Did you hear? Gossip is good for you and may have even helped the structure of society develop.
No, these aren't the sweet dreams of gossip columnist Liz Smith. Studies from the Anthropology Department at the University of Wisconsin and the State University of New York at Binghamton actually suggest it.
Researchers say gossip can serve as life's informal handbook on how to behave. Gossip also clarifies unwritten rules among groups, loaded with information you would never find anywhere else. It makes all kinds of people, especially newcomers to a group, feel less isolated.
Still gossip dishes out a double-edged sword. Its very essence is to talk about someone else, someone not present to defend themselves. Gossip's time-tested favorites — lying and cheating — involve the kind of intimate details that could hurt a person's reputation.
Blessed with the gift of gab, Michael Musto, columnist for the Village Voice, joins Countdown host Keith Olbermann to talk about the societal impact of gossip — and Paris Hilton.
KEITH OLBERMANN, 'COUNTDOWN' HOST: Do you feel validated here? Did you know that without gossip what passes for human society might not exist?
MICHAEL MUSTO, VILLAGE VOICE COLUMNIST: I'm totally vindicated, Keith. Everyone says I was the skanky trash peddler. Turns out I'm the new Mother Teresa, spreading joy and wisdom through the world. I just say a piece of gossip, I don‘t know, like Lil' Kim is a total ho. And I'm adding to purity and goodness to the world. Bring on the Pulitzer, bring on the Bravos.
OLBERMANN: Now, of course, one caveat to that... the research in the universities didn't apply directly to celebrity gossip. It was more for gossiping about your friends and neighbors, you know, the kind of stuff that could ruin people forever and break up families and stuff. But do you think gossiping about the famous has similar value or are we just killing time here?
MUSTO: Well, for me it does because celebrities are my friends and neighbors, Keith. Meryl Streep calls me often to go bowling and such. Even when celebrities aren‘t my friends, I manage to make the time to both back-stab my friends in the office and also make time to talk trash about stars. You can do it all. Celebrity gossip is the best of all. But I don't know, you could apply celebrity gossip principles to the workplace, for example, and find out who is the Angelina in the office who is going to ruin your happy home. Or who is the Billy Crudup who will impregnate you and dump you when you are popping out the baby. Oh, I've been there.
OLBERMANN: And also, Streep never pays. You have to get that word in there.
MUSTO: Exactly. She won't even pay for bowling.
OLBERMANN: One thing in the Science Times piece was that people in intermediate positions in a company wind up becoming the power brokers because they're fed gossip back-and-forth between different levels or between different factions. Does this explain that there would be a friend who tells us Paris Hilton got rid of her chihuahua when it got too big for her to carry?
MUSTO: Absolutely. He's a gossip man middleman, he's important, whoever the hell he is. Give him a little gold star for passing that on. That might not really be profound information but it helps you to understand larger topics like how she obviously traded in Nick Carter because he gained a few pounds.
She trades something in for something smaller, OK? If the woman ever had a baby, god forbid, she would bring it back to the store when it started growing up. And say, 'Do you have anything smaller, like, in a pink Prada?' It's sick, but profound.
OLBERMANN: Humor was once defined as the way society inflexible behavior. Is gossip like that, when Eminem plays Mariah Carey's voice mail during the concert? Is he providing a public service against silly people?
MUSTO: Absolutely. I use humor, as you may have noticed, because I have no real information. Neither does Eminem. But look, he's playing around. By the way, I wish him and Mariah the best. I think they‘re sweet kids — kidding. It's a total skankfest.
But I really think that he's going for the humor. He's not as skanky as he could be. He could have played a tape of her throwing plates and having a public meltdown a few years ago. And while he does actually puke into a toilet bowl — did you read about this Keith? — while he's singing his song -- weren't we all doing that when we watched “Glitter”? He's just appealing to a commonality in all of us.
OLBERMANN: That's the profound science and sociology of Michael Musto, with the Village Voice. And you should hear what they say about him.