Friday, 25 February 2011

Gossip...You Know You Love It. ex oh, ex oh.

Why do we love gossip so much? Why are the gossip pages commonly the most widely read of our newspapers, second only to the front & back pages? Why does noone want to admit they revel in it? And if you love it, would you be able to write it yourself? Here's some musings on gossip, and how some of our top gossip columnists feel about their job.

It was Barbara Walters who once said, “Show me someone who never gossips, and I’ll show you someone who isn’t interested in people." Apart from the true misanthropist, people are simply fascinated by other people. Perhaps we just can't help but gossip, it's in our DNA.

Our insatiable desire for the minutae of other people's lives is evident all around us. Gossip about the famous has been going for aeons, reaching a pinnacle with the rise of Hollywood and the subsequent tales of  decadent behaviour of the rich & powerful. Stories in tabloid magazines can be likened to an ongoing soap opera with a myriad of misbehaving characters, but one that requires no writers to come up with storylines - the action is relentlessly unfolding and simply requires someone to find out (the reporter) and someone to capture the image (the paparazzi).

And what a wild ride gossip has been on historically - from Chaucer's House of Fame in the 1300's; the use of gossip as a pastime amongst the French aristocracy of the 18th century (a la Dangerous Liaisons); the era of the original power gossip journos Hedda Hopper & Louella Parsons in 1930's & 1940's Hollywood; the rise of the tabloid magazine through the 1980's; and finally to the era of the gossip blogger, spearheaded by Perez Hilton and culminating in the TV show Gossip Girl. Hellooo Upper Eastsiders...

Gossip about celebrities is one thing, but just like the microcosm of the Gossip Girl world we too are addicted to gossip about fabulous nobodies, which we devour daily in our newspapers. We love gossip about everyone except...well, ourselves of course. But then again, that's not exactly true is it? Too many people absolutely love it about themselves. It's a form of attention; a moment in the spotlight - albeit brief and often unsavoury. Hello, Shane Warne and the St Kilda schoolgirl I'm talking about you. Sex tapes and scandals launch multi-million dollar careers these days, so gossip itself has never held so much currency.

So once we've heard a scandalous piece of goss, why do we love to repeat it? Apart from the fact that it shows status ('wow, how did you know that?') and forms trust ('we must be close if you've chosen to tell me that'), it is often simply to make oneself more interesting. In A Brief History of Gossip in The United States, it states "when there aren't things left to talk about in someone's own life, one may revert to talking about the lives of others just so they have something to say." Admit know it's true.

PRs of course are more in tune than most with the hum of gossip buzzing through their city, and usually have the resident columnists on speed dial. PRs understand that even the tiniest snippet can result in heat around their celebrity/brand/event - so they pass on gossip to promote their client, but also to curry favour with journos and nurture these symbiotic relationships.

But why does the person in the street pass a story on to the papers? There are several reasons: they have a vendetta against whoever they're blabbing about; they want the thrill of their story appearing in the papers making them feel a part of this glamorous world; or they are simply mischievous. But more often than not it's simply by accident. They may be chatting to a journo at an event and not realise that the story they've repeated or a snippet they've mentioned is actually hot goss that the journalist is quietly filing away in their head for later on. Whoopsies!

So how do columnists themselves feel about gossip? I asked a bunch of my favourite scribes, anonymously of course...

Why do you think we are so addicted to gossip?
G1: "We have a burning desire to know things that we don't know and shouldn't know. That's what curiosity is for. It's a healthy trait, until it kills the cat"

G5: "It makes you feel connected and important if people want to hear your gossip. It goes back to the whole 'watercooler' thing. You're part of the cool gang if you know all the latest gossip"

G2: "What would we all talk about if there was no gossip? We all live and breathe it every day. We want to know who is doing what, who, when, where and why. It's an aspirational thing - we love to see how celebs and socialites live so we can replicate that in our own lives. On the other hand, seeing celebs live such crazy lives makes our lives seem more normal"

Do you ever feel bad about something that you've written?
G1: "Yes, especially when you don't know the person, then meet them and find out they're not so bad"

G3: "Never. We speak the truth and nothing but."

What do you say about people who are addicted to gossip but are then horrified to have something written about them?
G1: "They have been living in a bubble and it bursts. They only like reading about other people because it's more entertaining than having the media blowtorch applied to themselves"

G5: "It's such a double standard. What goes around comes around. I take an evil little bit of pleasure when a big gossip becomes the target of gossip. The funny thing is once the storm passes they are back to gossiping again...they never learn"

G2: If you're putting yourself out there, roll with it. It's better to be written about/talked about than not at all. Often, these people are desperate to be in the paper"

G3: "Get. Fucked."

Do you believe it when celebrities say they don't ever read their own gossip?
G1: "Not really. At the very least they get their agent/manager to read it and tell them about it"

G2: "Not at all. These people are the first to Google their names for stories on a Sunday morning, or to rush out and buy the first edition of the paper!"

G3: "No way. I'm convinced they all have a collection of shoe boxes packed to the rafters with their press clippings"

G4: "Ha! You'd be surprised at how many stories come direct from the celebrity..."

Do you ever get abused by people after something has been written about them?
G3: "Almost on a weekly basis. It's usually by readers or C-listers however, the real stars don't care"

G4: "We get plenty of emails from celebrity's managers if we write something negative about their talent, but that's to be expected. But we're not in advertising, we're in journalism. We're all just doing our jobs"

G1: "A celebrity rang to complain that they didn't like me calling them a 'party animal' because this description would work against them. But they WERE a party animal. The truth hurts"

G2: "Abuse? Verbally, on Twitter, via Text message, Email, on Facebook - I've had it all. It's part of the job but I think if you're dishing it out, you've just got to take it"

What do you love about your job?
G1: "Love meeting the celebs you wouldn't get a chance to meet, the fabulous parties, the fabulous gift bags. Love finding out juicy information, some believable, some UNBELIEVABLE"

G4: "I love being the first to know what's happening in Sydney and being in the lucky position of being invited to every party, launch, or premiere. It's also great to see stories you broke travelling around the net - often globally.

"I love the opportunity to walk up to any star and ask them absolutely anything I want - and they answer!"

What do you hate about your job?

G2: "It can be tough when you get a cracking story on someone you are friends with. Do you or don't you write it? Or is it better you write the story than someone else?"

G4: "It can be frustrating when you find out a piece of juicy gossip but can't get absolute proof in time for print. It's also interesting how many people will blatantly lie to you on the record when you ask them to confirm or deny a rumour, then subsequently admit it."

G5: "I hate it when people suck up to me and I'm tired of going out every night of the week"

Would you ever bury a story to protect a friend?
G2: "I would definitely try. If it was already 'out there' I would contact the friend and work with them to make the story as positive and small as possible. But ultimately, it's my editor's decision"

"I wouldn't write it. I would get another journo to write it. And yes I'd try to play it down but I'd declare my interest to the other journo"

G1: "It must be the worst thing about being a social columnist - writing things about your friends. I think every columnist avoids or ignore stories about their friends because it's social dynamite. But there are 'personal friends' and just 'friends' that you amass hundreds of"

And if you yourself are hungry to be talked about, I can only leave you with this: Be careful what you wish for. The sports star who secretly enjoys gossip about being a womaniser may not feel so chuffed about pictures leaked online of dalliances with kiss-and-tell girls. Gossip can spread like wildfire - an unstoppable freight train across the technology of the world, and irreversable. Although gossip has been around since there were more than two people in the world, the internet has without question been the single most powerful propagator of gossip and has changed the way it is spread - forever.

If you want to read a brilliant piece by New York Magazine about the 'real' Gossip Girl(s) who ran the 2006 website and caused the downfall (& subsequent infamy) of Olivia Palermo, click here

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