I’ve never understood the appeal of celeb-focused rags that divulge the eating habits of Jennifer Aniston or the love life of Jennifer Lawrence. Give me a few years and I’ll probably become my dad who confuses the two just because they have the same name. I don’t care what Taylor Swift looks like without makeup on, which movie stars have cellulite or if all of five members of One Direction are rumored to be gay. I actually just had to google “How many members are there in One Direction?” in order to come up with that number.
Being able to tell you that I don’t read Us Weekly is how I imagine someone who doesn’t watch television must feel. Mindy Kaling touched on the very same feeling in this week’s episode of The Mindy Project, where she-as-Dr. Lahiri dates someone who would rather read about the history of the telescope than watch Real Housewives. She feels uncultured and inadequate, and where I previously found her preference for pop culture versus world news to be charming I suddenly felt myself cringing at her character’s blatant disregard of anything slightly outside her comfort zone.
And then last night my own smug self-perception came to light as I finished reading a New York Times article on my way to the ballet. “I feel like such an adult,” I thought to myself. One who does things like taking a cab to the ballet while reading the New York Times on my phone instead of checking Instagram. But post-ballet I found myself eating mac ‘n’ cheese and discussing which Dancing With the Stars contestant had lost the most weight with a friend. “I’m just as bad as Mindy,” I thought to myself. Only guess what? She’s a fictional character. And what am I? No better than the gossip fodder her real life garners.
So what is it that drives me — or more largely us — to reach for this type of juicy non-news that entertains at the expense of others? Reading gossip magazines is like eating cheap Chinese food: once you finish it, you instantly crave more. It’s delicious but you feel dirty every time. I don’t like or seek out either but put both in front of me and I will consume every last scrap.
The article that I mentioned I read while on my way to the ballet was, interestingly enough, about a married couple: two longtime gossip columnists notorious for their sharp tongues and disregard for hurting others in the name of reporting what many actually do consider news.
This — perhaps in an effort to pull myself out of my own self-loathing spiral for realizing that I too enjoy trashy magazines as much as the next person — got me thinking about the people who write the rumor columns or take the cellulite photos. If I feel uncomfortable with the fact that I’m a consumer of such media, what about those who create it? Do they enjoy it? Feel remorse? Is it all in the name of a paycheck or do they believe that celebrities deserve the slander they accrue simply by virtue of being celebrities?
I don’t know. I guess that’s why I’m asking. Do you read gossip columns? Fault the people who supply us with the information or yourself for giving in to the craving? We all do it, and as often as I tell myself that I’m only going read about history from here on out, I know that the next time I’m at my gyno’s office, I’m going to pick up that copy of People.
“Did you know that she’s pregnant again?,” I might say to a stranger sharing the couch with me while pointing a shocked finger to a poor celebrity who got snapped in an unforgiving pose.
They’ll probably look at me through squinty, judgmental eyes, probably wondering if I know where Alaska is, and then reply, “That magazine is five years old. And, ma’am, I think you have duck sauce on your shirt.”