The Dirt About Gossip

From The New York Times:

GossipGossip, in Epstein’s definition, is “one party telling another what a third party doesn’t want known.” A clunky subtitle — “The Untrivial Pursuit” — calls attention to a premise that would seem to be self-evident: now that gossip looms so huge in public life, he contends, the “major rap” against it, “that it is trivial, is no longer the main thing to be said about it, if it ever was.” As objections to gossip go, this one has been collecting dust for quite some time, and Epstein, by placing it front and center, seems to be justifying his choice of subject to the disapproving ghosts of his grandparents. By far the more likely case to be made against gossip at the start of the 21st century would be that it has become so invasive and ubiquitous.

All religions condemn gossip, and Judaism has gone so far as to declare it a sin: a sin to initiate it, to repeat it, to listen to it. Yahweh’s position, then, is unequivocal. But Epstein is of two minds, and while he deplores the blight gossip has inflicted on our culture, he convincingly argues that it serves any number of worthwhile pur­poses, from the literary (Elizabeth Hardwick called it “character analysis”) to the sociological (David Sloan Wilson, a professor of biology and anthropology at Binghamton University, says it’s important in regulating behavior and defining membership in a group). Ultimately, what makes Epstein such a congenial authority on the subject is that he relishes good gossip himself.

More here.