Talking of Tony Curtis – that should get me some hits – did you know that he was the first guest on Nigel Dempster’s failed pilot for a chat show? Or do you think that sort of tittle-tattle is completely useless information?
Well, I’m afraid the net is not the best forum for you to question the role of gossip in media. If you’re like me, on almost every site, you’ll find your eyes drifting towards the latest on Ashley Cole or Wayne Rooney – or worse, reading about people of whose identity you are not entirely certain. Kerry Katona, for example, or Lindsay Lohan. (I’m sure one or both of them have had drug troubles, but more than that I know not.) And even if you hate yourself for looking, the fact remains that you waste several valuable minutes a day dwelling on the shenanigans of so-called celebrities while ignoring the weightier issues of the day – or indeed life.
There is a body of opinion that maintains the secret masters of the universe – the illuminati, or whatever – want to divert us with all this trivia while they get on with their evil plans. I’m not so sure. There really does seem to be a huge demand for tittle-tattle – one that has been growing more or less since the media was invented. And never mind the net. Now gossip in newspapers, as the late Nigel Dempster once said, ‘is on page one, and it’s on page one hundred.’ And we need to ask why.
I’ve tried to answer that question in my latest book, which uses the old doyen of diarists as a prism through which to view the changes in society, ‘Society’ and the media over the last 50 years. I hope you’ll buy a copy and read what I think! But for the moment, let us just look at the two quotes with which I have opened the book. From Dempster: ‘If the trade of the gossip columnist is trivial, then all life is trivial.’ And from the great 19th century thinker Henry David Thoreau: ‘To the philosopher, all news is gossip.’
What the latter meant – and it’s surely undeniable – is that, in the great sweep of history, double-dip recessions and Labour party leadership elections are of absolutely no consequence compared to, say, the invention of the farming or the discovery of tools. What the former meant was much the same – except that, given the unimportance of most human endeavour, the sexual indiscretions of a footballer are as momentous as the latest pronouncements of a prime minister – perhaps more so, since the first at least reflects on the honour of the man, while the second is just the same old same old.
Whether we think that private behaviour is a guide to public probity is a whole other can of worms. But lets open that another day. In the meantime, what do you make of the Rooneys in Prague?
Nigel Dempster and the Death of Discretion by Tim Willis is published by Short Books (price £16.99)