Thursday, May 3, 2012

Gossip: the fast-food of reading

Daily Mail: "Showing seal what he's missing!"
I've a column in the Canberra Times today, 'Gossip is easy and addictive, but also unhealthy'.

I'm arguing that gossip is the fast-food of reading: okay as a treat, but certainly not a good daily meal.  A sample:
One of the arguments for gossip news is that it enables readers to reflect upon their own lives: the thrill of a flirtation, the comfort of a familiar love, the pain of break-up. But as with Seal and Klum, these stories are little aid to reflection whatsoever - they are far too simplistic for that. Nor do they have the nuance or vitality of a good novel or biography: stories that reveal how complicated a shared life can be. Gossip news makes private life public - or purports to - but it fails to express it with any subtlety, elegance or wit. Often the message is downright Hobbesian: selfish atoms, warring for dominance. 
There is also the impression that many of the stories are inaccurate at best, or just invented at worst. As Stephen Glover put it in The Independent earlier this year, ''[it] is indeed wondrous how Look and other women's magazines know the inner private thoughts of celebrities without having had to go to the bother of hacking their phones.'' In other words, this is not just fiction - it is bad fiction. 
And if readers are looking for enriching, clarifying or moving stories of love, hatred or grief, they are looking in the wrong pages - better Flaubert's Madame Bovary, Hemingway's "Snows of Kilimanjaro" or Susan Johnson's My Life in Seven Mistakes than the Daily Mail or Hello!.

1 comment:

Claudia Grant said...

I used to be a gossip mag junkie. Lived on Perez Hilton. I slowly realised that it was bad for me, and ethically by buying the magazines I was feeding an industry that was sick. I still look every now and then but I do it consciously. I also figure 20 minutes I waste reading about Simone Warne's latest salvo at Shane n' Liz is time I could have spent reading something enriching.

As for the Daily Mail, the fact it is the most read newspaper website in the world proves the theory that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the general public.