There is a video going around the Internet that previews Gwyneth Paltrow’s new show on Netflix. She and her company get a lot of grief from academics. And those academics had a lot to say about her new show. The posted comments on academic twitter express either disdain or are fully loaded with expletives. I mean, more than once I saw a tweet that mirrored this statement, “This is how people die.” This is not only ridiculous, but it makes me extremely uncomfortable.
This arrogance of academics comes from a privileged state of mind that believes academia is the sole source of credible knowledge. I suspect that’s where most of this venom toward her is coming from. Just so we’re all on the same page, let me be clear, we don’t own knowledge. I wonder if these academics think that Indigenous ways of knowing have less value, or worse, no value. I doubt there are many willing to admit this but that’s what they’re saying when they see a video of someone doing something differently, that they likely know nothing about, and decide it holds no value.
She’s not claiming to be an academic researcher so why hold her to the same standards? And why disregard someone who is exploring areas of interest to many people? I suspect many of these academics are threatened. They are threatened by people who want to learn for themselves and who do not want to depend on experts*. And if someone wants to learn for themselves, it shifts the seat of power away from people who consider themselves experts. Few people embrace that loss of power.
As I write this I realize, I’m coming to an understanding of why this is so powerful an issue for me. I’m reminded of nearly every interaction with a doctor I’ve ever had. They were the doctor. The established expert of my health, of medicine and healing. Deeply understanding me wasn’t important because they already knew. A complete health picture wasn’t important because they were the expert. They were firmly rooted in the belief that they had the information they needed regardless of whether they actually had the information that they needed. Again, it’s a position of power and admitting to lesser knowledge shifts that seat of power.
I am not suggesting you should thoughtlessly embrace Gwyneth, or anyone for that matter. As we are encouraged to do in academia, check your biases and engage your curiosity. Because it is a biased and prejudiced way of approaching the world to assume we are the exclusive arbiters of knowledge. What you’ve decided is that, without knowledge outside a sixty second video, what she’s doing is worthless, or harmful. I worry about academics who don’t appear to be curious or perhaps are curious about a limited area that they happen to have expertise in. That makes me very nervous.
*I put an asterisk here because I believe there are different types of experts. Some who has lived an experience, for example, has just as much expertise as someone who has academic knowledge. But that’s not how our society generally values advanced knowledge.