In order to understand how a cultural virus works I have depicted the area of gossip as being an easily track-able source of information, which in turn connects individuals with information, within a media oriented field.
The concept behind gossip is that a fraction of the truth is built up and speculated around a number of ideas, which the truth could be thought up as being, by this I mean one individual can state a fact to one other person, but as the fact begins to spread further within a community or society of people, that same fact will begin to change and slowly become something very far from the truth, hence turning it into a rumour, which then becomes idle gossip.
In an attempt to understand the process of gossip better I took it upon myself to carry out a case study, which involved an initial group of people who knew each other and another group who knew at least one person from the initial group. The setting was a typical working environment where different individuals socialised and communicated on different topics. The ages of these individuals all varied from late teens to early twenties, this allowed me to look at how levels of maturity also coincided with the idea of ever changing gossip.
Over the space of four days I kept notes and record of how the rumour was spreading and just how far it went till it become oblivious of the truth the results were very interesting, as my analysis will show. The project The initial group who we can call group A, are made up of a couple and their best friends who are male and female. They share a lot of time together, three of which all work together in the same area. The other works separately at another establishment within the same enclosure. Group B the second receivers of the information are separate individuals who have communication with one or two members from group A.
The other individuals in group B only know each other by occasional meeting but are not as close as group A, as they do not communicate to one another unless a member from group A is on hand. Day one Two members of group A are in a relationship with one another, but have been in a spot of trouble over the past couple of months as a new employee who is in group B has got involved. The male member in the relationship finds it hard to deal with the fact that his partner is good friends with the other member of group B, and finds him intimidating.
The rumour which has started today is that the female counter part of the couple from group A is seeing her friend from group B behind her other halves back. In actual fact she does feel a slight attraction, but she is remaining faithful, as she hasn’t actually physical expressed this to anyone, until now. She lets on to who she believes to be a trustworthy friend, from group A that she does find her friend from group B attractive but wont be doing anything about her feelings.
Her friend expresses after meeting the group B employee a couple of times that she understands and also finds him attractive. Throughout all this the male member of the couple in group A still has suspicions about the relationship shared between his girlfriend and the group B member. He confides in his best friend who is also in group A about his ideas, and says that he doesn’t trust their relationship. The friend suggest that he keeps an eye on the other new employee from group B as he knows someone who works with him, this other person is also in group B.
The Progression Already evidence has shown that depending on our way of thinking information can be received in many different forms and interpreted however we see fit. By this I mean that judging by the Boyfriend (in group A), it wouldn’t take much information from a person who he doesn’t know or has never met to convince him that his girlfriend could be cheating, he is therefore relying on his best friends unknown source to tell him the truth rather than believing his own girlfriend who he has known for over six months. Day Two
The new employee (group B) and the girlfriend (in group A) are sitting in their canteen among other work members talking, when the girlfriend’s trustworthy friend (group A member) sits down with them. The three of them are sitting chatting about relationships and what each other’s taste are. The new employee starts to describe his ideal partner who strangely sounds like the Group A girlfriend, however she is unaware of the connection, but her friend has picked up on his preferences, and starts to develop certain ideas, about whether this new employee also has an attraction towards her friend the group A girlfriend.
The new employee leaves after a while leaving the two girls alone. The trustworthy friend starts to make assertions about the employee’s comments, the Group a girlfriend disregards the comment as being false as he hasn’t shown her any evidence of his feelings, but the trustworthy friend seems to have all the evidence she needs to make the claim. Not sitting very far is the Boyfriend’s best friend and his unknown source, who is helping him gain information on his friend’s girlfriend.
The unknown source (group B member) over heard the girls talking, but only partially, such as the words ‘New employee, likes you too’. He then tells the best friend (group A) of the Boyfriend (also group A) what he has heard, however his words come out as, ‘ I think The new employee likes your friends girlfriend as more than a friend she seems too as well and her friend looks interested as well, he’s playing one off the other. ‘ the Best friend believes him and decides to tell his friend as soon as possible. The Progression
Again we see evidence of facts getting miss placed as the source who provided the information to the best friend has not given all the facts or in the right order for that matter, but again the information is taken literally and is passed on without cause for asking the direct source the Girlfriend. Here we see a classic example of gender clashes, if the so-called information could have come from a woman, would it have been as believable? or do we tend to believe that women are the only ones who enjoy to gossip and talk about other peoples business, in this sense we can see that both genders are partaking in this affair.
However by observation the female friend in this scenario seems to be slightly over dramatising the facts stated by the new employee, and has thought out her own ideas, giving no thought to the consequences of what she has said. This shows a slight immaturity on her part as she feels the need to persecute her friend and make fun of the situation that her friend is in. The rumour has now developed further where it is now clear to those involved that both the group A girlfriend and the new employee are more than just friends. Day Three
Today the best friend will tell his friend what was heard by his unknown source and what they should do to stop it getting any more serious. As the friend and unknown source are waiting for his best friend they start to talk about it. What was said were along the lines of: ‘I can’t believe he tried it on with her, she’s taken’- best friend (group B) ‘ I know some people think they can have whoever they want even when their with someone, she must have given him a sign or something’ -unknown source (group B) ‘She must have or else he wouldn’t have said he liked her too’- best friend.
‘Her mate trustworthy friend’s name looked like she was keen for new employee’s name too’ As they talk another employee walks by, he is good friends with the new employee and is in group B. Again the conversation is over heard, but the passer by is unaware of the actual people involved and assumes it’s the trust worthy friend and his friend the new employee who like each other. The boyfriend is feeling slightly distressed after receiving a text message from his best friend stating the matter as being urgent and involved his girlfriend.
The friend tells the boyfriend that he over heard his girlfriend and her friend talking about the new employee and stating that they both liked him, the boyfriend seems to be infused with anger and feels betrayed. Progression The plot thickens it may seem, as facts as well as individuals have now been missed place and displaced. The receiver in this sense is the passer by, who received the information but unfortunately caught the wrong names, and so its human nature to assume the rest when such a sentence seems so clear.
However if he had caught the rest of the conversation he would then be able to clarify the truth and defend his friend, however he now feels as if he knows nothing and is taking what is being said as the truth. Yet another instance where we see that trust has been avoided, as he believes mere strangers. In the case of the boyfriend, taking into consideration his mental well being at this time, given the information he has just received it is obvious that the results will not be positive, and rational thinking will not come into practice, as he has absorbed the information from a trustworthy source, his friend.
And just like the media we tend to take for granted what is being said if it comes from a well-known source, such as the news. This can almost be said to resemble the hypodermic needle theory as information is injected into the boyfriend’s brain and causes a chemical reaction. The rumour has now split and two versions have now come about. The first being that the trustworthy friend and the new employee are the ones who like each other. And the girlfriend plays no part at this time. The second being that the girlfriend also likes the new employee, as more than a friend.
Day Four Not knowing what to say the boyfriend decides to hide his knowledge of his girlfriend’s relationship until he can figure out what he wants to do with it. In the mean time he has avoided her calls and refuses to speak to her at work until the next day. The actions of the boyfriend have confused the girlfriend as she has no idea why her boyfriend of six months is acting so strangely, she attempts to talk to him at work but gets a negative response, feeling hurt she talks to the new employee about why he could be behaving in such a way.
The new employee suggests that she try and talk to him again and sort out what’s bothering him rationally and outside of work, as the environment here was not suitable for such a topic. As the two continue to chat the new employee feels he can share a secret with the girlfriend, as she seems trustworthy in his eyes. He then proclaims to her in a docile manner that he did have a crush on her. The girlfriend is a bit shocked, but says they should just be friends to which the employee agrees.
The girlfriend feels a sense of relief talking to the new employee and gives him a hug, at this instance the Boyfriend walks in on them and not looking very pleased about the situation starts to get aggressive towards the new employee. He beings to yell obscene comments at the new employee and the girlfriend, as well as allegations, which are completely false. In disbelief the girlfriend starts to cry and plead with the boyfriend that she is being faithful and has never cheated on him with the new employee. The new employee backs up what is being said reassuring that he would never come between them.
The boyfriend decides to believe the both of them and apologies. The girlfriend feels betrayed and not trusted and decides that they should go on a break, the boyfriend agrees. Progression Finally the truth is out from all sources, all information is correct and all misconceptions are made clear. However due to the mannerism in which the information was shared the consequences of this scenario have become fatal. If only the human brain didn’t feel the need to absorb certain rubbish then all of this could have been resolved more efficiently.
In this case we have seen evidence that maturity and trust are vital in controlling a cultural virus like this one. By being level headed and calm in all aspects, moral panic can be avoided. However in order for the media to remain the main sources of control, they see it upon themselves to manipulate what the situation is or what has been said in order to promote a reaction and make something negative seem entertaining. The same goes for gossip, it is yet another form of entertainment to those whose lives are not involved, hence making it a social need to know other peoples business and voice our opinion.
Taking into consideration the theory of Robin Dunbar, who states that gossip is a social need and without it humans cannot progress or be groomed into well established primates of the animal kingdom, we as humans can be regarded as being the way we are through gossip as well as our overall social structure, in terms of the media, whose field revolves around ever changing gossip, in order to enlighten us about the world in which we live. Overall the concept of gossip is also another way of receiving and sending information in a more creative form, rather than formal communication.
In a sense tabloids work in the same way, but use gossip as a way of entertaining their readers and filling their heads with useless information, which they believe will continue to outside communication. For instance if an article in the Mirror was to state that the Queen was having an affair with one of her staffs it, just because she hugged one of them, then the story has a sensationalised element to it being it’s the queen, and would be discussed even outside of working hours.
Once we can connect a face to the information, then it makes the conversation more interesting, just like gossip. The same goes for media and advertising. The reason we are shown products, which we do not need, but in some way feel we do is due to the fact that are brains from a young age are prone to take in and be moulded into thinking that if its from a reliable source it must be correct and believable, that is why its better to be open minded and choose the information, rationally.
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Rosnow, R.L. (1976) Rumour and Gossip: the Social Psychology of Hearsay. Elsevier