For healthy teeth, skin and nails, try a steady diet of the salacious, tawdry and torrid. Ah delicious, nutritious celebrity gossip. High in Omega-3's celebrity gossip. Let us be clear, I don't need celebrities to gossip. I mastered the art of dish in elementary school, long before I cared who graced glossy newsstand covers. In high school, I read People with mild interest, but I always found the true dirt to be in the hallways. In college, I became acquainted with the Internet and a new fascination was quickly born -- celebrity gossip blogs.
However, as I attempted to become a person of strong moral character, I started feeling guilty about such unabashed rumor-mongering. It seemed wrong, petty, unjust! But my Buddhist revelation didn't last long before I returned to its sweet, indulgent decadence. I soon realized gossip had a purpose, one that is often unifying and always didactic. I was reminded of this when I read an opinion piece on Brad Pitt's recent statements about his infamous divorce. Naturally, the comment section was full of dismissive notions: "Why do you care what Brad Pitt does?" and "This doesn't affect anyone."
To those who want to know why we care and what it affects: if someone makes a choice we find unscrupulous or off-putting (or even noble and courageous) we might talk about it as a way to explore whether or not we would make that same choice in that position. Like all gossip, celebrity gossip is a way to assess our values, and one I find relatively innocuous. You aren't, for example, backstabbing your neighbors in a conversation that might be harmful to their social standing or adversely affect your relationship with them. Instead, you are discussing people whose lives you have virtually no influence on, and who often put personal matters in the public discourse for exactly this kind of conjecture.
If Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie weren't interested in what is almost surgical speculation of their private relationship, they wouldn't be so vocal about it. Brad Pitt's public statements give people a forum to say "this is totally unacceptable" or "this is completely acceptable" and it is that chasm that gives us an understanding of who's values we align with. I believe that the good and bad of all relationships, past and present, should remain private and sacred. In my eyes, Brad Pitt's comments were a classless display of indiscretion, and that tells you something about what I expect from not only myself, but those close to me.
Celebrity gossip is Aesop's Fables for adults: a based-on-a-true-story morality tale that teaches a life lesson. When a sports celebrity known from North America to New Guinea, LeBron James, made a dramatic career move, he became the subject of speculation, and not because the national audience is full of bored enthusiasts with nothing better to do. When LeBron abandoned his working class hometown of Akron for the glittering lights of Miami, it started a conversation about loyalty, about middle America being deserted for shallow places promising big dreams that rarely materialize. How quickly even sports fans turned from discussing stats to dissecting personal choices.
Gossip is less about juicy details and more about personal ethics. These stories are litmus tests of our collective values. That Miami lost this year's championship was all the sweeter, because it meant that maybe, just maybe, our principles were not lost. That a group of old men who stuck together through thick and thin could win their first championship over a fresh-faced team that smacked of glossy, store-bought appeal suggested the virtues of patience and loyalty do pay off in the end. LeBron was right, the next day we had to wake up to the same dull lives we'd always lived. But he had to wake up the next day too, and he woke up not just a loser, but a lesson.
So what does it say about us that we are endlessly fascinated with the unseemly love triangle of Brad, Jen and Angelina? Perhaps it is because our own culture is full of second marriages and we don't have enough fables that accurately represent the current state of our domestic lives. At times it seems that the heightened, organic drama we pick up at the checkout aisle speaks to us now the way raconteurs, philosophers and psychoanalysts did then. The medium may have changed, but the message is the same.