2012: A new study suggests gossip, the bane of any social existence, might serve an important function. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, concluded that gossip allows humans to communicate warnings that might not otherwise be transmitted. The New York Times reports:
The study, “The Virtues of Gossip,” published in the May issue of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that gossip can play the role of protecting others from being exploited by passing on information about bad behavior to warn others.
“If you tell people that this person is a selfish jerk, people learn to avoid the exploitive jerk,” said Matthew Feinberg, a postdoctoral student at Stanford University and a co-author of the study.
Professor Willer said: “We sometimes need to trade information with third parties about people who aren’t around in order to learn from other people’s experiences.”
1925: The link between gossip and exploitation was more nefarious in the mid-1920s, as the editors of Broadway Brevities, New York’s leading gossip rag, were charged with extortion. Hollywood producers claimed that the editors strong-armed them into advertising in the magazine or else risk the printing of scandalous leaks about major stars. An assistant to filmmaker D.W. Griffith testified at the trial:
Mr. Lloyd testified he first came into personal relations with Brevities during the latter part of 1920 or early in 1921 when, he said, he began receiving from the magazine “annoying telegrams” regarding the death of a young actress employed during the making of Way Down East.
“Broadway Brevities had already printed an article about the death of a young girl during a motion picture’s making, so I went to M. Gray, our general manager, and suggested we give Broadway Brevities some advertising. We had $1,000,000 invested in the picture and we didn't want any mud thrown at it. Boosts don't hurt you, but knocks do, so I recommended two pages of advertising—$300 a page—$600 in all.”
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