Gossip as Knowledge
Tags: culture, discourse/language, knowledge, media, celebrities, gossip, popular culture, social norms, 11 to 20 mins
Summary: In this TEDTalk, celebrity gossip columnist Elaine "Lainey" Lui discusses the “sociology of gossip.” Although gossip, she argues, is a topic often viewed as unrespected, unintellectual, and shameful, Lui frames gossip as an important form of knowledge and knowledge exchange, a tool that helps us understand and make sense of our social world. Positioning herself as a methodical scientist studying the social contexts, culture, and behavior of celebrity-dom, Lui historically contextualizes gossip as knowledge exchange by providing examples of: 1) ancient gossip about pharaohs and queens found within Egyptian hieroglyphics; and 2) contemporary celebrity headlines. Modern-day celebrity gossip, she argues, reflects society's current existence and frames “popular mores and ethics" around topics such as “marital convention, fidelity, feminist regression/progression, social violence, and sexual orientation.” The specific examples that Lui shares include: Drew Barrymore’s pregnancy and motherhood, Chris Brown’s rise in fame post his physical abuse of Rihanna, and rumors of John Travolta’s sexual orientation. She also includes the example of Kristen Stewart’s cheating scandal versus Ashton Kutcher’s. Stewart, a Hollywood starlet, cheats on her equally famous boyfriend, Robert Pattinson, with married Hollywood director Rupert Sanders. Once news breaks, Stewart is subsequently slut-shamed as a “trampire” and loses movie roles, while Sanders is not publicly shamed and, instead, continues to gain directing opportunities. In contrast, Kutcher cheats on his Hollywood wife, Demi Moore, with very little fan- and media-based shaming, and is offered a contract extension on a highly-watched sitcom, becoming the highest paid actor on network television. Lui suggests that when we gossip about the infidelities of celebrities like Stewart and Kutcher, we are “sharing [our] moralistic views on marriage and fidelity and social expectations of females in relationships”; therefore, “the way we gossip,” Lui states, “tells us more about us than about the celebrities.” Lui highlights how these cultural practices of engaging in celebrity gossip are refracted through our own biases and the “prism of our own experience,” shedding light on larger social value and belief systems. This video can be used in numerous sociology classroom settings. Specifically, because Lui discusses such topics as sexism, heterosexism, social violence, and the social construction of knowledge, instructors can use this video to illustrate how such concepts permeate media consumption. The video would also work well in tandem with the NPR story, Seriously Salacious: The 'Untrivial’ Gossip Tradition.
Submitted By: Beverly M. Pratt
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