Inner Michael » Gossip is harmful, period.

Gossip is harmful, period.

The tabloids have a new “bad boy” who is becoming the new cash cow for them. Justin Bieber is currently all over the headlines and every newspaper and TV news show has picked up on the celebrity gossip. The stories are a cut-and-paste version of what the tabloids have spun about the bad behavior of Justin Beiber. Bieber is accumulating his share of haters while his loyal fans cry “foul!” The prevailing opinion is that “the Biebs” should get his act together. And of course, Dr. Drew speculated that the teen is headed for trouble.

What most people don’t know is that the tabloid photographers are out looking for the “money shot” which is the photograph that the tabloids will pay big bucks for. The photos of Diana just after her crash while she was still in the seat, her life bleeding away, were for sale at $250,000. The tabloids didn’t buy or publish them. It’s the only moment of decency in their sordid history. In fact, the tabloids admitted that week that they created the culture that allowed for Diana’s death being chased by paparazzi.

CNN produced a half hour program on the tribulations of “the Biebs.” Headlines scream from the supermarket aisles and drug store shelves about the latest escapade of the young superstar-in-becoming. He certainly is getting noticed. Maybe that’s the idea. The “bad boy” or “bad girl” image busting campaign or tirade gets eyes on the page and gets attention. If, for example, Miley Cyrus had stayed quiet and in the background, her career would not have soared exponentially since her “twerking performance” at the MTV awards. It scored her lots of front page headlines and her music shot to the top of the charts. She might have been “person of the year” were it not for Pope Francis.

Pop stars must get attention, must re-invent themselves, must take on a “bad” image if they are going to survive in the entertainment world. Beiber is just taking a page from all those who went before. He even jumped on the roof of his SUV in a display mimicking Michael Jackson. In fact, he has pulled many stunts imitating Jackson, his hero. A mask, glove, and now getting buzz in the media. But this media game can go too far.

Bieber is a teenager. People forget that. He is a discovery from Youtube who is growing up and trying to mature in a world of excess in a fishbowl.  If you want to know what it’s like to be a young pop star in a fishbowl world, read: The Love Song of Johnny Valentine by Teddy Wayne. I won’t spoil it for you, but the book is eye-opening about celebrity, Hollywood, and the music business.


I’m not Immune to Celebrity Gossip but it Harms Us to Read this Bilge

Women have greater access to education, careers and intellectual fulfilment than ever before. So why do we choose to sedate ourselves with this drivel?

by Laura Burton for The Guardian

‘Gossip,” the grande dame of rumourmongers, Liz Smith, once noted, “is just news running ahead of itself in a red satin dress.” It was Smith’s words that came to my mind recently, while watching The Children’s Hour, Ian Rickson’s exceptional production of Lillian Helman’s 1934 play, currently showing in London’s West End. It stars Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss as two teachers in a girls’ boarding school in New England who, through a spot of malicious scuttlebutting by a disgruntled student, find themselves accused of having a lesbian affair.

The play is a cautionary tale of the harmful impact of gossip, of the lingering effects of idle tittle-tattle, and there seemed no small irony in the fact that its stars are two young women who frequently find their professional achievements obscured by our collective obsession with the private lives of the rich and famous. Much of the coverage of the play, rather than discussing their stunning performances or the work in question, has predictably focused on Knightley’s recent split from fellow actor Rupert Friend, and the fact that Moss, recently divorced from the comedian Fred Armisen, is a Scientologist.

Few of us are immune to the lure of celebrity gossip. Like many women I know, I find even a casual visit to the Daily Mail website is akin to falling down a rabbit-hole: hours lost in the trials and tribulations of the Kardashian sisters, or the wardrobe choices of Kelly Brook, or in riveting accounts of Britney Spears paying an afternoon visit to Starbucks. And my conclusion is that the mud does stick: I can tell you with some accuracy, for example, the romantic history of Shia LaBoeuf, or the fitness regime of weather-girl Claire Nasir, and I have a working knowledge of the US television series Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, without ever once having seen it.

Gossip has always been deemed a largely female preserve, and there have been numerous studies of women’s relationships with hearsay and tattle, of the way it builds our social networks, cements our relationships, of the way we revel in its endless narrative – the weight gained, lost and gained once again; the bikini shots; the red-carpet outfits; the marriages; the births; the infidelities – in much the same way that many men (and, yes, women too) relish the rise and fall of a football team and its players. But these days gossip seems to have outdone itself: its magazines (chiefly aimed at a female audience) flourish in a flagging market, while websites such as TMZ broadcast endless videos of Lindsey Lohan buying shoes or Justin Bieber inspecting his nails, and with this increased exposure we have come to believe these are things we have a right to know.

Regardless of whether there was any truth in the allegation that David Beckham paid prostitute Irma Nici for £2,000-a-night liaisons, the footballer’s libel claim against In Touch, the magazine teat published Nici’s story was thrown out of court this week, with the judge ruling that Beckham was a public figure, and as a result there was a public interest in his private life. Additionally, his legal team had failed to find any evidence of malice in In Touch’s decision to publish the story.

Perhaps Beckham, as a man who has at times courted media’s infatuation with his personal life, needs to sometimes take the rough with the smooth. But I find it hard to believe there was no malice. And this is what I fear we are in danger of forgetting: that gossip is harmful. And it is harmful not just to those who are gossiped about; it is harmful, too, to those of us who relentlessly consume it.

Nearly 50 years ago, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, in which she spoke of the widespread unhappiness and lack of fulfilment of women in the 50s and 60s. “The problem that has no name” was what she called it, and she defined it as “simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities”. It was, she said, “taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease”.

Times are different now. Women have greater access to education, to careers, to intellectual fulfillment than ever before. And yet now we choose to dumb ourselves down, to subdue our own minds by sedating ourselves with online visits to the Daily Mail and buying gossip weeklies at the newsstand. “The feminine mystique has succeeded in burying millions of American women alive,” Friedan wrote in 1963, and there are times when I fear we are doing no better – burying ourselves alive in a mire of half-true tales about Sienna Miller. We need to nourish our minds, we need to recognize that if we continue to feed ourselves with this bilge, this drivel, then we are imprisoning ourselves. Isn’t it time we became less about the red satin dress and more about the news?

The above article was published by The Guardian, 16 February 2011 and is used here with permission of the publisher.


This article is also reprinted in the “Words and Violence” project dedicated to MJ and Lady Diana.


  1. Poca said . . .

    I hope the best for Beiber. He seems to be having a tough time and plus he is only a teenager, but when he jumped on the roof of his SUV in a display mimicking Michael Jackson, I was disappointed. He might compare his artistic ambitious with Michael, but he cannot compare himself with Michael, the person. Throughout Michael’s years in the music business, he not once mocked one of his heroes. He always talked about loving one another, healing the world, respecting our justice system, respecting our parents and our mother nature. He never mocked other celebrities.

    I think it’s ok to have heroes, inspirational people in our lives, but Beiber should try to be an original and be his true self. This is what Michael did. He had heroes, but he was an original and this is why he is still being celebrated (no one was like him). When he died, he was celebrated as the best entertainer that ever lived, but he was also a wonderful human being who never disrespected other entertainers.

    Posted February 16, 2014 at 12:22 am | Permalink
  2. B. Kaufmann said . . .

    There will only ever be one Michael Jackson. I don’ think Bieber was mocking Jackson nor do I think he intends to. He greatly admired Jackson. It is, I believe, a wannabe thing. Besides, at nineteen who knows their true self? Imitation is thought to be the most sincere form of flattery although Beiber is not endearing himself to MJ fans. Maybe he’ll find his own originality. Michael grew into his over the years and evolved it continually. Everybody borrows from Michael Jackson. Everybody.

    Posted February 16, 2014 at 5:05 am | Permalink
  3. Poca said . . .

    Thanks for your comment. Deep down I don’t think he was mocking Jackson, because he seemed to be always on Jackson’s side.

    I went to see Frozen the other day with my daughter and I was glad I did. I loved the message that this movie brings. It tells a story about two sisters and how an act of love brought them back together. This is the kind of message that I wish these new young talented stars/celebrities can bring to the world. Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems that some of these young stars display a lot of pride, irresponsibilities, and take their clothes off to get attention. Could it be lack of parenting or they are missing positive person in their lives?

    Posted February 17, 2014 at 6:33 pm | Permalink
  4. B. Kaufmann said . . .

    The rapper Eminem is the only one who openly mocked Jackson in a truly despicable way. He was called out by Stevie Wonder and others including Jackson for going too far in his video. He has a long history of feuds with other artists. Rap music and Hip Hop was felt to be a musical reflection of black solidarity and culture and territorially, it was felt that the genre belonged to blacks. Eminem did not gain any friends when he mocked a fellow artist and especially a black artist.

    “Frozen” is beloved by children. That tells me children relate to those messages that come from light. The stage performance of “Wicked” is another such story with an alternative viewpoint and examination of “evil.” I wish everyone could see it.

    A lot of contemporary entertainment seems to glorify shadow. As we grow up as a species (considered in infancy before and “adolescence” now) the focus will change. Many in the entertainment world are calling for responsibility now. Terri Schwartz of UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television is one such contemporary voice. And if you want to get the best education in the arts, UCLA is where you go.

    The entertainment business and Hollywood is competitive and brutal. It is imperative to stay relevant. In that quest, is seems anything goes. When the public stops consuming shadow, creative artists will focus more on light. That is what you saw in “Frozen.” That’s what I saw in “Wicked” and what we all saw in “Avatar.” When enough people get filled up on shadow and it creates enough hurt and suffering, and the public uses their voice to demand better depiction of humanity and its evolution, the paradigm will change. That’s why ALL voices are important. Enough voices can turn the tide.

    Michael knew how to challenge shadow and infuse light in music. That is why the loss and grief is so deep with many who were looking forward to his filmmaking. He changed the world and called for help. In the film industry he could reach even more and illustrate with images. Many feel what potential for humanity was lost when he passed. That pain is unbearable and deeply felt by those who long for the revelation and revolution of showcasing inner light instead of shadow. Michael knew how. Sometimes we don’t recognize the gift until its gone.

    Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Permalink
  5. Gennie said . . .

    I find it really odd how sensitive MJ fans are to anyone being inspired by him, especially when Michael was openly inspired by many artists and famous figures. Just the people Michael publicaly listed as sources of inspiration are too many to mention, and that includes taking a dance move and making it his own, or ideas for showmanship or other creative stuff. Most kids on stage right now lost Michael as their influence. So what’s wrong with Justin taking some MJ tricks, when Michael himself took quite a few moves from many others and was openly grateful to those before him? That way those cool moves Mike did still get to live, which is what he always wanted..

    As for Eminem, I would probably get negative comments for this, but that stuff was quite misunderstood I think, also by Michael himself. Lots of Em’s song were mocking different things, and mostly the pop culture itself which Michael of course was a part of.. He mocks Elvis in the same video, yet people just focus on those 2 lines of MJ reference. Art when taken out of context can be greatly misunderstood. I understand why Michael got upset though, would be weird to expect him to think that jokes about that were funny, but there can be very serious things going on and late night comedians would still makes jokes about it and thats how it is. The reaction though reminds me of Letterman’s joke about Palin’s daughter and how it got completely blown out of proportion – sometimes its just a bad joke/line about a famous person and not “attacking a fellow artist”.

    Posted February 17, 2014 at 8:29 pm | Permalink
  6. B. Kaufmann said . . .

    I will let others reply to your comments but first I must say that I think you may have missed something. I am not going to link to it here, but Eminem’s mockery of Jackson involved far more than just two lines and it included slanderous and nasty pantomime.

    Posted February 17, 2014 at 8:48 pm | Permalink
  7. Anonymous said . . .

    Mmm…I don’t know…I think maybe Bieber’s not the best example of tabloid gossip; unlike Michael Jackson, some of Bieber’s behavior has legitimately crossed ETHICAL lines, not just the “moral” lines only busybodies care about. The biggest mark against him was his behavior on a Gulfstream IV plane at Teterboro, New Jersey; he smoked so much marijuana that the pilot had to wear an oxygen mask to not pass positive on drug tests, and the staff reports that Bieber was extremely abusive to them. There’s also his DUI (Driving Under the Influence) “drag racing” charge from a while back. I dunno…are you sure Bieber’s the best example you want to use as an example of trashy gossip? I think Bieber actually does deserve some of the hostility these days; in my opinion, people like the Dixie Chicks might be better examples of martyrs, since the Dixie Chicks have been given no end of flak for criticizing Bush Jr.

    Posted February 18, 2014 at 1:57 am | Permalink
  8. B. Kaufmann said . . .

    Yes, the Dixie Chicks are pop martyrs who dared to criticize a shadowy president- and at a time of pseudo-patriotism that lampooned some traditional features of democracy. That was political. It was also warranted.

    The Bieber story is for entertainment purposes and to sell copy. Bieber is the new tabloid target and the meme is “bad boy.” The trajectory is a predictable formula. The tabloids and paparazzi do not tell the truth, so none of us knows exactly how much of the story is truth, how much is fiction and what part was publicity.

    After speaking with two pilots I was told that quite often private jets become venues for these kinds of “meetings” (think “parties”) by the privileged who can afford those “luxuries” and feel they are immune to “law.” Bieber, I am told, is not the first nor last of the “entitled” (private jets) and that pilots often don oxygen masks during those flights– whether it’s because of the presence of the CEO of a large company, a Wall Street wolf, or Justin Bieber. “Nothing new, nothing to get excited about. Happens all the time on private flights.”

    Rudeness cannot and should not be condoned but we didn’t witness it nor has anyone gone public or filed a lawsuit for harassment. And as we are acutely aware, tabloids often produce their checkbook for housekeepers, bodyguards, or flight attendants, in order to purchase “for sale” stories about celebrities. The more outrageous the story, the more zeros on the check. How do we ever know a story is true?

    We are also aware of cut-and-paste journalism and the propensity to make things up (especially with someone in the public’s sites.) Jackson would often be with a co-creator musician and they would hear reports about his whereabouts while the co-creator, there in person, would exclaim to Michael how they finally understood the nature of the media beast– knowing the rumor was completely false. Jackson’s response was “they do that all the time.”

    Was the DUI and drag racing for publicity and to tarnish his squeaky clean image? Jackson in conversation once remarked to Donny Osmond that his popularity was waning because his image was too clean. Jackson understood about reinventing the self periodically to stay relevant. And he “got” how the bad boy image was attractive to women. Many of his gestures were deliberately “coined” to manipulate his image. (The wiping the mouth in his videos was deliberately created to appeal to females in the audience.) He was astute to perception, image, camera angles, and symbolism. A genius in that regard.

    Beiber’s DUI is definitely against the law. Was it staged? And how many youth foolishly think they can avoid detection? Yet here is Bieber in full view of paparazzi on a main street staging a drag race with cars at both ends. My guess is that some of this may be deliberate and staged. (Do you suppose he was observing Miley Cyrus recent rise and subsequent invitations to GMA, SNL and her chart topping hit?) And speaking of Miley Cyrus, how is it that she got a pass for her almost pornographic prime time (children are still up) antics while Bieber can’t catch a break? Teens keenly observe them both– so who is the better role model?

    The tabloids, meidaloids and paparazzi targeted Jackson just as they targeted Lady Diana, Liz Taylor, Madonna and others, only more virulently for some reason (skin color?) It’s a money game. Popularity = already made for profit given a little exploitation. If one looks at the progression of the tabloid media and their focus on Jackson, one finds a calculated gradual slide toward dehumanizing the target, making it comfortable to dislike or hate, and easy to project one’s own disowned shadow (individually and collectively) at an archetypal symbol of “evil.”

    The tabs cannot go after a young and still innocent and under-aged child but when that child reaches a certain age past puberty and can be seen as sexual and exploitable, the targeting starts. The Jackson children were off limits when he died but are now and will be future targets, because they will make for good headlines for stories– like father, like child. You will see “bizarre” again linked to the Jackson name. It’s standard procedure for anyone “Jackson.”

    Here are some articles everyone should read to understand the game and the degree of their own manipulation at the hands of the media:

    Where is our modern Walter Cronkite? Is that brand of journalism gone forever? Matt Taibi is the only one I trust (so far.) Even Katie Couric knows the drill and how to extract the juice for the dramatic story.

    I forgot to add Joe Vogel’s “Cultural Abuse of Michael Jackson” commissioned for Voices Education Project and reprinted at Huffington Post.

    Posted February 18, 2014 at 8:34 pm | Permalink
  9. Gennie said . . .

    Barbara, I’m just very familiar with Eminem’s music in a larger context, not just that one song, and therefore see it differently. Wouldn’t you agree that in a lot of cases multiple interpretations are at least possible? Im not here to defend it or anything, I just honestly think its misinterpreted. But I gotta say you seem quite condescending sometimes, when you just assume “I missed something”, instead of “I have different opinion and there are reason for it that I can explain”.

    Here is an example, lots of people got sorta offended by Michael’s Earth Song performance (remember Jarvis’ idiotic stunt?) because they interpreted it as Michael portraying himself as Jesus and being extremely megalomaniacal. We know thats nonsense because we have a larger context for Michael’s art and how he used that kind of references and imagery. However, without context having a huge pop star staging a scene like that with people coming to him as a kind of messiah – it makes total sense.

    There is a phenomenon with people where we think something is fair game, until it touches something that we ourselves find “sacred”. Eminem mocks a lot, thats what he does, a lot of the times its directed towards himself and even in that song he calls his own rhymes “crazy”. And back to the pop culture thing – when something is that huge in the media, it will be reflected in the pop culture art.

    Kinda feel like a devil’s advocate here, not my intention, but people need to be more perceptive of nuances, I believe.

    Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:42 pm | Permalink
  10. B. Kaufmann said . . .

    I think that when you portray on film someone crawling around the floor trying to capture their nose that has fallen off and when children are depicted in bed with Michael Jackson, that registers far beyond nuance.

    When someone in the arts portrays a Christ figure with children in tow and asks the audience through that performance to: “heal the earth,” the message is pretty clear. That is a portrayal, inhabiting a role. It is not a megalomaniac making a statement about who he thinks he is. If so, then Ted Neely, Christian Bale, Morgado, Caviezel, Jeremy Sisto and Willem Dafoe are also guilty of egomania.

    Many fellow musicians and “stars” complained that Eminem crossed the line. Eminem later publicly apologized.

    Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:23 pm | Permalink
  11. Poca said . . .

    Geraldo Rivera interviewed Michael Jackson in 2005 before his trial and he asked Michael about this very question about Eminem’s video and Michael responded, ” Eminem should be ashamed of himself and great artists don’t make fun of other fellow artists.” Here is the video:

    Posted February 20, 2014 at 2:14 am | Permalink
  12. ANONYMOUS said . . .


    Posted February 25, 2014 at 12:48 am | Permalink
  13. B. Kaufmann said . . .

    Someone who apparently is new to Inner Michael came anonymously (a woman from California who is an MJ fan) and flamed here shouting in CAPITAL LETTERS, beginning the comment with an insult to me and with stunning (and surprising) vitriol, repeated the meme about Beiber in an extremely ugly and judgmental way that implied more immature and reactionary spewing than thoughtful discourse. I am not going to publish it in Inner Michael’s space.

    The danger in condemning and labeling is that we become caught up in the trap of the media game.

    Let me be clear: I am not condoning anyone’s behavior. I, in fact, find some recent behaviors concerning and not just Biebers’. I am attempting to enlighten about the media formula– to target a personality that is very popular and deconstruct and decontextualize him or her (it’s easier to elicit hate if the target is male) aggressively in order to sell copy and perpetuate an industry that only exists as a parasite feeding off real people. There is an actual trajectory that this type of “entertainment” news takes over time. It is a formula designed to chip away at the target’s humanity, to decontextualize, deconstruct, caricaturize and eventually dismember someone who is a human being.

    The danger in thoughtlessly flaming and condemning while labeling is that it creates perpetuation of the meme and the industry. In other words– “gotcha!” You reacted exactly the way we planned, wanted you to, manipulated you toward, by sensationalizing information, using heat-seeking linguistics and clever startling, revealing and scandalous revelations about a pop culture figure! The methods are designed to bypass your mind and reasoning and aim for the gut, lower intellect, and the ego’s shadow. A figure targeted is in fact a target for lots of ugly human faculties– Schadenfreude; gorilla decontextualization; the ego’s shadow; jealousy; Tall Poppy Syndrome; pernicious envy and an evil invisible virus that is parasitic, epidemic and endemic that lurks and lives in the unexamined assumptions and unconscious regions of the human mind. We will be unaware participants in our own destruction if this tendency remains invisible in our culture.

    Fact: humans project their unexamined assumptions, unexamined and non-integrated shadow onto figures that are lifted up and held as easy (convenient) targets for this (usually) unconscious material from the depths of individual’s consciousness that spreads into and informs mass consciousness. Another heat-seeking missile fired for excitement and entertainment has landed! Here comes another convenient target for our own unresolved and unconscious self-loathsomeness that needs a place to discharge itself because it’s unbearable. Unfortunately, there is no damage control for the collateral damage and we are all downwind of the destruction that momentary explosion spreads into mass consciousness..

    Memes, when created and perpetuated (whether true or not, permanent or temporary) can destroy art, music, careers, reputations and people. Once labeled from shadow, the meme can follow a person for a lifetime and infect everything he does (including his art) from this point on. It can’t be OK for some and not OK for others. It can’t be OK for example, for Justin Beiber but not Paris Jackson. (Capish?) Growing up itself is not easy. Growing up in a bubble in an ecosystem of excess while the perfect storm of hormones and identity crisis strikes is beyond strident and impossibly pressurized. The brain doesn’t begin to mature until age 25. Until then the adolescent brain has an undeveloped frontal cortex that might referee effects like fixations on excitement, stimulation, highly emotionally charged and drama-centered content, distorted motivation, poor impulse control, impaired judgment, unpredictability and risk taking.

    The moment Jackson was labeled things like “bizarre,” “wacko,” “weird” and “freak,” that meme entered the consciousness. A meme, and particularly one that is convenient to throw all of one’s disgust, disdain (unrecognized or denied in self) at, becomes a magnet and draws more evidence to itself as truth. From the moment he was dehumanized, Michael Jackson was a cultural whipping boy and fair game for every kind of human evil and shadow imaginable. Once made a caricature, the target is assumed to have no feelings for it is no longer human.

    This is a true virus in human nature. It is real and it spreads when you spread it. It is an infection and makes a culture sick and interrupts its creative evolution. When we aggressively decontextualize, deconstruct or caricaturize a human being we dehumanize and render them non-human and inhuman (subhuman mongrel?) by our inhumane treatment and opinions. Humanity is not separate from itself or each other. Consciousness is a shared agreement. The antidote to the current ugly virus in the consciousness is to awaken to it and … Compassion.

    Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

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