I've spent some time this last week trying to figure out how we got to this low point in human existence and as far as I can tell by the most cursory of reading, society has always spoken ill of those not physically in their presence. It's always thrived on the nasty little rumor that requires whispered embellishments and embroidered lies to make it more interesting, more valid somehow. Throughout time it was never enough to merely have a lover, but to make it interesting one had to have a lover that was bad for you, or married to someone else, or simply so precious that everyone coveted him or her enough to make up nasty lies out of jealousy and spite.
No matter what the excuse, such malicious gossip is still the realm of shallow and petty minds. It was once confined to the most isolated and inbred of small towns and communities, but in the last couple decades, it has taken the place of real news, investigative journalism, and politics that feeds on the insignificant crap that appeals to the lowest common voter.
Where it went really crazy was with the Clinton presidency. There was and still is a group of small-minded power hungry thugs that just couldn't accept their candidate lost so they resorted to the last refuge of small minds everywhere: they made the bedroom a public arena. They spread semi-truths and innuendos. They wasted taxpayer dollars and precious government resources better spent doing things for the people instead of feeding a demented sewing circle of vicious little gossips.
From this peeping tom sickness grew the obsession with same-sex relationships, other people's marital affairs, petty habits, strange societal quirks that didn't directly affect those most concerned about them, financial scandals that were once the private business of the consumer and his or her banker, and a compulsive and sick desire to deify anyone who was anything near celebrity status because if there's one thing gossip does well is expose the boring lives most people live--lives so tedious they have to go outside themselves for anything remotely entertaining to talk about.
And on a societal level, the more one group trashed another group, the smaller their ability became to converse about anything more profound than who was doing whom. Characters on sitcoms became more interesting than the people in real life. At no time did this become more evident than when I spent a couple months on a temporary job. Every day my co-workers would gossip in great and delighted malicious gossip about the minute details of some people's lives that I didn't know. It amazed me that everyone knew these people, that everyone had something "juicy" to contribute to the details being discussed. I didn't realize the people they were talking about as if they were longtime friends they grew up with, married, dated, buried, and moved away from didn't exist except as characters on a TV sitcom. It was during the decade I didn't have a television. I was astonished to discover these people I heard discussed every day were not real. I knew nothing about my co-worker's families and loved ones, but I knew every detail of the television characters they so ardently discussed...without owning a TV. They cared about them more than they cared about themselves or each other. It's all they talked about day after day.
At the same time I was living in a small and very inbred community of people who had known each other for several decades. The level of conversation wasn't any different. No one talked about things or ideas. They talked about the people who weren't there. And they talked about them in bad and hurtful ways. I saw a mean side of these people that eventually made me move away from them. They became in my mind no different than the people who trashed gays, liberals, immigrants or those who didn't come from their social class. They were bigots of mind and spirit even though they considered themselves open, tolerant, and filled with peace and love for all humanity. The hypocrisy of their disconnect from what they believed and what they lived sent me running away from them as fast as I could because I felt they were a disease that would inflict itself on me if I stayed too much longer.
For those who think my reaction to petty gossip was extreme, look around you. Look what it has done to our towns, our communities, our countries and our world. Spreading the simple lie is the quickest way to control a population and anyone who spreads lies and malicious gossip about others can never call themselves truly free. They are trapped in the tedium of their own lives and unless they hack off a limb or something, they can't escape and they're doomed to just degenerate into the type of people who will never be able to enjoy someone like Mozart because of his personal flaws or refuse to see the contributions someone like Michael Jackson has made to music culture because of rumors surrounding his personal flaws and sicknesses. And these same people will mourn Farrah Fawcett, a woman they knew just as little, whose personal life was just a patchwork of gossip they gathered from tabloids and each other. Because she was pretty, they assumed she was perfect. For her they saved their praise.
But no one is perfect. Everyone has their dark side, everyone has their secrets, their evil little personality twists that stay locked up in public and sometimes goes stark raving mad in private. Where it crosses the line for me is when people who have no business, no say, no right to interfere in someone's private life, make it take the place of truth, honor, integrity, and the right to live as mutual consenting adults in a world of our own choice. To them I say it's time to get a life of your own. You're way overdue.
As for Michael Jackson, I spent many happy years dancing to his music when I still had functioning knees. I'm sorry for his private life, but seriously, it's not about me. It's between him, any potential victims, the families of those victims, the authorities, the deals they made or didn't make. For me it was and still is all about the music. That's the only part of it that is any of my damn business, and so for all those delightful dance parties that defined the 80's and early 90's for me, I say rest in peace and thank you.
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