Dishing The Dirt- Is It As Bad As We Think?


Whether it is two housewives gossiping about the new revelations about their next-door neighbor, or colleagues in the office discussing the latest secret of their boss, dishing the dirt from other people has generally been scorned upon. Even though practiced in abundance, gossiping is seen as a negative social occurrence. So, what are the two most common complaints on the basis of which we essentially think gossiping is negative?

Firstly, the idea that it is ‘idle talk’, a conversation that is aimless, and achieves no additional enhancement of one’s thinking or reasoning skills. More importantly, gossiping often involves the discussion of personal or private matters of people behind their backs and bringing it into a relatively public arena. However, one must realize that like every other mode that ‘exposes’ private facets of a person’s life, say a newspaper digging the latest rumor about a celebrity, is subject to scrutiny if it is baseless, or just an attempt of defamation. While gossiping is a more informal, and therefore less careful mode of discussing information, because it is in circulation, it is not completely bereft of criticism if it transmits incorrect information.

Despite the apparent ills of gossiping, several theorists would choose to argue otherwise on the social benefits wrought by it. Besides the points of criticism of gossiping is often misplaced because it generally involves the transmission of unpleasant information. However, just because it is a mode of transmission of such information, it does not make it unpleasant in itself as a social process. Consider the following benefits that gossiping has in a society, as argued by David Archard. Firstly, gossiping is a good way to promote unity within a community, and maintain values within it. This might seem far-fetched, but when viewed objectively, it becomes easier to understand this process. Gossiping involves discussion about individuals who have in some way committed some unusual act, or something that is a deviation from traditional societal ideas. It therefore, sees a tacit recognition and agreement of these values when people within a community discuss it. It is important to get one thing distinguished, though. This is not a commentary on the subjective goodness of the values that it promotes. That is, for instance, if two women discuss about how their neighbor is 32 and still unmarried, socially it is a tacit recognition of the consensual idea that women must be married before, say, 30. This does not mean the value itself is not misplaced, it is in this case, but this does not make the process of gossiping wrong, it shows the shortcomings of societal values. Which brings us to the second benefit of gossiping- it is a good way to put to test the shared values of a community. One of the people who hear the gossips about the unmarried 34-year old might actively point out there is nothing wrong in it, and this might in extension, help the people of the society realize there might be some fallacy in the value itself.

Besides this, another common gossip topic is that of public figures and celebrity. This has some special advantages that is often overlooked. It enables a demystification of the pretensions of public status, i.e. it helps us realize in a lot of cases there is not much difference between us common people, and people of prominence. The increased hiatus they share is often misplaced because when compared fundamentally, they too engage in day-to-day activities that we engage in, and believe in what we believe in. Additionally, there is no doubt that personal life is more revealing of true character than a front put up in the public sphere. Again, this is not a commentary on the subjective rightness of discussing someone else’s personal life, but just an understanding that revelations of private affairs are more indicative of innate character.

Thus, if we can truly extricate gossip as a social occurrence from the unpleasant information that it transmits often, we can see it has much social purposes as a mode of transmission. We often tend to say gossiping is bad simply because the subject matter discussion at hand might be ‘bad’. However, as it turns out, the occasional dish of the dirt is actually more beneficial than we think, and perhaps we have given a bad name to it unnecessarily because it has often exposed the inadequacies within our own value systems, or unraveled those of others.

-Contributed by Tinka Dubey

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