Scandal vs. Gossip

“Cecil Graham: My dear Arthur, I never talk scandal. I only talk gossip.

Lord Windemere: What is the difference between scandal and gossip?

Cecil Graham: Oh, gossip is charming! History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality…”

Lady Windemere’s Fan– Oscar Wilde (Act 3)

 

Here, Cecil Graham makes a distinction between gossip and scandal. He presents gossip as “charming”- while scandal is “tedious.” It is interesting that he does not defend himself against an accusation of wrongdoing by presenting his action as ethical; he defends himself against accusations of tediousness by showing his actions to be “charming.” This attitude reflects a hedonistic philosophy that denies or ignores moral dictates and uses pleasure instead of morality as a barometer for human behavior. In fact, it is the very act of injecting gossip with morality that makes it undesirable- that is “tedious.” There should be no criticism of one who simply discussed other people’s actions for the fun of it without implying moral failure. Implying moral failure, however, is tedious and should be criticized.

Even within this paradigm, the question remains, however, whether gossip and scandal can be understood as independent of one another. In a society where scandal (that is moralizing people who turn gossip into scandal) exists, then gossip cannot remain “charming.” Repeating gossip to a moralizing person turns gossip into scandal. This hinges on the question of responsibility. If gossip leads to scandal, is the person who gossiped, perhaps without malicious intent, responsible for the detrimental effects? I would argue that they are. A person who gossips knows that there will be some people who will infuse the information with morality- whether or not the gossiper hirself does. Thus, there can be no neat distinction between gossip and scandal. Perhaps Cecil Graham would admit that part of the “charm” of gossip is that other people find it scandalous.

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Published in: on September 25, 2011 at 10:49 pm Comments (0)


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