The Provo­ca­teur: we use our friends for so­cial cur­rency

Gos­sip is an in­te­gral part of friend­ships, says Marie-claire Chap­pet. As Sex And The City hits 20, she looks at why we love to dish the dirt…

Grazia (UK) - - News -

hav­ing good gos­sip is like hav­ing cig­a­rettes in prison. It’s pow­er­ful cur­rency. How thrilling is the phrase, ‘ You’ll never guess what’ or, ‘I shouldn’t tell you this, but… ’? It’s whis­pered, hushed, and fol­lowed by hud­dled heads and ap­pre­cia­tive coos. Turn­ing some­one’s per­sonal life into gold star en­ter­tain­ment can give you se­ri­ous so­cial power.

This sum­mer sees the re­lease of Swan Song, a fic­tion­alised ac­count of the writer Tru­man Capote’s real-life fall from so­cial grace in the 1970s. The cel­e­brated au­thor of Break­fast At Tif­fany’s was known to be ‘ad­dicted’ to gos­sip. He fu­elled his high-so­ci­ety friend­ship groups with sto­ries (some made up, some anec­dotes from oth­ers’ per­sonal lives), but in 1975 he went too far. He pub­lished La Côte Basque, 1965 – an ex­cerpt from a novel he was work­ing on. In it, he spilt all his friends’ se­crets. He ex­ploited their emo­tional lives for the sake of a good story and was then so­cially shunned.

Gos­sip was also the driv­ing force be­hind Sex And The City. As Mi­randa once moaned, ‘How does it hap­pen that four such smart women have noth­ing to talk about but boyfriends? It’s like sev­enth grade with bank ac­counts.’ All while Car­rie re­gur­gi­tated their per­sonal sto­ries, weekly, in her column, of course.

We may not have dirt to spill on New York’s belles or the Man­hat­tan dat­ing scene but, in our own small way, we do the same thing in our own friend­ship groups. When we gos­sip, we trade news about oth­ers like so­cial coinage.

‘ We are fas­ci­nated by other peo­ple’s dra­mas,’ ex­plains re­la­tion­ship ther­a­pist Denise Knowles, ‘ There’s a com­par­a­tive thing go­ing on, too. It makes us feel bet­ter about our own lives.’

And there’s a fu­ri­ous ap­petite for it. Think of the gos­sip pages we de­vour, the In­sta­gram ac­counts we are glued to, or the re­al­ity TV we con­sume. These shows are pred­i­cated on min­ing peo­ple’s emo­tional lives for en­ter­tain­ment; on con­ver­sa­tions about other peo­ple’s busi­ness. As Denise ob­serves, ‘ There’s an aw­ful lot of peo­ple who make a hell of a lot of money from gos­sip.’

The de­sire to gos­sip is, how­ever, per­haps more nu­anced then just en­ter­tain­ment. Denise notes that gos­sips are typ­i­cally in­se­cure and be­ing the pur­veyor of some­one’s se­cret is a power move. ‘In­se­cure peo­ple usu­ally feel on the edge of things, and gos­sip­ing makes them feel in the loop,’ she ex­plains, ‘It gives them a sense of im­por­tance and be­long­ing.’

Noth­ing glues peo­ple to­gether like the nat­u­ral in­ti­macy of talk­ing about some­one else. I can feel my­self do­ing it. In pauses in con­ver­sa­tions, I use gos­sip as Poly­filla to

patch up the gaps of so­cial awk­ward­ness. It’s ter­ri­ble re­ally; why can’t I just talk about the weather? But the weather is dull. And gos­sip is not. That’s the dan­ger­ous thing about it.

Ear­lier this year, I was talk­ing to an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. We were fall­ing into the trap of idle small talk. It didn’t feel like a con­nec­tion be­tween good friends, it felt like the po­lite, stilted be­hav­iour of ac­quain­tances. I hated it. So, I gos­siped… ‘Did you hear H is think­ing of break­ing up with her boyfriend?’

‘No way! Ac­tu­ally, I think maybe she is cheat­ing on him… ’

Bang. Back in busi­ness. All I had to do to get out of it was prof­fer up a tale of some­one else’s mis­ery and we felt like pals again. It’s sick­en­ing.

Many years ago, my friend Lucy*, in pos­ses­sion of a par­tic­u­larly scan­dalous bit of gos­sip – her friend’s af­fair – let it slip at a party. The prob­lem was, the per­son she told was the ex­act per­son she shouldn’t have, and news spread fast.

‘I don’t know why I did it now,’ she says, ‘I feel re­ally aw­ful about it, but it is a rush to ad­mit you know some­one’s se­cret.’ She is, pre­dictably, no longer friends with the per­son whose se­cret she blabbed.

Men are not im­mune to the lure of gos­sip ( just look at Capote), but my boyfriend did re­ceive a piece of in­for­ma­tion last year that he flat-out re­fused to tell me. I was in awe of his re­straint, es­pe­cially when he was even­tu­ally re­leased from his obli­ga­tion of si­lence, and I found out it was good, juicy, Span­ish soap-opera stuff, too. ‘It’s not my news to tell,’ he told me, and I felt ashamed that keep­ing a se­cret of that mag­ni­tude would have been tor­tur­ous for me.

At univer­sity, a boy who I didn’t know very well once asked me, ‘So, what’s the gos­sip then?’ He had heard that I was ‘the per­son who knew ev­ery­one’s busi­ness’. But, if peo­ple knew I knew things, that also meant that I was not to be trusted. I was a gos­sip. I felt ter­ri­ble.

My gos­sip­ing ten­den­cies are now – if not com­pletely gone – se­verely di­min­ished. I feel dirty when­ever I do it, like a drug dealer who trades in other peo­ple’s mis­ery. As en­joy­able as a good gos­sip is, per­haps with ma­tu­rity should come dis­tance from that kind of talk. It’s too easy to trade peo­ple’s news and never stop to think of the con­se­quences.

So, if in doubt, just re­mem­ber the fate of Tru­man Capote, or the wise words of Eleanor Roo­sevelt: ‘Great minds dis­cuss ideas… small minds dis­cuss peo­ple.’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.