Hear me out— I’ve spent the past week binge-listening to comedian Allison Raskin’s scripted podcast Gossip, and it’s absolutely delightful. As a chronic eavesdropper – I can’t help myself! – this podcast is a dream. It’s akin to revisiting the same coffeehouse every week, listening to the ladies in the corner table, and being able to hear every word. Obsessed yet? Even better, each episode is capped off with an unscripted segment of Raskin and various guests discussing “Hot Goss”— real gossip from their pasts.
Every time “Hot Goss” comes on, I’m like, I can totally one-up these rumors. If I haven’t mentioned it enough, I attended an all-girls Catholic boarding school for four years— you do the math. Now, I (of course) can gripe about the experience for days, but looking back, I can appreciate how pervasive and accepted gossip was on campus. There was always something to talk about— sure, some of it may have come from a malicious source, but considering that the place is a picturesque Spanish-style cell for restless teenage girls, the spite level was acceptable. Besides, I think there’s a marked difference between gossip and trash talk that should be recognized more often. At the very least, everyone was in on it. That’s one way to build a community.
Now that I’ve been out for a while, I’m shocked by the amount of shame attached to enjoying a little gossip here and there. After having my greed for juicy stories nourished day by day, I find myself surprised that, in chatting with my “adult” friends, when I lean in, a familiar conspirator, to spill some fresh tea, they only allow themselves a brief sip. Then in floods the shame, expressed repeatedly, and I’m looped in to feeling bad for introducing the story. Maybe they’re just too WASP-y, but I think this embarrassment stems from more than Judeo-Christian upper-middle-class guilt.
Believe me, I know the pitfalls of gossip – how a surplus of it suggests deeply-rooted anxiety, how untruths can wound relationships – I’m still reeling from rumors of the adolescent era myself.
But what’s really behind our love of gossip, and why do we punish ourselves for it?
Personally, I think my love of gossip is merely a part of human curiosity— a thirst for knowing other people. There’s nothing more compelling than uncovering some apparently new dimension of a person, especially if the subject is – gasp! – familiar. We know it’s wrong – Karen from barre class isn’t here while we discuss her tumultuous love life – but really, wouldn’t we respond the same way if Karen herself were telling us? In fact, the act of self-gossip – a measured reveal of one’s own stories to tell – is particularly effective at building trust and intimacy between friends.
And therein lies the issue— gossip without malice is essentially talk about people we know, and friendship is built largely on people telling each other about themselves. But it’s frowned upon to only be talking about ourselves, so we turn to discussion of the people around us. Because we’re wired to want these stories, we can’t help but lean in (sorry, Sheryl) and just mea culpa ourselves afterwards. There’s nothing we love more than the delight of increased familiarity.
This is why shows like The Real Housewives and Raskin’s Gossip are so great. They give us license to know these people, to be privy to all the happenings in their lives, and there’s no real-world repercussions to make us feel bad that they’re not here while we discuss them. It comes down to our urge to know more about one another, which is a pretty uniquely human need. So maybe that’s the part of our love for gossip we should hold onto— forget the malice and the falsehoods; let’s instead cling to our desire for closeness. I’m going to get my gossip from the source— Karen from barre can serve me the real tea about her crazy ex. After all, isn’t gossip most satisfying when it’s true?