Sunday, April 09, 2006

I love gossip and so do you.

*image taken from

I admit that I don't buy trashy magazines. I think they're, well, trashy, and you run the risk of letting other people see that you have a copy. Reputation, reputation, reputation, so to speak. The average person will never admit to reading these magazines. It's just not cool.

But we read them. You and I, we both do. At the supermarket line, at home with your mother's copy of YES! and OK! Magazine, at the office - it's virtually undeniable.

To say that you do not engage in gossip is an exercise in futility. We all do, in one way or another - the "dirt" about backstabbing friends, traitorous lovers, your co-workers' sense of responsibility, your classmate's sense of fashion, etc. Look back to your recent conversations; you've probably covered one such topic. We want the skinny, and we want it delivered piping hot.

According to a New York Times article last August 2005, gossip serves a social function.
People find it irresistible for good reason: Gossip not only helps clarify and enforce the rules that keep people working well together, studies suggest, but it circulates crucial information about the behavior of others that cannot be published in an office manual. As often as it sullies reputations, psychologists say, gossip offers a foothold for newcomers in a group and a safety net for group members who feel in danger of falling out.
That's true enough. When you want to find out the true state of affairs in your office, for example, do you go straight to your supervisors or boss? Of course not. You ask your co-workers; they're in the best position to know. Says Professor Emler, Head of the School of Human Sciences at Surrey University at
Gossip does have a serious side to it. It’s all to do with being a human being. You simply will not survive unless you can talk about the people you know, exchange information about them and find out more about them. In any kind of organisation, if you’ve got a boss that’s one person you really need to know about – their idiosyncrasies, their peculiarities and their relationships. And so most gossip is focussed upwards – it’s looking up the hierarchy.
The New York Times article tells us gossip sessions with people and friends can be healthy. How so?
"We all know people who are not calibrated to the social world at all, who if they participated in gossip sessions would learn a whole lot of stuff they need to know and can't learn anywhere else, like how reliable people are, how trustworthy," said Sarah Wert, a psychologist at Yale. "Not participating in gossip at some level can be unhealthy, and abnormal."

Talking out of school may also buffer against low-grade depressive moods. In one recent study, Dr. Wert had 84 college students write about a time in their lives when they felt particularly alienated socially, and also about a memory of being warmly accepted.

After finishing the task, Dr. Wert prompted the participants to gossip with a friend about a mutual acquaintance, as she filmed the exchanges. Those who rated their self-esteem highly showed a clear pattern: they spread good gossip when they felt accepted and a more derogatory brand when they felt marginalized.
Back to trashy magazines. Of course, there will always be detractors, saying that they do absolutely nothing in terms of giving important information and an absolute waste of time and money. That's not the point. The point is, gossip magazines are FUNNY. They're extremely cheeky and often hilarious. They help keep a perspective on the lives of excessively pampered celebrities, sometimes with the headline "CELEBRITIES: THEY'RE JUST LIKE US!"

I admit to being such a snob before, the type that thought those who spent their time reading gossip magazines were empty-headed flibbertigibbets. Maybe I wasn't alone in that thinking; I remember reading several classmates' forms for their Communication major. Beside the phrase "Magazines you read" were the inevitable Time, Newsweek, etc. I took it with a grain of salt. No one was ever going to admit reading something less than savory on such a piece of paper, and that included me.

When I was editor of The LaSallian, I had decided to make all the staff write a weekly critique on themes and articles I gave them through an online group. I remember categorically stating that magazines such as Candy and Seventeen gave teens a bad example with regard to critical thinking and reasoning. Since they wrote for the student publication, I wanted a higher level of writing than the ones that existed in the aforementioned. I still believe it was a good idea, but I also believe that I was entirely too rigid in that thinking. There's nothing wrong with a little fluff in life.

Gossip exists because we want to know what's going on, the real deal. We humans are true hounds for information, and we get it from different people. There's never any fun in reading the official response of a celebrity from his or her spokesperson, or in reading press releases from beleaguered officials and other such people in positions of authority. We want the element of entertainment and excitement, and gossip gives that to us. At worst, gossip is a social bane; at best, it's a tool for social survival.

As commenter A. Dee (scroll down) in the Sydney Morning Herald acerbically writes,

"I may disagree with what you read, but I will defend to the death your right to read it."

Related links:

Friday, April 07, 2006

Something for the weekend.

I was supposed to post another entry, but late afternoon surfing and catching up on gossip yielded me this*:

Her name is Desdemona, and she's a cookie thief.

*Thanks for the pointer, MK.