Once upon a time, the citizens of a country looked up to the members of its ruling class. What they wore, what they said, who they married, who they were friends with and who they fought with. If someone was overlooked for a favour, there would be conversations behind hands about a woman they both loved, or a piece of land in dispute. Gossipy, yes, but useful information, especially in a dictatorship where it paid to know who was in and who was out. Who has the ear of the king, could indicate this year’s laws. Very useful.
Gossip hasn’t gone anywhere. It still fills every media outlet almost to the complete exclusion of anything else. But it is no longer remotely useful.
The US media became suddenly fascinated by the story of Bernie Madoff after his escapades did their bit to help bring the country into economic collapse. But why on earth did everyone not know all about this man all along, considering the depth of his influence? And would the media have ever jumped on the story as they did, if it had not been the rich and powerful who were affected by his actions? Even in a country as small as Canada, it amazes me how little connecting the dots the people do. To hear Jean Chrétien call himself “a little guy” who stuck up for little guys like himself and hear no one point out the Paul Desmarais connection. Or the connection between Desmarais and any other politician. What about Prescott Bush, who made his fortune funding Hitler and using slave labour from Auschwitz? If these were the old days, the public would all have known how that family felt about war, and morals in general. It’s not like it is actually difficult to find out about Tony Blair’s investments in Iraq. Considering the information that actors find impossible to keep secret, it is child’s play to find out about major investments.
The trouble is, we have been trained to look elsewhere for our gossip now. In the years that the military industrial complex has been acting as the shadow government, they have kept a very firm hold on the press. From William Randolph Hearst, to Rupert Murdoch to Lord Conrad Black and many more, the media has been a propaganda machine and a distraction. They feed the public’s desire for gossip, but convince them that reality television “stars” are more interesting than the people who rule the world.
There are still diligent journalist authors, digging for these connections and writing great long books full of names and dates and events. Often these books are published at great personal risk, with threats of lawsuits and personal repercussions. The trouble is, almost no one has read these books. It is so much easier to pick up a magazine with a picture of two people at the same party, or turn on the TV and see who is getting married to whom. And gossip is so much more interesting when we know who is being talked about because it is a name that has been served to us for breakfast every day.
But we no longer bow to the controlled media. We can and do gather our own information now. Gossip is not dead, but it is still aimed in the wrong direction. We need a new social register of people to gossip about, people whose activities actually matter, who affect our lives in a very real way. Then, once again, who is dining on a yacht with whom, will actually be information we need to know.