Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The chattering class

Among the chattering class, gossip is a way of life. Even a profession: the gossip columnist, the tabloid press.

When I was young, this tended to be confined to lurid tabloid rags at the check-out stand. They’d keep you up-to-date on Zsa Zsa’s 27th husband or the 11th remarriage between Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.

It may be hard to believe now, when she’s an aging, overweight has-been with the make-up job of a drag queen, but there once was a time, between the Jurassic and Cretaceous Age, when Taylor was a beautiful woman (e.g. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof).

That was followed in time by kiss-n-tell talk shows where guests got into fistfights with each other, the moderator, or the audience.

This development represented a new low. In the past, gossip columnists used to report scandalous behavior on the part of Hollywood celebrities, but now we had a generation of wannabes who were volunteering seamy details about themselves.

And you didn’t have to watch the shows to learn about it. For this began to invade the “news” media as well. Retaining a veneer of journalistic respectability, the news media wouldn’t directly report sensational stories about the celebrity bimbo du jour. Instead, it would wait for the tabloid media to break the story, then claim that it was merely repeating a story that was already in the public domain.

Then you had the advent of cable TV. I never had cable TV until I moved to California. I was living in a river valley with poor reception, so I got cable.

In channel surfing I’d stumble across “reality” shows. It takes under a minute to size up a show like this. It’s usually populated by rich, spoiled rotten valley girls and surfer dudes. Occasionally you run across small town cheerleaders and football players.

What’s striking about these shows, from the little I’ve sampled before changing the channel, is that the young people in these shows have no concept of a private life.

There is no zone of privacy. Everyone gossips about everyone else to everyone else. Not only do they share personal information about themselves, but they volunteer personal information about their friends and siblings and parents, with the cameras rolling.

It makes me wonder if this is representative of the younger generation. If so, then gossip is epidemic. We wallow in a culture of gossip-mongering.

There are many things wrong with this decadent development:

1.Discretion is a virtue. There’s a virtue in not verbalizing everything that crosses your mind. It’s one thing to think something, another thing to say it. Many things are better left unsaid.

2.Discretion used to be a fixture of friendship. A mark of friendship is that a friend will never pass along an embarrassing fact about another friend. That’s why you feel safe around your friends. You feel free let your guard down. And least you used to.

A friend is someone who will protect the reputation of another friend. Spare him public humiliation. Not necessarily lie for him, but cover for him—as long as we’re dealing with foibles rather than felonies.

To gossip about a friend would be a betrayal of trust. A breach of confidence.

To judge by these TV shows, that seems to be an alien concept among some members of the younger generation. They will say anything, about anyone, on national television—whether it’s a mother or father, friend or sibling.

3.Not only is it wrong to gossip about friends and family, but it’s also wrong to spread malicious rumors about your enemies.

The Bible talks about the sin of gossip, but the church needs to put that label on specific forms of conduct. The church needs to take the lead on this issue—among others.

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