This morning, just this very second I typed in “Celebrity Gossip” into Google’s search engine. When I limited the search to changes made within the past 24 hours can you imagine how many results were returned? An astonishing 36,400,000! It can easily be said that it is human nature to discuss the human nature of every other human in nature! However being that these are celebrities they put themselves in the public spotlight knowing every tiny action they make will be greedily sought after to make the headlines. Just ask Tiger, Lindsay, Charlie, and the list goes on.

Celebrities are the unwitting parents of bastard children in the form of Perez Hilton, Ted Casablanca, and any other Celeb Gossip columnist, blogger, twitterati, you can imagine. I myself quite enjoy a healthy slice of celebrity gossip but the question has to be asked…why? How would I feel were I in their shoes? Is my glass house so solid it can withstand the same stones? I think not!

This all dawned on me earlier this morning when I was a part of a local Twitter conversation where the statement was made regarding how quickly information gets around in D.C.; when “one knows, they all know” but this really is nothing new no matter where you live. There are persons who thrive on either end of the gossip spectrum…either they love to be the one WITH the information and happy to share it or they simply love to be the topic of conversation, good, bad, or indifferent just as long as they are the topic.

I am by no means stating that I’m innocent, nor were someone to tell me they have never participated in any form of gossip would I believe them. Either by relaying or simply passively listening you play a part. Now please don’t think I’m judging anyone because this has simply become part of our culture. The ability to access, transfer, and look up information has become so immediately gratifying that it’s no surprise every person out there is in the position to become a point of conversation.

Being a gay man, it’s written in the bylaws that I love and commit to memory every line of “Steel Magnolias”.

Steel Magnolias: Poster design by B.D. Fox Independent

Steel Magnolias: Poster design by B.D. Fox Independent

Specifically when Clairee Belcher (portrayed amazingly by Olympia Dukakis) states “If you can’t say something nice about someone, come sit by me”. We all love a good story, furthermore we all love a good story when we aren’t the topic! Showing my gay card again with my love of musical theater I’m reminded of the song “Schadenfreude” sung by Gary and Nicky in the riotous “Avenue Q”. Schadenfreude (German in origin) is the malicious enjoyment derived from observing someone else’s misfortune. This essentially is the root of why most people enjoy gossip, since generally it is less than flattering in nature, it raises you up to a different level.

Gossip is one of the oldest and most common means of sharing (unproven) facts and views. The functionality of gossip are varied, author Frank T. McAndrew gave several examples in “The Science of Gossip: Why we can’t stop ourselves“. Scientific American:

* normalize and reinforce moral boundaries in a speech-community
* foster and build a sense of community with shared interests and information
* build structures of social accountability
* further mutual social grooming (like many other uses of language, only more so)
* provide a mating tool that allows (for example) women to mutually identify socially desirable men and compare notes on which men are better than others.
* be used as a form of passive aggression, as a tool to isolate and harm others
* provide a peer-to-peer mechanism for disseminating information in organizations

Knowing that generally the “dirt” that is spread can be harmful to others why is it done, especially considering the backlash that can transpire to the individual(s) spreading the “dirt” in the first place. It could be an adult onset of the bully syndrome. It’s not socially acceptable to push someone down physically but you can certainly tear apart a persons reputation thus lowering their social status in the eyes of their peers.

Knowing it or not each of us is reaching for a higher status on the social food chain. This “Achieved Status” is important sociologically because it comes with a set of rights, obligations, behaviors, and duties that one is expected to adhere to. Moving up, or perhaps down, the social stratification is due (in part) to the flow of information. Who knows who, and who knows what…but this is a fine line that is not easily navigated.

The crux of gossip is this…for an indeterminate amount of time you may be the one with such salacious information that you indiscriminately share it at your leisure, UNTIL those listening determine your trustworthiness is lacking then you become the topic and drop straight to the bottom of the social ladder you clawed so hard for to reach to the top.

In the end what is really gained through gossip? A good story? Usually yes. A laugh? Almost always. Be careful how you use information though because it will most certainly turn on you in the end.