday presents long forgotten, and the six bags of clothes in the closet that - one day - you will take to Goodwill. Take your guilt box to the back yard and burn it, and then have a glass of wine.
Fetch. Burn. Drink. Now there's a manifesto we can get behind.