Update 6/12/20: I am issuing a formal apology in light of the thoughtful and important feedback from the Man Repeller community about this story. Using the controversy surrounding Alison Roman as an example in a story about the power of gossip was in incredibly poor taste, and I see now that it minimized the racism at the center of the controversy. I should have further interrogated my privilege. I am so sorry to those who felt hurt or alienated by what I wrote, and I am grateful to everyone who took the time to iterate why it was wrong. I read every comment, and I want you to know that you were heard. —Harling
Not to be nosy, but… have you been gossiping at all during quarantine? I ask because I can’t stop thinking about an article published last on Vice entitled, “Why We Need Gossip Now More Than Ever.” In addition to emphasizing how the social benefits of gossiping (bonding, increased cooperation, and encouragement of good behavior and self-reflection) are even more significant during this time of unprecedented isolation, it also points out that gossip is harder to come by these days–to the extent that the author and her boyfriend have instituted a nightly “gossip sesh” to imbue relatively mundane observations or information with a certain degree of intrigue.
I read it after spending the whole weekend immersed in the controversy that ensued when Alison Roman criticized Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo in a viral interview. There are many legitimate reasons why outrage spread so quickly and vehemently in response, largely stemming from the disappointing fact that Roman accuses two Asian women of selling out simply because they have pursued different paths to success in the lifestyle sphere, which notably lacks in diversity. But I’m fairly certain there was also another element at play that had nothing to do with the interview and everything to do with the excuse it provided–an element that lit up the discourse like gasoline on an open flame, capturing the internet’s fickle attention with self-perpetuating fervor: Two months of pent-up desire for gossip.
This particular scenario was proof of why gossip gets a bad rap, its penchant for toxicity all the more evident on the rare occasions when it explodes across hundreds of different Twitter handles, but gossip doesn’t have to be mean-spirited to be nourishing. As MR contributor Meghan Nesmith points out in an essay on the psychology of gossip, “at its best… [it] provides a shared language and a platform for deep, communal understanding.” The Vice article echoes this sentiment with a quote from W.H. Auden’s 1937 essay, “In Defense of Gossip”: “There’s no reason whatever why gossip should make mischief. As a game played under the right rules, it’s an act of friendliness, a release of the feeling, and a creative work of art.”
My enjoyment of this type of gossip isn’t going anywhere–I’m only human, and I’m not immune to the thrill of bonding with someone else over a juicy tidbit or two. At the same time, I’m keenly aware of how difficult it is to do that right now. Just as social distancing inhibits side conversations, it also impedes both fodder and mechanisms for gossip. My tidbits from the last few weeks are about as juicy as a stale lime. So I’m curious: Have you found ways to enjoy gossip of the harmless variety during quarantine? If not, do you miss it, or are you glad for a reprieve? I’m eager to hear your thoughts.
Feature Image via CW.