Don’t play the blame game; We all gossip

Jackie Valley

While perusing the America Online news section to kill time, something caught my eye.

No, it wasn’t about the war in Iraq or a related conflict in Congress. And, it wasn’t even remotely related to Harry Potter. It was an extension of the feud between archenemies Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump.

“Rosie Keeps Bashing Trump, Hasselbeck” read the headline.

“Hmm,” I thought to myself. “What now?”

Resisting the temptation to boycott stories mistakenly deemed ‘news,’ my hand traveled over the computer mouse faster than it does for the typically more exciting Facebook message.

Luckily, I was not the only person sucked into the black hole that is celebrity news. The story elicited so many comments that now, more than a week since its debut, it still remains on the front page of AOL news as one of the “most commented on” stories.

It would be easy for me to chalk it up as yet another example of mainstream journalism going soft, reporting stories that are clearly not pivotal to the preservation of democracy in the United States.

But the numbers speak for themselves. Out of the many thousands of people who presumably fell under the same spell I did, nearly 10,000 of those people even felt compelled to comment on the war of words update.

Why, you ask? It all comes down to one word, a phenomenon so cultivated in the nature of human beings that it would be impossible to eradicate: gossip.

The well-being of celebrities and the integrity of Hollywood are not in the forefront of our minds when we flock to People magazine on a weekly basis. Most of us do not wallow in sympathy wondering what will happen to Lindsay Lohan if she did, in fact, possess cocaine, or whether George Clooney will ever take the plunge and tie the knot. We simply want to know either way.

Unfortunately, gossip is not limited to the confines of the National Enquirer. It happens in the office, in the neighborhood and – disturbingly – in the restroom, just to name a few places.

The news media is just one enterprise capitalizing on the tantalizing force of gossip. On ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” Martha Huber epitomizes the neighborhood snitch, coincidentally tending to her yard work as a domestic dispute wages across the lawn, for example.

The publishing industry has its own stake in the gossip game: The bestselling series Gossip Girl, by author Cecily von Ziegesar, chronicles the lives of wealthy teenage girls who attend a prep school.

So far, it seems I’ve created a column targeting the owners of the XX chromosome. And, while that may be occasionally true – in May, four women were fired for gossiping at work in Hooksett, N.H. – I doubt women are the only participants.

In fact, a 2001 study conducted by the Social Issues Research Centre found that men gossip just as much as women, especially on cell phones.

We can complain about it all we want, blaming the media or the nosy neighbor, but in the end, it’s not a rumor: Like it or not, we all gossip. It’s a fact of life. Admitting it is the first step toward dealing with its side effects.

P.S. In case you’re interested: Rosie slammed Elizabeth Hasselbeck, claiming her only credit prior to “The View” was her stint on “Survivor,” and followed by declaring her desire to rub her belly all over The Donald.

Jackie Valley is a sophomore journalism major and a columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].