What if it isn’t gossip we’re interested in? What if we really aren’t small- and mean-minded? What if we aren’t scandalmongerers but rather, as we sort through other people’s dirty laundry, erm, truth seekers?
It continues to be a big issue at Newser, our gossip quotient. Some of us (principally Newser’s older men), have a continued aversion to gossip-ish content—mainly, the hundreds of infidelities and marital break-ups that we have duly followed. We’ve even added a button on the upper right of the homepage allowing users to filter out the gossip, which practically no one has ever used. Indeed, the more we older men get cranky about all the gossip, the more our users seem to gobble it up.
While older men continue to like politics, everybody else, it seems, likes gossip. So what is it that we older men don’t understand?
I would not be the first to offer that we don’t understand relationships. For us, politics is comforting precisely because it is not personal. For everybody else, the true mystery of public life more and more involves other people’s personal lives, ie, what was Sandra Bullock thinking? Really, what’s been going on there?
Private lives may be the big subject of our time, a vastly more complicated and relevant subject than public life. Most people really could care less about what’s behind the political spin machine, but they’re incredibly curious about what’s behind our personal spin machines. This is a byproduct of a world where psychological nuance is widely retailed and deeply discounted. It is, too, an obvious reflection of the most volatile element in everybody’s life—the person you're living with.
We used to have novels to help explain this, but novels have mostly gone the way of poetry, which also used to explain such matters of the heart. We have romantic comedies, but those fantasies make you want to know the real stuff even more (this is one reason why the story of Sandra Bullock, one of the most successful figures of romantic comedy, is so appealing).
As broad as it is, tabloid journalism really may be emotionally truer than most other kinds of journalism. In an incredibly phony and managed world, celebrity infidelities and break-ups are as close as we come to something real.
But I don’t think this is necessarily about schadenfreude and class resentment (the nobodies versus the somebodies); I think that this is also about a need to know. What did Sandra Bullock see in this guy? How did they conduct their relationship? It seemed weird—so it’s good to know it was weird (and we’re not crazy). But this need to know isn’t only for low and vile and scurrilous reasons. The need to know comes from everybody’s relationships being mired in the same sorts of confusion as the Bullocks’ and the Edwards’ and Woods’ relationships.
True, most of us don’t have a Nazi issue. But we’ve all got other stuff.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.