In the world of gossip, talk ain’t cheap…
What is it about gossip that draws us in? Better yet, how many of us are actually impervious to the allure of scandal? Are famous folks really that interesting? Perhaps voyeurism really is intrinsic to our nature. Are our lives so empty that we can’t help but to consume the idle, and often baseless chatter about the private affairs of others? Is this matter even cause for concern? Inquiring minds want to know!
As a gossip consumer, I’m often perplexed about this guilty pleasure of mine. To be quite frank, I could really give a sh*t which high profile couple just called it quits, or who’s sexing-up whom. Bizarre outfits on the red carpet are pretty yawn-worthy to me too. Most of the time, it’s not the gossip itself I find titillating, but the manner in which it’s assembled that keeps me coming back for more. Yes, I am one of many individuals who enjoy humorous, biting sarcasm, creatively shrewd (and even callous) observations that contemporary gossip has become synonymous with.
Cause ‘n’ Effect
‘Gossipologists’ have examined hearsay from just about every angle known to (wo)man. Some experts assert that there are even positive benefits to gossip. In the words of renowned shrink James Lynch, “Human dialogue can be a great healer, or a great destroyer.” For the sake of this discourse, let’s look at gossip as it pertains to the dark side of the force, shall we?
“If you build it, they will come.” Field of Dreams, 1989
There was once a man, a true media visionary, who launched a news blog some years ago. Day by day, this enterprising individual would take note of the news blog’s traffic spikes that resulted from the occasional posting of salacious material. His audience was quite literally soaking that ish up. As his traffic soared, revenue surely followed. Eventually, something unusual occurred. Its original 95% to 5% news/gossip ratio format became completely transposed with hard news taking a serious back seat to straight up scandal. To this day this blog continues to exist – and thrive – simply by responding the desires of its followers.
So, what’s up with that? Seriously. We live in a fast paced society that may even put an end to destroy the print media industry. Why read a paper that was printed the night before, when you could go online first thing in the morning to peep endless real-time updates on the topic of your choice? Technology is a beautiful thing, and although I’d much rather be working on my beloved Mac OS than the IMB Word Processor I used in high school, I must admit it comes at quite a cost.
We, in America especially, have been born and bred within a sound bite social order – and what’s the ultimate manifestation of this new order, you may ask? Quick, flashy, buzzwords, transience, and color-filled hype. Real life, oversimplified. Jeffrey Scheuer, author of The Sound Bite Society: Television And The American Mind, shares his two cents on the matter:
“… the media climate resembles a dust storm on a barren plain: the bottom line of audience share. The impatience of the camera and the microphone, their need to gobble up one image or phrase and move on to the next. No depth or context; no background; no past, no future; no sometimes, no maybe, no why.”
These findings don’t just apply to the screen either. These days, the sound bite phenomenon, in the form of sensationalism, is the lifeblood of online media. Mainstream news/entertainment sites act as ground zero in the battle of chatter vs. substance. Much like the TV industry, advertising is the name of the game. Advertisers want pageviews, and one sure-fire way to get mad pageviews, is to provide mad scandal. Therein lies the struggle. Unless popular culture media outlets are willing to make a commitment to ‘tabloid-isms’, they may as well go and buy a plot at the ole virtual graveyard. So, what’s the modus operandi within a society with such a deep-seated fear of death as ours? We, take the ordinary, and make it obnoxious & transform the understated and into the outrageous – all for the sake of survival.
Judge sitcoms, reality, talk shows, even the news, the salacious program format can be found everywhere. It’s not just about famous folks having their business in the street either. It’s about the general spotlight on the (mostly trifling) private affairs of others. A mere 30 seconds of the Maury Povich show illustrates that fact. Even ‘reputable’ news sources fill up airtime by hiring on pundits to gossip endlessly hot button “issues of concern.” It’s all a numbers game at the end of the day.
“Things in motion sooner catch the eye Than what stirs not.” Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida.
Education is the first casualty in the sound bite era. It’s almost as if we crave flash rather than facts in addition to facts in a flash. A self-proclaimed gossipmonger, how sad is it that tawdry, catchy headlines draw me in with such ease, while conversely, at times I feel forced when uncovering (then reading) material of real significance? A classic struggle between chatter and substance indeed, it’s much like anything life that’s good for you – it never seems to taste quite as sweet…
Who gets the proverbial finger pointed in the blame game? The media is a powerful entity, but it exists because WE do. In other words, nothing is real without the consent of the public. Gossip is lucrative precisely because we make it so. It’s a collaborative effort where head media execs focus on the bottom line, which is generated by what we consume (which just so happens to resemble straight up trivialities at this point). Trust, if ‘the machine’ gathered that the public demanded more in depth, thought provoking content, it would be churned out in a New York nano-second.
Hearsay is Essentially Human….
Part of the allure is born out of our basic human need for connection. According to psychologist, Dr. Offra Gerstein, “The benefits of gossip [suggests] that exchanging information between people is beneficial for creating a healthy connection, building social norms for acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and improving society.” She also reveals that studies show that gossip is an effective tool of social control.”
This may be true, but there is a fine line between grapevine babble and lively conversation - enter, malice. Countless studies have shown that the allure of ‘negative’ gossip is a result of an ill use of idle time, the denial or projection of one’s problems, and/or an attempt to get a high from the notion of superiority (getting drunk on that Haterade!). Problem is, like most bad habits, that ish is highly addictive.