Rob Patterson

Gossip is People

I’m off to the supermarket to buy the National Enquirer. What? Saying that in these pages of progressive thinking is almost as sinful as admitting that I subscribe to the National Review (I don’t).

But it just so happens that a rock’n’roll guy I know is in the gossip rag in a story about how his TV series actress wife left him for a fellow who delivers pizza. And the best guess by another friend of ours is that he sold the story to them himself.

It’s not the first time that people I know have graced the pages of that prying tabloid. A decade or so back two musical artists that I also know landed on the cover. Yeah, it’s bizarre to pass through the checkout line and see people I had recently spent time with up there in the stratosphere of celebrity news.

Another person who was a close friend years ago was embroiled in the recent Anthony Pellicano Hollywood wiretapping scandal and trial, indicted, in fact, and then turned state’s evidence. The news of his involvement provided a moment of schadenfreude, given the way he underwent an almost instant personality change when he started rising through the ranks of major record labels and pretty much dumped all his old friends. (The good news is that after he sent me a friend request on Facebook, I sent him a letter detailing my disappointment with him as a friend and a person, and it led to a rapprochement with my now considerably humbled friend after the mess he got himself involved in.)

Back when I lived in New York City, I was even friendly with Richard Johnson, editor of Page Six in the New York Post—ground zero of newspaper gossip columns—and also placed a few items with him when I was a publicist (nothing salacious; just big name celebs showing up at clubs I was working with). In recent years I’ve even gotten calls from tabloids asking me to start gathering string on stars who happen to be in Austin, Texas, where I now live (always turned them down, however).

Gossip, or more politely, celebrity news—you can’t escape it. And admit it: at some time or another, no matter how politically correct you may be, you have probably had some interest in it, however mild or passing it may have been.

It’s often the most distasteful form of entertainment and political news, but there’s something about gossip that seems embedded in the human character. Yet I can’t help but also see it as a great leveler that brings the stars down to our level. But at the same time it highlights how consumed the general public is with fame and the famous, which is not a healthy thing.

I always say that people should be less concerned with who the famous are sleeping with and more concerned with who they themselves are sleeping with. Sure, it’s sometimes amusing to read about the foibles of public figures—and in the political arena, it often highlights hypocrisies that say something about the measure of a man or woman (be it Democrat Elliot Spitzer or Republican Larry Craig)—but I also decry the loss of respect for privacy and personal life that has somehow been lost in our national culture.

So yeah, gossip is a guilty pleasure for me, accent on the guilt. In my every morning ritual of news reading on the web, I do go to the Radar website, my favorite celebrity news source (I like its snarky attitude). But when carloads of paparazzi chase celebrities through city streets, it can have tragic consequences, as with Princess Diana. And the current trend—exemplified by the TMZ website—of confronting the famed and near famous with a video camera and hectoring questions is distasteful indeed (and brings up a desire in me sometimes to pull a young Sean Penn on the bothersome gossip hunters and smack ’em around, as much as I loath violence).

But the sad fact is that the contention by gossip hounds that they are just giving the people what they want has much truth in it, making gossip a populist art, if you will (though not exactly as that word implies in the name of this publication). Blame the media if you like, but the guilty party in the end is the general public. And unless society radically changes, it will be with us for the foreseeable future.

I won’t say just chill out and enjoy it. After all, how can anyone with a heart not at least sometimes wish that the paparazzi might just leave poor, troubled Britney Spears alone? Nor would I say: Be like me and find it amusing when the excesses of gossip hounds can be loathsome.

Ultimately, interest in the rich and famous is likely an inescapable fact of human nature and certainly modern life and media that sometimes tells us as much about us as the gossip tabs, columns and websites and those who work for them. And the only way that gossip culture will change is if we the people change.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2008

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