Gossip: He says, she says
Women and men are impacted by our celebrity-obsessed culture. Journalist Mark Hadley and TV producer Maia Hadley discuss their professional and personal insights.
Please explain the term 'commodified gossip'?
The women's magazines at the checkout do immediately come to mind. However, I believe that a recent front page of the Daily Telegraph headlined "How could she?" verges on commodified gossip. With so little information as to the mother's state of mind or wellbeing, how can we possibly pass judgement on why she chose to leave her baby.
The tabloids tap into the nastiest side of human nature: judgement, informed or otherwise, of others. Celebrities who are too skinny or fat, in rehab or on spending sprees, or unknown mothers who leave their children, are all open game. Whatever the topic, these publications are any media that encourage their readers to feel morally superior to the person targetted in order to peddle their product.
Gossip gives credence to a piece of information, more because of its dramatic qualities than its factual basis. And sadly, much of what is published as news today contains a significant level of gossip, though the tone may be more dignified.
Not that our nightly bulletins and daily papers are consciously trafficking in untruths, but you will find plenty of unsubstantiated rumour and innuendo cloaked under the heading of 'expert commentary' and 'investigative journalism'.
After all, is referring to "Sources within the department reveal." really much different from "You didn't hear it from me, but."?
So, why do we buy 'commodified gossip'?
Ten years ago I read a statistic that 60 per cent of women feel worse about themselves after reading fashion magazines. I promised myself then and there that I would never buy one again.
Now, lest I sound too morally superior, I must confess that I am still the occasional 'flicker' in doctors' and dentists' surgeries. Why I believe that 'Jennifer Aniston's 10 beauty and make-up tips for looking younger' is going to give me any great insight is what has sold magazines for decades.
'Commodified gossip' is a good starting description, but maybe 'commercial idolatry' would be better. These publications always combine the promise of more with the disappointment of less. They hold up a manufactured ideal that we as women should aspire to that plays on our perceived inadequacies. "Maybe I should change my beauty regime. I don't have an anti-aging cream, and that harsh Australian sun."
It is so easy to buy into the idea that our identity is somehow wrapped up in our hair, skin and fashion choices. The problem with this 'ideal' of course is that it is always shifting, always changing, invariably very expensive and consequently never attainable.
When Proverbs talks about gossip, it likens it to 'choice morsels' that go down to our 'innermost parts'. In short, they feed something in us.
Though these stories could grow a sense of empathy or righteous indignation, they are more likely to nourish greed, jealousy and self-centred fantasy. I think gossip publications work because they allow us to insert ourselves into settings where we don't belong and pass judgements we long to make about others but would loathe to apply personally.
When I become the arbiter of right and wrong in Angelina and Brad's relationship, or the private school choices of a political family, I draw a certain significance to myself. There's a scale out there and gossip positions me somewhere above my hapless victims.
Is it just a female thing?
No, it is not just a female thing! This insidious industry has now targeted everyone from tweens to men in their 50s. No one is safe.
I think there is a wider choice for women, but even that seems to be changing. There is a certain sameness to the female options that makes you feel as though you've read that article before, even if the celebrity head has changed.
I think we guys like to think so - it allows us to indulge in a little 'safe sexism' and chortle at the vagaries of women. But the truth is there are a growing number of magazines aimed at feeding the male taste for fantasy as there are for the female market.
On the cover of men's health magazines you'll see the same range of beautifully sculpted role models offering to share the secrets of celebrity success between the sheets. The sports mags are only a step away, with envy-inspiring over-chromed engines and sporting heroes confessing their traumas at the top.
It's all about finding the 'secret knowledge' that impresses and feeding inadequacies; only the market changes.
What's the problem?
The problem is the focus. When these subjects dominate our conversations it can turn into a gossip fest about a myriad of other things. Suddenly we find ourselves wanting to share the confidential information of others just to be part of the conversation! We want to be the ones with something new to say that no one has heard yet, to share in the attention and the "Did you know?".
It is no wonder that James warns about taming the tongue, comparing it to a fire setting forests alight. It's just not helpful when we could be talking about more encouraging things. It also leads to dissatisfaction with ourselves, our bodies, our clothes, our husbands and so on.
We're a pretty dissatisfied lot when it comes to our personal lives, aren't we? I think someone who was truly at peace with who they were wouldn't really have much time for peering into the corners of someone else's existence.
Gone are the days when men's fashion could be encompassed by a single shop on the high street. The closet space in the modern marriage is no longer dominated by her clothes. But probably the most obvious male magazine obsession is the reclamation of the 18-year-old body.
Show me a men's health magazine and I'll show you a 'sure fire method for steel-hard abs'.
What's your defence strategy?
My mother used to say that if someone was influencing you to do the wrong thing "simply look the other way; don't give them any attention". I think the same rule can apply here.
Don't look at them at the checkout, don't pick them up in the doctor's surgery (plan to take your Bible or a novel to read). Simply look the other way and if you hear their little glossy-coated voices crying out, slam your handbag on top of the pile and tell them, "I'm not interested".
When I see a piece of commercial idolatry, I try to remember that it's trying to reset my agenda. It may be telling me that I'm the judge of some nefarious behaviour, so I remind myself that job belongs to God who will be looking at my actions just as closely.
When asked to savour the turmoils of someone's life, I try and imagine what it would be like if it was my wife or kids they were talking about. I'll admit the hardest to ignore is the 'secret method' offering the return of youthful vigour. That's when I try to remind myself that this body is supposed to wear out, but the next one is designed for eternity.