Last in a three-part series on Gossip.
When my daughters became teenagers, I decided to dip a toe into their culture. I purchased slightly trendier clothing and allowed myself to curse, on occasion. After shunning celebrity rags like People and Us my entire life, I started perusing them so I would know what my girls were reading.
It really surprised me how much I enjoyed these trashy magazines, especially while on airplanes. Despite knowing that the stories are salacious and inaccurate, I got sucked in. Despite loathing paparazzi who probe intrusively into people's lives, I liked the photos. Clearly I am not alone in feeling the pull of these publications. It seems that the whole world is fascinated by the personal lives of celebrities, politicians and the very rich.
What is so compelling about the private lives of perfect strangers?
There are good evolutionary reasons why the alpha (top) members of our tribe might fascinate us. It is usually adaptive to understand the motives and behavior of the leaders in your pack since they make critical decisions about your world. These days, however, our pack is the whole world, thanks to telecommunications and the media. Information about the personal lives of our leaders and stars is mostly useless; these people are too far removed from our lives and daily decisions. Nonetheless, we may be hard-wired to be curious about the people at the top (in terms of intelligence, talent, appearance, ability, success, wealth, power, etc). And of course, we are fascinated when they fall.
Years after the TV show Friends ended, seeing the characters still felt like seeing my friends. Passively watching people on TV, or reading about them in celebrity rags, does create a sense of community, however false and one-sided. We never see, touch, or communicate with our celebrity “friends” and they never respond to us or help out, but they are familiar. Unfortunately, following media gossip and having celebrity or TV character “relationships” is artificial – it does not bring the same health benefits as having real relationships. In fact, these pseudo-relationships do harm when they take the place of real relationships.
How then can you use your intrinsic interest in the noteworthy and notorious to benefit yourself?
Your interests in celebrity gossip can teach you about yourself.
First, consider what sort of celebrity gossip you like:
- Who do you follow in the news? Who fascinates you most?
- Are these people politicians (power brokers), actors (appealing specimens), artists (creative types or special talents), or sports heroes (physical stars, role models from your youth)?
- Are you interested in their biographies, personalities, current behavior, or accomplishments?
Next, look for themes in your interests:
- Do you identify with victims, perpetrators, loners or power brokers? (I am fascinated when successful people give into outrageous primitive impulses and “let themselves go”– it is hard to imagine giving myself permission to do something like that.)
- Are you interested when "good" people do "bad" things? Or when "bad" things happen to "good" people? (Which position do you relate to most often?)
- Are you riveted by the antics of the “bad” boys and girls in our culture? (I am tickled when a public figure loses it entirely, like when Tom Cruise jumped on Oprah’s sofa.)
- Do “good” works (acts of heroism, selfless hard work) capture your attention?
Now take it a step further:
- What might your gossipy interests mean about you and your self-image? (For example, do you root for the nice girls who struggle and then get what they want? Is this how you see yourself?)
- Do the objects of your gossipy interest represent a part of your Self? (Of course they do!) Perhaps they represent a missing part of your Self (your aggression, compassion, etc.,) – a part that you would like to reclaim.
- Do celebrity downfalls make you feel better about your own situation? (Schadenfreude – taking pleasure from the misfortune of others -- is satisfying in part because, by comparison, we become elevated in our own minds.)
- What does your interest in these strangers mean about your hopes or dreams? (Perhaps I’d like to feel freer to indulge “unacceptable” parts of myself?)
- How do your gossipy interests reflect your past experience and fears?
All of your interests, no matter how seemingly frivolous, tell you something about yourself. (And you thought Tom Cruise was just another pretty face.)