Friday, August 1, 2008

"Gossip"

“The American people want to know.”

I’m going do a post on “the American People” another time. I’ll just say this. “The American people” is not a number. It’s a loud noise masquerading as a number. You want to know what the American people think?

Ask them.

One person at a time.

Today, I’ll ask me.

“Earl, do you want to know?”

My answer?

“Not everything.”

That’s not a totally sensible answer. You can’t know everything anymore. We’re past the time when the alphabet went up to “G” and the highest number was eight. There’s a lot more to know today. The smartest guy in the world couldn’t come close to knowing everything. There’s too much information. The question is,

Is it really all worth knowing?

Information used to matter a lot. Information could save your life.

“Black plague is caused by contaminated drinking water.”

“Really? Thank you so much!”

That was helpful information. People were dying in frightening numbers and they had no idea what was going on. And it wasn’t just the water.

“There’s something in the milk.”

“In the milk now? We can’t drink anything?”

“Pasteur’s fixing it.”

“Will it take long? I’m getting thirsty.”

“Not too long. He’s ‘Pasteurizing’ it.”

“He’s what?”

“Hey, the guy’s fixing the milk. So he’s putting his name on the cure.”

“God bless him. I was running out of reliable liquids.”

Two pieces of life-saving information. And concept goes beyond things that you drink. “The world is round” was good information. You could venture further out. “You only eat the inside of the pineapple.” That was great information. People were tearing their throats out.

Information became highly regarded. An illuminating factoid could make you a celebrity. Inevitably, people started competing.

“Did you know you could plant a seed it the ground and it will grow food?”

“Thank you for telling me.”

“Are you impressed that I knew that?”

“Very much so. I was just eating the seeds.”

Since there really wasn’t that much information back then, the “illuminating factoids” competition inevitably deteriorated from information you needed to know to information you didn’t.

“Did you know that green isn’t a primary color, it’s just a mixture of yellow and blue?”

“Not that interesting.”

Jumping ahead in the interest of time and your attention span, I am now at the point where I’m receiving information ranging past “I not don’t need to know” to “I don’t want to know.” It’s a little thing I call...

Gossip.

That’s not original. Everyone calls it gossip. I realize that gossip is big business, and it wouldn’t be if people weren’t hugely interested in it. I just don’t happen to be one of them. This is not in any way saying that I’m better than the people who are. I understand the impulse of Schadenfreude – taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. I admit to having such impulses myself sometimes. But it’s never about strangers.

My problem with gossip is not an ethical one. It’s personal. Here’s the trouble with gossip for me. I enjoy the things I believe. Believing them gives me comfort and satisfaction, even, maybe, joy. Then the gossip starts flying, and suddenly, my ability to believe those things anymore is completely taken away.

I need those illusions. Illusions are recess. They’re vacations from life. I can’t live in the world of

“That wisdom tooth has got to come out.”

Not full time. I need a break. I need blue skies and soothing breezes. Gossip – totally unrequested information – has the power to rob me of my illusions. And that’s not fair.

Example:

This example’s from a while back. For two reasons. One, I’m from a while back. And two, I’m not a fan of the people who are getting trashed by gossip today. Not only do I not care about their stupid and self-destructive behavior, I’m not deprived of any illusions when that behavior comes to light.

I imagine fans today feeling the same way about their current heroes as I did about mine. So, although my example may be out of date, the issue remains as timely as tomorrow’s tabloids. (At least I hope so, or this whole thing has no resonance.)

Years ago, even before me, there was a guy named Bing Crosby. Bing Crosby was a famous singer and a movie star, winning an Oscar for Going My Way. Crosby also partnered with Bob Hope in some funny “road” pictures. Today, Crosby’s probably recognized most for his classic recording of “White Christmas.”

Crosby’s relaxed manner and mock-courtly bon-vivance made him popular for decades. People felt, “I like him. He’s friendly. He sings nice, especially that “White Christmas” song. He seems like a person that I would like.” My cursory research reveals that in 1948, polls declared Bing Crosby the “most admired man alive.”

I was definitely a fan. His approach seemed effortless, his persona, easygoing and kind of humble. It was inspiring that a decent guy could make it. I was a decent guy. It gave me hope.

Then, one day, I hear that Crosby’s son, Gary, has written an autobiography in which he reveals that Bing Crosby beat up his children. My first reaction was confusion. The information didn’t compute. “Der Bingle?” Knocking around children?

It hurt.

Did he actually do it? Apparently, he did. At least there was no rebuttal book from Bing saying, “He’s making that up.” It happened. And I’m very sad for his kids. It must have been terrible for them. My only question is, how does it help them that I know about it?

From the day I learned that Bing Crosby was an abusive father, every time I hear him sing,

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas...”

those are no longer the words I hear in my head. Instead, I hear,

“I gave my kids some good beatings...”

What was the point of Gary Crosby’s revelation? Was it an object lesson: “Don’t beat your children”? I’ve never thought of doing that. Was it revenge: “I got him back”? That’s not too classy. Was it catharsis: “I got it out”? He has that right, I suppose. Was it for money? Ew.

Was it a cry for help? What could I have done? Even if I’d have known about it when it was happening. Could I have called him up?

“Mr. Crosby. This is Earl Pomerantz, I’m a big fan. I just called to tell you to stop hitting your children.”

What would the guy have said?

“Okay, Earl. And thanks for straightening me out.”

Telling people who could have successfully intervened? Of course. But why did he need to tell the world? I’m not worried about the Dad; he got what he deserved. But what about the people who admired him?

We learned the truth? Thank you. Now what do we do with the records?

Read this very clearly: I am one thousand percent against hitting your children. If it happened to you, I’m heartbroken. If you’re currently hitting your kids, stop it! Kids are small and vulnerable and loving and trusting. You’re unhappy? Too bad. Leave the kids alone. (It may not have been necessary to clarify this point. I just don’t want the slightest possibility of this story being taken the wrong way.)

Final words?

Gossipers: Gossip can destroy precious illusions, hurting people who did nothing to deserve it. Be thoughtful. Some of us need those illusions to survive.

Famous People: Knock it off. We put you up there; you owe us. Keep in mind, if you mess up – it’s the “Information Age” – it’s going to get out. And it won’t be just you paying the price. Your fans will be paying too. For believing in you.

Superstars. For the people who love and support you:

Try not to screw up.

8 comments:

JeffH said...

Kinda like the old days in professional sports. Sportswriters protected superstars like Mantle and Ruth. When they wrote about them, they wrote about them in the context of athletic prowess (on field, not off the field). I didn't--and don't--need to know Mantle was a drunk. And Ruth was a womanizer (although that should give some of us, meaning overweight white guys like me, hope).

growingupartists said...

We need illusions? That's the premise of your theory. Oh dear...looks like it's going to be another long day.

Anonymous said...

First off, black plague was/is caused by fleas on infected rats. Typhus and/or cholera are caused by drinking water, if you'd like a handy substitution.

Second, gossip to me is malicious information that may or may not be true usually spread by someone in no position to verify it. "I heard 'aging actress' adopts Third World children to harvest their organs to replace her own." Like that. Not a revelation of truth by someone who suffered at the hands of someone famous, thereby causing the real Dorian Gray to look more like the picture.

Third, when I was young, I admired and looked up to the President of the United States. When I was a (possibly) impressionable teen, it was revealed to me that the country's president was in fact a devious paranoid who, when he wasn't swearing like an injured dockworker was dragging his secretary of state to his knees to pray alongside him, was avidly performing any criminal act -- no matter how petty or ineffective -- that would let him hold onto power. I think I was better off for finding that out.

growingupartists said...

Okay, you win. Illusions are beneficial to the immune system...but what does this have to do with faith?

Or gossip, for that matter. Why does gossip have to be malicious...that would be more like "defaming" or "denigrating". And who has time for such effort?

Again, I'm leaning back towards disillusioned...what is wrong with me? If only I didn't have to wait until Monday to hear about Israel.

Bah. I'm gonna go get an Iced Grande Latte to perk someone up. I mean ME!

Gnasche said...

If there was a guy who routinely made my life miserable, and I constantly had to listen to people talking about how wonderful he was, I would do anything I could to make them shut up. The individual feelings of those people wouldn't be any consideration.

Anonymous said...

Gary Crosby's book was written only after Bing was dead, and one of Gary's brother's denied the stories in Gary's book. However, Phil Crosby's story wasn't sn't 'sensational', so no book publisher bought it. And Gary's story - even when rebutted by Gary himself when he got sober - still survives.

KEN LEVINE said...

Why should people who beat their kids get away with it and remain publicly admired? If their reputation is tarnished, good. They're lucky they're not in jail.

Switch over to Perry Como.

Anonymous said...

I'll take truth over illusion anyday! This reminds me of the need in the 50's, to create the "perfect" family image...Mom with her perfect dress, hose, highheels, and pearls...IN THE KITCHEN OR DOING HOUSEWORK!
This contadicted everything I knew about my own family life and the life of everyone I knew. Everyone was supposed to keep family issues "secrets" so the neighbors never saw your flaws...I guess reality + truth = weakness back then.
In my own opinion it is the opposite. Truth is strength; you take the ups and downs of reality and get on with life. Illusion is for people trying to pretend reality is not happening, and its a sign of immaturity.