Gossip Culture

From Taylor Swift’s Met Ball dress, to Johnny Depp’s divorce, to Hattie who lived across the hall in first year getting too drunk and riding a traffic cone down the stairs only to break her leg and miss finals: people love talking about other people’s lives. Sadly, more often than not it’s talking about things that have gone wrong. But why? It wouldn’t be revolutionary to assert that this is a kind of flawed, unhealthy escapism whereby we obsess over the details of other people’s mishaps or personal business to avoid the difficulties of our own. If I can ascertain any details about the potential infidelity of Jay Z to Beyoncé then maybe I’ll feel a little less alone.  If Beyonce has shit in her life, it makes the fact that I have shit in my life seem less…boring?

I can appreciate the intricacies of a story ( *ahem * I take English Lit) but I’ve never bought into gossip culture; it’s always made me feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t make you popular, though: the exasperation you can create within a group of girls who ask what you think about Ed and Phoebe breaking up in the courtyard at break, when you just shrug and make it clear you’re not going to comment, is something I’ll never quite forget. It’s a general rule of mine and always has been not to discuss other people’s life difficulties for entertainment and unlike the comments thrown my way by people who couldn’t get on board with this life choice. I’m not doing it to give myself some sense of self-importance because I think I’m a better grade of human; I do it because people’s lives are hard and we can all relate to that in some way.

There’s that saying: ‘Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about’ and although it teeters dangerously close to ‘live, laugh, love’ (who knew triadic structure could make me want to hurl so much) I hold it to be very true. The problem with gossip is it does give you some information about a person, but in a way which separates them from an emotional sentient creature whose life and feelings should be respected, into a linguistic tool which makes your conversation more ‘interesting’. Or just uses them to make you feel better about the shit storm that is your own life. As a sign of respect and general recognition of the fact that life is tricky, I’m not going to make jokes about that girl’s nose just to create some small talk whilst we wait to go into the seminar. It’s lazy fun.

It helps to cultivate insecurity and paranoia because if you’re bitching, then chances are someone is or has been bitching about you. Less fun. ‘Bitching’. This term is another thing I can’t ignore. Everyone does it (hell that’s the problem), so why the distinction of the activity along gender lines? A bitch is a female dog after all. The association of talking about other people’s business has the immediate implication that you’re not (at least currently) doing anything yourself. This starts from a young age: we’ve all heard expectant mothers say they’d like a boy because it’s ‘just easier’, they won’t have to deal with all the mind games and teasing that girls seem to master to quickly at school. Femininity and bitching seem to go hand in hand.

Media culture and gossip magazines are all invariably aimed at women.  We grow up against this subtle expectation of how we socialise. As always, this damage goes both ways – if women feel they should subscribe to this stereotype then they’ll create an atmosphere of pressure to other women whereby the upshot is that more people are ‘bitching’, more people are feeling insecure. Men witness this as it becomes a social norm and we’re all stuck thinking that a part of being a woman is gossiping. It seems to me like that is pretty ridiculous. No one wins; chit chatting is associated with women whilst men get out there and do stuff (for want of a better term). Women talking with less action and men acting with less emotive outlets lacks balance and corners both genders into an unrealistic role. Our society can stand testament to that. This isn’t a matter of gender, this is a matter of being a person, a kind one at that.

The line between gossip and bullying is thin, dangerous and sometimes non-existent. Sliding scale anyone?

It sounds cliché but only saying something about someone that you would say to their face isn’t a bad way to go about social interaction. You’re never going to have that sinking feeling when someone taps you on the shoulder at a party and says ‘can I talk to you a sec?’ It’s also a good way to keep your integrity and at the end of the day, even if you’re an insecure mess. It’s good to know that you do have some self-worth to stick by. Who can be bothered with all the fakery and pretences? You don’t have to like everyone and everyone doesn’t have to like you but that doesn’t mean we have to make a big deal about it. If you don’t have something nice to say then probably just don’t say it. I know the truth hurts but do we really have any share in the ‘truth’ when it’s gossip? Save the hard-hitting stuff for when it really matters, with the people that matter, about the stuff that matters. Also when they want your opinion. That bit is important.

There’s a big difference between discussing Tom’s questionable style transition from preppy fuck boy to wannabe roadman, to informing everyone at the pub that that girl you used to know in halls has had a revenge porn video leaked by her ex-boyfriend. By and large the Tom situ is a funny twist in the narrative of a friend’s life whilst the latter situation will only be worsened by the discussion. Some things are just not worth talking about and cause harm. Swerve. If your friend is going through a hard time, you and mutual friends will inevitably discuss what’s going on but you’ll be coming from a place of care, an attempt to try and make things better. Gossip about the sexual endeavours of someone you’ve met at a few house parties? Not so much. You don’t care that Becky’s boobs and Bill’s balls are plastered on their families iCloud forever after a home video went wrong. Life is always happening and always generating more stories and I’m not saying we shouldn’t discuss what goes on in our lives, god can you imagine – that would be impossible, ridiculous and unhealthy (there we go with the power of three again, clearly my new love).

People are always going to talk, I just think maybe next time, take a moment to think about whether what they’re talking about is worth being a part of. It’s not about what you know, it’s about how you share it.

Follow Elle on twitter: @AyresElle