As long as humans have been able to communicate with each other, there has been gossip. If our scientists were sophisticated enough to understand animal communications, they’d know that even dogs gossip among themselves, “Who does she think she is in that rhinestone collar, Sandra Bulldog?” As for felines…you’ve heard the term “catty” haven’t you?
Is gossip a bad thing? It depends how you look at it--are you doing the gossiping or are you the subject of it? I’ve always liked “good gossip.” That’s the kind that starts with good news (“Mark and May are getting married,” “Peg has been accepted to Harvard,” or “the Petersens are expecting”) and doesn’t end with character assassination. George Harrison once said, “Gossip is the devil’s radio”; perhaps he was right. I don’t have time for conversation that involves judging other people or their behavior. While it may make some people feel superior, I would just feel dirty. If the gossip is about someone close, isn’t it disloyalty? It is beyond me why anyone would want to say mean, hurtful things about someone else. A lot of things are beyond me, though—child abuse, infidelity, Everyone Loves Raymond…
People does offer its share of good gossip, along with a healthy dose of feel-good features. It dishes the dirt, and sometimes throws great shovelfuls around when someone like our friend Tiger Woods turns out to have fooled us all. People also does a good job of boiling down big stories to digestible chunks for those of us with short attention spans. It will cover Haiti, but it won’t give all the details one would get from the news media. In big, sad stories that’s all some of us need. Whether it’s artifice or editorial policy, People also gives the impression it has a conscience. Unlike the supermarket tabloids, People doesn’t seem to invent stories or attempt to destroy celebrities, though it certainly will report when one is self-destructing.
I suspect that People satisfies a need I have, a need to feel “in the loop.” Living in a small community, I don’t see women in gowns and furs or men in tuxedos. I haven’t seen a limo in years. None of my neighbors windsurf, race cars, or go to premieres. There are no glamorous night spots, and if there’s a Britney Spears, she’s being kept under wraps. I used to live in the shadow of New York City. And, now that I think of it, I didn’t read People. I don’t miss the old life, but maybe People keeps me in touch.
* What would Freud say?