Posted on November 26th, 2009
Gossip is an inherent part of human nature and it has no particular definition other than what people engaged in it give it. Whether in politics or business, malicious gossip can be intended to harm an opponent, while “idle” office or neighbourhood gossip can be harmless conversation as a way people relate to each other so they avoid talking about themselves. Examples of institutionalized gossip as a form of institutional conformity include everything from the 17th-century witch trials to Stalin’s purge trials to the anti-Communist hysteria of the late 1940s-early 1950s in the US designed to institutionalize an ideology and way of life at home and abroad. Today the culture of commercialized gossip has taken over the world and faithfully serves the capitalist system to distract people from what matters in their lives to focusing on the private lives of celebrities. Most magazines, TV shows, newscasts, newspapers, books, and now Internet blogs deal in gossip. This is not just in the US that is the center of such organized multi-billion dollar business, but rather the culture of gossip is now on a global commercial scale. Inane and tantalizing details about the private lives of celebrities of all types from billionaires and politicians to entertainers and serial killers, glorifying them in one way or the other and distracting the focus of people from their material lives and real interests as institutions impact and shape them is what the commercialization of gossip has become. Multinational media corporations make immense profits from commercialized gossip while at the same time serving a political/cultural agenda that perpetuates mediocrity in society. The issue is very serious because the culture of commercialized gossip has infiltrated educational systems that are an integral part of the rest of society fascinated by and immersed in gossip. Because of the media’s culture of gossip, students respond much better when their professor conveys something about the personal lives of John Maynard Keynes and Ludwig Wittgenstein, instead of their scholarly contributions. Similarly, the media makes certain that people are far more fascinated about the personal lives of politicians like Clinton or Berlusconi than their policies and their impact on society. What is worse, of course, is that celebrities remain in the spotlight if they engage in “value-added” gossip conduct, otherwise they face oblivion in the age when all publicity is good publicity. The question is the extent to which the corporate-owned media has moulded public opinion throughout the world and the extent to which it is exploiting the “gossip impulse” in human nature to the benefit of existing institutions. Gossip as a tool of conformity is also an issue of value systems and ideology that financial and political elites through institutions wish to impose on society. For example, when there is a story about an alcoholic politician, a drug addict actor, a gambling-addicted sports figure, more than likely the focus is on the individual instead of the wider societal problem. Gossip alleviates responsibility from the social order that is hardly ever at fault and places all blame or praise on the individual, thus reinforcing the individualist value system. Moreover, imbedded in the culture of gossip is anti-intellectualism and promotion of populism that appeals to people at the emotional level. It is of course inevitable that “globalization” would have an obvious cultural impact in every domain from soft drinks and chewing gum to media gossip that is shaping institutions and the way people think about each other. The question is whether the globalization of the culture of gossip best serves human needs and human creativity, or it is indeed serving to retard anthropocentric progress.