In the Freakonomics: Everybody Gossips (and That’s a Good Thing) show, Stephen Dubner talks about what gossip is, or isn’t; about the characteristics of the people who produce and consume gossip; and about the functions of gossip, good and bad. You’ll hear from our usual assortment of professors and theorists but also from TV/movie star Adrian Grenier (talking about what it’s like to be the subject of gossip) and Nick Denton, the publisher of Gawker (whose tagline is “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news”).
The episode begins with Tom Corley, a CPA and the author of Rich Habits – The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals. Corley spent five years surveying rich and poor people about their daily habits. Here’s what he claims to have found about gossip:
CORLEY: Six percent of the wealthy gossip, compare that to 79 percent of the poor who gossip. This is one of those habits that really sticks out like that Grand Canyon of differences that I saw. This is one that really sends that message home that wealthy people and poor people do certain things differently on a daily basis.
Next, Dubner visits Gawker Media headquarters, where we find that Denton, unsurprisingly, is staunchly pro-gossip. But he thinks Corley’s premise is entirely wrong:
DENTON: [This] is simply a matter of class prejudice. It’s simply a matter of saying the things that [poor people] talk about, the people that they talk about aren’t important. It doesn’t meet the standard or news so let’s call it gossip. It’s just fishwives; it’s fishwives chattering about their husbands or some infidelity. There’s no difference between that and power gossip, and money gossip, except that the people who decide what is news and what is gossip are the privileged people who look down on lower class.
You’ll also hear from Adrian Chen and Caity Weaver. Chen used to write for Gawker; Weaver still does. Weaver tells us about one of the more salacious gossip posts she wrote about a certain TV star’s anatomy. It got almost 1 million page views.
Jenny Cole, a psychology lecturer at Staffordshire University, tells us how gossip makes the gossiper feel. And Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton (and an author) talks about why he gossips.
GRANT: But beyond the social lubrication I think there’s another piece that’s quite important, which is gossip is a warning device.
Rounding out the episode: Steve Levitt on the juiciest economics gossip he can come up with; Nicholas DiFonzo, a professor of psychology at the Rochester Institute of Technology, who studies rumor; Stephanie Kelley, on gossip in wartime; and, rounding out the show, Adrian Grenier, currently shooting a film version of Entourage, tells us how gossip can be valuable if you’re willing to listen to it.
Stephen J. DUBNER: Thomas Corley has made a habit – a career, really – of studying the difference between rich people and poor people.
Thomas CORLEY: 44 percent of the wealthy wake up three hours before work starts versus three percent for the poor.
DUBNER: Corley is an accountant and a financial planner in New Jersey. He wrote a book called “Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals.” He did five years’ worth of research.
CORLEY: I interviewed 233 wealthy people and 128 poor people. And when I was done there was about 149 metrics that I followed or that I tracked.
DUBNER: By “wealthy,” Corley means annual income over $160,000 and net liquid assets of $3.2 million. By “poor,” he mean income less than $35,000 and net liquid assets of less than $5,000. There were a lot of differences between these two groups.
CORLEY: Wealthy people spend 30 minutes or more every morning doing technical reading, some type of technical self-improvement reading.
DUBNER: They also keep track of things:
CORLEY: Oh, 81 percent of the wealthy maintain a to-do list versus 19 percent for the poor.
DUBNER: Corley found that rich people exercise more, and eat healthier:
CORLEY: 97 percent of the poor people in my study ate more than 300 junk food calories a day. 70 percent of the wealthy ate less than 300 junk food calories per day.
DUBNER: But you know what Corley found that really surprised him? It has to do with – well, here, I’ll give you a hint – Hey, psst … did you hear about…
[GOSSIP VOX TAPE]
CORLEY: Six percent of the wealthy gossip, compare that to 79 percent of the poor who gossip. This is one of those habits that really sticks out like that Grand Canyon of differences that I saw, this is one that really sends that message home that wealthy people and poor people do certain things differently on a daily basis. Gossip happens to be one of them.
ANNOUNCER: From WNYC: This is FREAKONOMICS RADIO, the podcast that explores the hidden side of everything. Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.
[MUSIC: Seks Bomba, “Done There, Been That” (from Thanks and Goodnight)]
DUBNER: Today’s show is about gossip. It’s about what gossip is, or isn’t. It’s about the characteristics of the people who produce, and consume gossip. It’s about the functions of gossip. All of which sounds fairly scientific, yes? Well, let me lower your expectations. We came into this thinking we could answer these questions scientifically – and we will poke into what science there is on the topic. But honestly, there isn’t much good science about gossip, yet. Which is sort of surprising, considering how long gossip has been around – which, if we had to guess, is about as long as humans have been around. So let’s start with the idea we heard about a minute ago, from the “Rich Habits” author Tom Corley, who told us that the rich gossip much less than the poor. Now, how scientific is that?
Nick DENTON: That’s absolute bull– that’s absolute bullshit. There’s no way that’s true.
DUBNER: This is the head of Gawker Media, an empire of gossip.
DENTON: I’m Nick Denton, former journalist for the Financial Times and The Economist. And I call myself publisher here.
DENTON: I’ve always avoided the CEO title.
DUBNER: Uh huh. Because why?
DENTON: Because CEOs seem douchey.
[AMBI OF DENTON SHOWING DUBNER AROUND THE GAWKER OFFICE]
[MUSIC: Egadz, “Spirals” (from Satellites)]
DUBNER: Gawker Media is headquartered in a loft — downtown Manhattan. Denton showed me around… It’s not all that big, considering its reach – roughly 500 million global pageviews a month for its 8 websites. Gawker.com is one of the biggest but there are others…
DENTON: …Jezebel is there in the middle. Gizmodo, over beyond it. Deadspin is there. And then we have a couple of sites, IO9 and Lifehacker which are mainly written out on the west coast.
DUBNER: It was the Gawker site Deadspin that broke the story about the football player Manti Te’o getting lured into a fake online relationship with a woman. (That post got 4.3 million views.) All of the Gawker sites are gossipy, whether they cover sports or tech or actual gossip. The tagline for Gawker.com: “today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news.” I talked to two Gawker writers, there’s Caity…
Caity WEAVER: I’m Caity Weaver, and I’m a staff writer for Gawker.com.
DUBNER: And Adrian…
Adrian CHEN: I’m Adrian Chen and I am also a staff writer at Gawker.
DUBNER: Adrian Chen, by the way, has left Gawker since we interviewed him …
DUBNER: So you cover more what?
WEAVER: I do more celebrity gossipy things.
DUBNER: And what do you cover?
CHEN: I cover a lot of technology and privacy issue, hackers, kind of, you know, the digital underground.
DUBNER: Let me ask you this, do you call what you do gossip as well? I mean, Caity was quite explicit, celebrity gossip and so one. Do you think you’re working the same way or no?
CHEN: Yeah, I think that a lot of what I’m reporting on is gossip, and I usually look at gossip as what people are talking about. You know, it is just kind of the general, you know, zeitgeist. And it’s really easy with Twitter and message boards and everything, which is where a lot of my subjects are on all the time to kind of see what’s going on and just pick out, you know, what is the kind of key information that people are talking about.
DUBNER: There’s something very, you know, valuable feeling about giving someone gossip, right? Like if you could walk in and tell your CEO something that they didn’t know, they’re going to say, ooh, ooh, ooh. So what’s it like to be, you know, a purveyor and a receiver?
WEAVER: My friends and family never give me tips. I mean my mom is a podiatrist in Pennsylvania; she’s not really getting that many hot tips. But I will say they treat me, as sort of, and I don’t mind this at all, as an encyclopedia. Like they just say, I heard something: Beyoncé. And then they expect me to kind of go. And you know, I jump up, I’ll tell you. So in that way it’s kind of comforting because our job is not real. This is a ludicrous profession, but it’s nice that people can kind of rely on you for something and my something is giving you all the Beyoncé gossip for today.
DUBNER: So if we just say a name we can press the Caity button and Caity will…
DUBNER: Who do we want to…
DUBNER: Jon Hamm.
WEAVER: Can we go a little blue?
DUBNER: Okay, let me warn you, Caity is about to get a little blue here, so if you’re sensitive to discussions about the male anatomy, you might want to skip ahead a bit… Okay, back to Jon Hamm…
WEAVER: He has a huge D.
DUBNER: This conversation about Jon Hamm’s anatomy went on for a while…
[CONVERSATION WITH LOTS OF BLEEPS]
DUBNER: Caity Weaver’s post on the topic — which was headlined “Jon Hamm’s Penis Takes Its Owner Out For a Walk” — got nearly 1 million pageviews. And who’s consuming all this gossip? If you look at Gawker’s numbers from Quantcast, which measures digital audiences, the typical Gawker consumer is highly educated, between 25 and 34 years old, makes between $50,000 and $150,000 – not quite so poor at Thomas Corley suspects – and, overwhelmingly, is male. So the idea that gossip is the province of, as Nick Denton calls them, “fishwives” – well, it doesn’t seem to be remotely true, and, according to Denton, it misses the point.
DENTON: You know James Baker, it turned out that after he left office it turned out that he actually had seven hours a week that was allocated to private, private press briefings. Was it with Reston at the New York Times was his favorite? But he had others. And here’s somebody at the very, very very pinnacle, and it’s surprising how often you find this that people who are actually at the very, very pinnacle, the gossips are not two levels down. The gossips are at the very, very top. And the real power players, they know how to use, they know how to use…This isn’t wealth, this is power. But there is a correlation between wealth and power. But the people who are actually at the pinnacle of power, in business and in politics, are, gossips are overrepresented among them.
DENTON:…Look at all the people who were talking to Woodward.
DENTON: I’m always astonished by…when I come across someone who actually doesn’t use gossip as a tool in their corporate infighting. They’re railing against some boss and how awful that boss is and I’m asking them well why didn’t you, if the behavior is that bad surely it’s bad enough to be manifested in some group email, if emailed to enough people that it would hard to detect where it came from and you could kill them right there. Right then.
DUBNER: And you’re shocked that people don’t do that.
DENTON: I am shocked, I’m shocked when they don’t do it.
DENTON: It seems irrational. You have a problem, you have a means for its solution. Use the means.
DUBNER: Well of course that would seem irrational to you, doing Gawker, running Gawker, right? You can imagine that someone has a totally different set of instincts, right?
DENTON: Who doesn’t have an instinct to get rid of an awful boss, a boss that’s just making your life miserable?
DUBNER: It’s kind of like it’s like… we recently did an episode on game theory and how Jane Austen was the original game theorist. And the argument was that the people who most need to engage game theory and be good at it are people who have less power, because if you have power and leverage you need to strategize and get your way.
DENTON: But maybe the only way you got power and leverage in the first place was by being a gossip, was by using information.
DUBNER: I guess that’s the question. If indeed gossip is more prevalent among lower income people, again, let’s say it is for a moment for the sake of argument. One could be that as a currency it’s very valuable for climbing, or trying to climb. And two could be something counter, which is just pure schadenfreude.
DENTON: You know, what I think it is, what it is that people define…The lower class people who are more associated with gossip is simply a matter of class prejudice. It’s simply a matter of saying the things that they talk about, the people that they talk about aren’t important. It doesn’t meet the standard or news so let’s call it gossip. It’s just fishwives, it’s fishwives chattering about their husbands or some infidelity. There’s no difference between that and power gossip, or money gossip, except that the people who decide what is news and what is gossip are the privileged people who look down on lower class.
[MUSIC: Tobias Gebb, “Blues For Drazen” (from Free At Last)]
Jenny COLE: Everybody consumes and produces gossip.
DUBNER: That’s Jenny Cole.
COLE: My name’s Jenny Cole. I’m a social psychology lecturer at Staffordshire University. And my research interests are in gossip and communication.
DUBNER: Well, so are mine today.
DUBNER: Nick Denton makes the point that the difference between gossip and news is really a semantic difference. We wanted to talk to Jenny Cole about the difference between good gossip and bad gossip – and how each of them makes us feel. Cole, along with one of her students, Hannah Scrivener, did some experiments. They started by showing people a photo of someone they didn’t know.
COLE: So in the first experiment people were presented with a photo and just a really brief description of sort of hobbies and demographic information. They were asked to describe that person, so in essence, gossip is describing someone positively or negatively when they’re not there. So we thought, this is, this is almost what gossip is about if we boil gossip down to the essentials. And participants actually were quite willing to give descriptions to people they had no idea about. We thought they’d complain about this and they seemed to be quite happy to do it. And we found that when you gossip about someone or you take part in this type of task where you’re asked to describe someone in a positive way there’s not much effect in how we feel about ourselves. We’re not that bothered whether we’re saying something positive about someone or not.
DUBNER: So it doesn’t make us feel better to praise someone in other words?
COLE: No, it doesn’t. But it does make us feel much worse if we criticize someone when they’re not there. And this is even someone that we don’t know, just someone that we’ve been presented with in an experiment.
DUBNER: Okay, just to recap: saying something nice does nothing for us; saying something nasty makes us feel bad… In the next experiment Cole ran, she added another task.
COLE: So, I had another task in the second experiment, which was a bit closer to what you might think of as gossip. So people were asked to share with the experimenter in written form something positive or negative about someone that they knew. So it’s almost like to tell a little story.
DUBNER: So in each case, a subject was asked for either a positive or a negative, is that the way you separated them out?
COLE: Yes, yes, yeah it was. So some of the participants were encouraged to tell us little stories about something that makes their acquaintance or friend that they’re talking about look good, and half were asked to tell a little story about something that made their friend or acquaintance look bad.
DUBNER: And just so I’m clear, sorry, so the difference are A) you’re being directed to either go positive or negative.
DUBNER: And B) you’re now describing someone real that you actually know instead of some fake person whose picture you’ve seen.
DUBNER: Okay, alright, alright. What do you find now?
COLE: Well, now you find that regardless of whether the description is positive or negative, everyone feels bad basically.
DUBNER: Oh, huh.
COLE: Everyone feels bad if they talk about someone behind their back regardless of what they’re saying.
DUBNER: Okay. So in a nutshell you find that if you ask a bunch of college students who come into a lab to describe someone they see for the first time in a picture, someone they don’t know, you find that saying positive things about that person doesn’t change their feelings about themselves, but it does make them feel worse if they something negative.
COLE: Yes, absolutely.
DUBNER: When, however, you ask these same people to say something either positive or negative about someone they actually do know, a real person, then they feel worse whether they say something positive or negative.
DUBNER: Now, you mentioned in the first leg, in the first portion of your study where people are shown a picture and gossip about someone that they feel worse about themselves when they say something negative. If that’s the case, is it irrational somehow to want to do that? Is it, is it wrong…It’s not the word I really want, but we’ll stick with irrational. Is it irrational to do something of your own volition that makes you feel worse, and if not why?
COLE: I think that’s part of the reason gossip is so fascinating because we do it all the time. You know estimates all vary about how much we do it, but it does seem sort of irrational. There’s lots of studies that show that if you present someone with a person who gossips and you ask that person how much they like them, then people don’t like gossips very much. And also my research suggests that there might be a sort of personal disadvantage as well because you don’t feel very good about yourself. So it seems if you don’t look at it further like gossip is an impossible human behavior.
[MUSIC: Ruby Velle and The Soulphonics, “Medicine Spoon” (from It’s About Time)]
DUBNER: From what we’ve heard so far, there’s not much good to say about gossip, is there? People don’t like people who gossip. When we do it, it makes us feel bad about ourselves. So it’s tempting to just write gossip off as an inevitable and rotten by-product of the human condition. But, coming up on Freakonomics Radio, what if we told you that gossip served some really useful functions. Like this …
Adam GRANT: But beyond the social lubrication I think there’s another piece that’s quite important, which is gossip is a warning device.
DUBNER: And this …
Adrian GRENIER: It’s a great way for me to keep myself in check. If you can, you know, with a grain of salt, look at what people are saying, maybe there’s some value there.
ANNOUNCER: From WNYC: This is FREAKONOMICS RADIO. Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.
[MUSIC: Spencer Garn, “Corn Nuggets” (from Corn Nuggets)]
DUBNER: Steve Levitt is my Freakonomics friend and co-author.
DUBNER: Okay, so let’s talk about… where do you work Levitt?
Steve LEVITT: I work at the University of Chicago.
DUBNER: Which department?
LEVITT: In the department of economics.
DUBNER: When you’re hanging out with your peers or maybe visiting scholars, what do you gossip about? What kind of gossip do you get in an econ department at the University of Chicago, let’s say?
LEVITT: You know, we don’t get very much of the good gossip. There’s not a lot of lurid sexual stuff going on among economists. More I think we gossip about who will or won’t get tenure, about the bad behavior or our colleagues, and believe me, there’s a lot of bad behavior among academic economists…
DUBNER: …details please. Details.
LEVITT: Well we wrote about one of the examples of bad behavior of economists that involved the cow manure, the Harvard professor who was accused of stealing a bunch of manure.
DUBNER: That wasn’t so bad.
LEVITT: Well, that’s about as bad as it gets in economics!
DUBNER: Okay, what Levitt is talking about is a Harvard economist who was accused of stealing a truckload of manure for his garden … not really a scandal, by most measures. I called Levitt to ask him about the economics of gossip. What he told me that economists don’t really know much about gossip, haven’t even really come up with a good way to measure it. Okay. How about the psychologists then?
GRANT: I’m Adam Grant, a Wharton professor and organizational psychologist. I study how relationships influence success, and my recent focus is on gossip.
DUBNER: All right Adam Grant, tell us this for starters: just how common is gossip?
GRANT: How common is it? Estimates vary. I think it’s an interesting comparison with lying research. So as you know, Bella DePaulo and her colleagues have estimated that the average person might tell three lies every ten minutes. And it wouldn’t surprise me if gossip were equally common
DUBNER: And what function does all that gossip serve? Grant says it’s a social lubricant, for one, but it’s more than that. “Prosocial” gossip, as academics call it, has a more important function:
GRANT: But beyond the social lubrication I think there’s another piece that’s quite important, which is gossip is a warning device. It’s a way that we can actually protect the people around us against the folks that I’ve come to call the takers who are selfish and out for themselves. So let’s go back to Enron and let’s look at what happened when Ken Lay was looking to form Enron and had a series of moments where he essentially stacked the Enron board with a series of his cronies and sort of buried a series of very selfish behaviors from his prior employer. And then a number of people at Enron start to realize that this guy is all about himself and they say nothing, they don’t spread the word, they don’t tell anybody that this is somebody who doesn’t have the company’s best interest at heart who’s going to do some kind of harm or violence to shareholders or stakeholders. And of course the company manages to swindle lots of people out of their jobs and other people out of their life savings. I think in that case I look at that and say if somebody had been willing to step up earlier, if whistleblowing is an extreme form of prosocial gossip and that could have saved us from Enron and many other situations like it.
DUBNER: I guess the skeptic in me says that well they’re not willing to blow the whistle because their interests are tied with him at that point. If they know it’s going to go down the hole then of course they’d be more likely to, but at that point they’re thinking we’re all on this profitable ride together and it wouldn’t make any sense for me to put that forth.
GRANT: Yeah, I think that’s probably true and I think that’s where the lack of gossip is basically at odds with what’s good for the group. And if we could cultivate a stronger level of concern for saying, Look, let’s make sure that everybody’s best interests here are at heart then we actually get somebody who’s willing to step up and spread a little bit of prosocial gossip.
DIFONZO: Well both rumor and gossip — and this is one of the silver linings of any of the negative side effects of rumor — is this detecting of cheaters, detecting of free loaders, detecting of people who are harmful to the group in some way…
DUBNER: That’s Nicholas DiFonzo. He is a professor of psychology at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He studies rumor — and yes, there’s an academic distinction between rumor and gossip – although for the purposes of this conversation, that’s a distinction without a difference …
DIFONZO: …and so, if you have done something that’s bad for your group then that’s one of the good functions of rumor and gossip is that your group will find out.
[MUSIC: Tallboy 7, “The Delano Hotel”]
DUBNER: DiFonzo says that paying attention to rumors and gossip is an excellent way to police a community.
DIFONZO: Well the intelligence agencies classify one kind of intelligence as rumor. I believe the term is “rumor int.” So they are very conscious of unverified information that is in circulation.
DUBNER: Throughout history, especially during wartime, rumor and gossip have been used to gain an edge.
DIFONZO: Propaganda rumors, rumors that are purposely started for a strategic goal or military gain, were used throughout WWII. We have declassified documents, manuals, written by Robert Knapp, who was a professor at that time. And he advised the Allies about how to spread rumors that would demoralize the German troops or confuse the Axis powers.
DUBNER: Gossip and rumor are part of modern-day warfare, too.
DIFONZO: During the Iraq war, Saddam Hussein regularly used rumors. In fact, the weapons of mass destruction rumors that most people say got us into Iraq, probably were started by Saddam Hussein in order to make his enemies afraid, or, and/or by Iraq expatriates who wanted to get back into Iraq and wanted the U.S. to become involved in Iraq. So that was a very successful rumor campaign.
Stephanie KELLEY: Yes, there was a rumor that we had a special ray that made Saddam Hussein talk. And then there’s just lots of rumors about him. So there were some rumors that he was working on negotiating a special deal with the U.S., that he was already in captivity but we were waiting to announce it so that it would fit our political cycle.
DUBNER: That’s Lieutenant Colonel Stephanie Kelley.
KELLEY: I’m an active duty Air Force officer, and obviously anything I have to say is my own opinion. I’m not speaking on behalf of the Air Force, but I’m here to talk about a thesis that I wrote when I was a student at the Naval Postgraduate School in 2004.
DUBNER: The thesis was called “Rumors in Iraq: A Guide to Winning Hearts and Minds.”
KELLEY: And so I was trying to compare these two counterinsurgency tactics, and I realized I had no way of assessing the perception of the Iraqi people.
[MUSIC: The Mag Seven, “Black Feathers” (from Black Feathers)]
DUBNER: Kelley came across a publication called The Baghdad Mosquito. It was published by American intelligence officials with the help of some Iraqis and Arab-American translators. These folks would mine Iraqi news sources for the latest gossip and publish a column, in English.
KELLEY: I think the column was entitled “What’s the Word on the Street in Baghdad?” So it was pretty obvious.
DUBNER: Kelley saw this as a great resource.
KELLEY: So I would get these publications every day, and the weekly “Baghdad Mosquitoes” that had the rumor section in it, I would pull those out and I would log each rumor into an Excel spreadsheet. And then after looking at all of these rumors, just certain categories became obvious and then I would just go through and categorize all of the rumors by the broad subject, whether they were inciting hostility or fear, or if it was a positive spin like a wish rumor, or if it was just relaying some you know generic information, and then basically I just counted them. I categorized all of the rumors. There was almost 1,000 of them over a 10-month period. And they really ran the gamut of a lot of different subjects.
DUBNER: Some of the gossip was silly, even absurd. But not all of it. …
KELLEY: So there was some rumors that talked about people that collaborated with the U.S. There was rumors about some of the crimes that were being committed, like people were being kidnapped. There was rumors just about what was going on with the formation of the transitional government. And then there were some interesting kind of funny rumors, things like the United States army was going to turn a mosque into an amusement park, or that when Saddam Hussein was captured they used a sleeping agent to knock him out before they went in, and a sheep herder in nearby fields said his sheep fell asleep for a week and they didn’t wake up and that’s how they knew this rumor was true. Things like that. So there were some funny things. But there was also some rumors that were worrisome. So there were some that the soldiers were handing out candy to children that were poisoned, or that they were purposefully going into Iraq and infecting the population with AIDS. So there were a lot of rumors that incited fear in the population and actually fermented a divide between the Iraqi people and the U.S. forces.
DUBNER: So what did Kelley conclude? That gossip is a free and valuable resource that shouldn’t be ignored. Paying attention to what people are saying — even if it a lot of it seems like petty gossip or rumor — could have changed the way that American troops were perceived in Iraq. Now, unfortunately, much of what was reported in the Baghdad Mosquito was dismissed as idle chatter. Kind of the way we dismiss a lot of celebrity gossip in this country…
ABC NEWS: Attention Entourage fans, it’s official. Filming has finally started on the Entourage movie with new photos surfacing from the set in Miami. Adrian Grenier, who plays the lead role of Vincent Chase, has also been posting his own behind the scenes photos, including this one where he looks to be in possibly the best shape of his life.
GRENIER: Yeah, well we live in a dichotomy, so I don’t think that gossip is purely bad.
DUBNER: Adrian Grenier is a movie star, and a TV star who played a movie star, Vincent Chase, in Entourage.
GRENIER: It’s not all good either, if indulged too much. But it does serve its usefulness. I mean, it’s a way for us to share ideas, and through these stories of other people, through celebrity antics or missteps we get to together share what we think is right or wrong and form moral judgments, and I think that can be a good thing.
DUBNER: What’s it like to be the subject of gossip. I mean, when you’re in a show like Entourage and you’re a big star like you are I’m guessing you hear and read things about you that may be wildly untrue and hurtful. What’s that like?
GRENIER: Well, I think a lot of actors and performers forget their role, they forget that they are in fact in the public eye because they are performers and they’re vehicles for ideas. And I embrace it personally. I understand that that’s what I chose to do is through acting, and through the other things I do, I’m putting myself out there to, you know, create stories or tell stories that ultimately generate thought and put forth ideas. And it’s really a service, a public service, and I really am a servant of the people. So people have the right to talk about me or talk about the things I’ve done, and I don’t take it personally.
DUBNER: You know, I have to say I love that attitude, and I find it refreshing, and I find it something I’ve thought about a lot, which is that yeah, the minute you get involved in any business or career, or even hobby that you’re asking for attention in one level, you’re going to get attention on a number of levels, and it’s not up to you to decide who gets to, you know, you don’t get to quarantine all that. But even so, I mean, are you really…So you sound incredibly easy going about accepting the bad with the good. Is it hard to do that, or do you really kind of zen out on it and say that, yeah, people can say what they say because I’ve put myself in this arena.
GRENIER: I think zen out is the right term, because it is I think a spiritual thing. I’d consider myself a Buddhist above all spiritual practices, and really, you know, contentment or happiness is really in the mind. So I don’t really…I take everything outside, in the outside world with a grain of salt, including gossip. And…But at the same time, you know, it’s a great way for me to keep myself in check. If you can, you know, with a grain of salt, look at what people are saying, maybe there’s some value there, maybe, maybe I shouldn’t have said that, or maybe I can correct my behavior. And even looking at other celebrities and what they do or don’t do, it helps me sort of guide my own behavior.
DUBNER: Yeah. So there’s some research that seems to indicate that people who gossip, or when people gossip that afterwards they feel worse, their self-esteem falls. It seems like a thing of value to have, I have something that I’m going to tell other people, and it will either titillate them, or shock them, or make them laugh, and therefore I get something out of it, but it may be, and I put emphasis on the may, it may be that that activity, while it seems like it’s going to bring me a benefit actually costs me. Does that seem right to you? Or no?
GRENIER: What seems right to me is maybe there’s a momentary endorphin rush, and then you crash from that endorphin rush, maybe? And you can’t sustain happiness on that. I think ideas and creating value, and being, you know, being a servant to your community, and connected to your friends, and really creating value for the world is I think where you derive happiness.
[MUSIC: Blackbird Blackbird, “No Rush” (from No Rush)]
[GOSSIP VOX TAPE]
DUBNER: So, to Adrian Grenier, gossip is a two-way street. Adrian Chen, from Gawker, here’s how he defined gossip:
CHEN: I usually look at gossip as what people are talking about.
DUBNER: And here’s Jenny Cole, from Staffordshire University:
COLE: Gossip is describing someone positively or negatively when they’re not there.
DUBNER: And Adam Grant, from Wharton:
GRANT: Beyond the social lubrication I think there’s another piece that’s quite important, which is gossip is a warning device.
DUBNER: And let’s not forget Stephanie Kelley, talking about gossip — or, if you insist, rumor — in Iraq:
KELLEY: So there were some that the soldiers were handing out candies that were poisoned, or that they were purposefully going into Iraq and infecting the population with AIDS.
DUBNER: Isn’t it strange that one thing – gossip – can have so many different definitions? I guess that’s one reason why our understanding of it isn’t very scientific yet. But there’s probably another reason – which is that, for all the functions that gossip can serve, good and bad, we seem to have a cultural aversion to acknowledging that, acknowledging the legitimacy and the power of it. That’s also why most of us probably gossip a lot more than we think, a lot more than we’d admit. You remember what Adam Grant told us about the research on lying, and gossip:
GRANT: So as you know, Bella DePaulo and her colleagues have estimated that the average person might tell three lies every ten minutes. And it wouldn’t surprise me if gossip were equally common
DUBNER: So look at it this way – if you come right out and admit that you gossip, at least that’s one less lie you’ll be telling.
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