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The Gossip Column

Updated on March 25, 2012

Gossip has been used since the beginning of time to disseminate information about the private affairs of others to the masses. It is seen in the play of William Shakespeare’s Othello to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter. Gossip is thrilling and insightful. However, with this dissemination of information comes skewed facts and personal opinions.

Is gossip inherently dangerous? Furthermore, why do we use gossip, and is it an epidemic?

I argue that gossip is needed in society. As Oscar Wilde said, “If there is anything more annoying in the world than having people talk about you, it is certainly having no one talk about you.” Gossip brings a certain power to its wielder. In a society where women are still inferior to men, it is no wonder women use gossip more then men. We need to feel we make a difference in the world. We need to feel important.

For example, in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett is consoled that she is described as being plain and not tempting to Fitzwilliam Darcy because she hears gossip of his character as being very proud and ill mannered. She is relieved to not be liked by a man of such character. Gossip helps console her hurt feelings.

Now I should point out that there is a difference between rumors and gossip. Rumors are instinctively false with no bearing in fact. Gossip has a basis in fact with liberties taken to better one’s opinions. I argue that rumors are inherently more dangerous than gossip.

I like to think of myself as “above gossip,” but I too use gossip from time to time. I use gossip to console hurt feelings and to make myself feel more important. The environment I use gossip in is the workplace. As a woman working in a man’s profession, I use gossip to give myself a sense of power and justice. The secrets I know and overhear, because of my position, help me deal with the injustice I feel in my own position in society.

Women are accused of being gossips more often then men. However, recent polls done by The Social Issues Research Centre suggest men are indeed the bigger gossipers. Why the stereotype? Women are merely more open with their gossip than men and often use gossip as a way of bonding. Men are more secretive and often use gossip as an ego booster for networking purposes. Men also love to watch gossip shows. In case any man denies this, ask them if they watch ESPN. It is the gossip heaven for men.

So although gossip is skewed, I think it does more good than evil. If at the end of the day, you are faced with a complete mental breakdown or perhaps gossiping about celebrities cheating on each other, what is the harm? Self-perseverance is a strong motivator. Within a society where we are plagued with the humdrum routine, a little drama and suspense is just what the doctor called for to keep us sane. We need to feel purpose and adventure. Shakespeare capitalized on this need in his plays and Hollywood capitalizes on it today. We need escape. We need adventure. What better way to experience this constantly then by gossiping with the added bonus of reality?

If “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (William Shakespeare’s As You Like It), then it can be argued that we are the stars of our own lives. Why would we want to play the role of supporting actress? We inherently want to be discussed and discuss the actions of others. Gossip is the perfect vehicle.

In the words of Joseph Conrad, “Gossip is what no one claims to like, but everybody enjoys.”

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