“A woman and a mouse, they carry a tale wherever they go.” – Gelett Burgess
“Every Parent’s Nightmare,” “A Nasty Piece of Work,” and “Mind-Blowingly Inappropriate.” When the CW’s prime time poster-child Gossip Girl made its second debut, the critical disdain from family organizations was common and clear. Championed by the Parents Television Council, the groups decried the overt drug use, foul language, and gratuitous sex scenes dominating the lives of the show’s teenaged characters. They made no mention, however, of the hidden nasty habit on the show, its namesake – gossip.
Not that Gossip Girl invented the “loose-lipped queen bee as protagonist” art form. One could argue even Pride and Prejudice can be lumped into the category. After all, most of what Elizabeth (praised by literary critics as a model heroine) and her sisters talk about is “Miss Bingham did this,” “Mr. Darcy did that.” Is she any better, truly, than Alicia Silverstone’s Clueless leading lady or the Lindsay Lohan-led clique of quintessential Mean Girls? The funny thing is, I know more about Lindsay Lohan’s alleged relationship with Samantha Ronson than I do about the current status of my own friendships. The sick thing is, I’m strangely okay with that.
In an age when conversation is as easy as a few clicks, I can’t help but wonder, why does gossip grip us so tightly? Does it serve any actual purpose or do we simply have nothing better to say?
Five Reasons Gossip Has a Bad Rap
- Gossip is often a direct path to a betrayal of trust. Just as WWII officials warned that “loose lips sink ships,” one spilled secret could ruin a friendship.
- Gossip often snowballs into lying. Everyone wants to have the inside scoop, which leads to embellishments and exaggerations (which are really just close cousins of lies).
- Gossip is largely about people’s less-than-sterling qualities. The veracity of the information and the motivation of the source is rarely taken into account. One person’s opinion can quickly become a group’s consensus. This can ruin reputations and wreck friendships before they begin.
- Gossip doesn’t always present itself as blatant insults and lies. More often it’s simply a passive-aggressive division between your group (the gossipers) and your subjects (the others).
- Gossip is toxic in the workplace. Time wasted gossiping leads to loss of productivity. Morale and relationships ruined by gossip leads to division among team members, cattiness, and increased anxiety all around.
Five Reasons Why Gossip Might Be Okay
- Gossip serves as a unifying communicative force. According to Psychology Today gossip can “communicate a group’s moral code” by quickly and clearly distinguishing which behaviors are accepted and which will make you the topic of negative talk.
- Gossip acquaints you with your social surroundings and your peers. A quick chat around the water cooler can pinpoint bosses to avoid after meetings. Shooting the breeze over a martini or two can spare you the horrors of dating the local serial cheater.
- Gossip helps put everything in perspective. The German word “schadenfreude” is translated as “happiness at the misfortune of others.” Although you shouldn’t delight in the troubles of others, everyone knows that watching someone fight a harder battle than you can make your everyday trials seem easier to manage and less significant.
- Gossip humanizes people. From your favorite celebrity’s public divorce to pages upon pages of A-List cellulite photos, gossip makes the bold and the beautiful seem just like us. And in a very odd way, it reassures that everyone’s dreams are possible, which can rekindle self-esteem.
- Gossip offers the comfort of validation. It may not be the most moral thing in the world, but gossip is a bonding force. It’s a great way to strike up conversations, re-affirm social status, and feel involved.
Three Easy Questions to Keep Gossip In Check
- “Would I mind if someone said this about me?” If the answer is “yes,” you may want to recite the old adage “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” You’ll earn points in the long run for playing clean and fair.
- “Am I positive it’s true?” If you didn’t see it with your own eyes, consider the source. The irony of the situation is that the people at the center of the gossip world usually have the least amount of accurate information and are the most likely to gossip about you in return. Check your facts. In every social circle, getting caught propagating a lie is a major faux pas.
- “Is this even worth repeating?” This is the hardest question, requiring the most thought. What will be accomplished by telling this tale, sharing this secret, poking this barb? Challenge yourself to aim for something higher than a few laughs or a way to pass time. Surely you can find something better to share.
Perhaps the failure of Gossip Girl is not of one character’s abstinence or of another’s willpower. Perhaps it simply lies in the title character’s lack of regard for the questions above. Who knows? Maybe when the ratings fall enough she will learn the painful value of repentance as so many protagonists before her have done. She could learn a lot from Jane Austen’s Elizabeth; that gossip may be necessary at times but should always be tempered with civility. And if that’s over our dear Gossip Girl’s head, she can recall the climactic monologue of Mean Girls, “Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier, calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter, and ruining Regina George’s life definitely didn’t make me any happier. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.” It is this knowledge that separates your average loud-mouthed protagonists from those who can truly be called “heroines.”
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Annie Passanisi is the daughter of motivational speaker Kathleen Passanisi. She is also a Chicago-based actor, singer, freelance writer and editor, 1950s pop culture enthusiast, and swing set champion. For more information, please visit www.TheAnniePassanisi.com.
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