Gossip: An appreciation
MANILA, Philippines - Janet Napoles is dead. She has been liquidated. So I heard.
I saw a post to that effect on my social media feed the day after the arrest warrant on Mrs. Napoles.
If the author had not quickly deleted that post, it would likely have been shared, especially if picked up by one of those “influencers” of social media.
Even if nothing in the message promises currency in truth, it traffics in the basest of assumptions – those that we’d assume as gut truths:
Everybody is involved in the PDAF scandal. The Philippines is a country where it is ridiculously easy to have someone killed. Napoles is fingerling fry.
Then, there is that most instinctive of assumptions – that lost or hidden in the puff of gossip is a bolt of truth.
Secrets of the gods
In the early aughts, there was a heavily-visited barebones Geocities webpage, the now-defunct A-List, which claimed to be a repository of every closely guarded secret about Hollywood celebrities.
Reading the list of scurrilous rumors, one cannot help but feel empowered, as if now privy to the secrets of the gods.
It can’t all be true, but by assuming it were so, one feels having gained a level up in wisdom.
Gossip is the secret knowledge, the power and tonic that the mainstream purports to deny.
The proposition is conspiratorial in itself, yet it fuels the circle of gossipers as it widens.
And it fortifies those who invent gossip to achieve a public relations goal.
Gossip about our political leaders, some no doubt invented or embellished, has long had an inordinate impact on our public conversation.
It must have seemed implausible and obnoxious, even then, that President Elpidio Quirino would keep a golden orinola.
Yet this already quaint novelty, which pales in comparison with Michael Bloomberg's bathtub, reinforced what was then the meme that the aloof president occupied a gilded palace beyond the reach of the masses.
The “Brenda” rumors about Miriam Defensor-Santiago were fortuitously timed as she was leading the polls before the 1992 presidential election. The rumors cast the intended doubt, in no small part because Santiago's public addresses were obviously on a different plane from everyone else.
The competing rumors about Noynoy Aquino and Manny Villar during the 2010 elections undoubtedly had some impact on voters as they cast their ballots; they certainly did lead me to linger at my voting booth.
Less guile, greater candor
The impact of political gossip, especially with the "viral" nature of this cyber-age, is such that when legislators seek to crack down on online libel, they really want to criminalize gossip.
Political gossip in the Philippines is the defiant, ugly stepsister of celebrity gossip.
Showbiz tsismis is more widely shared, more fun, and generally results in less handwringing about the state of the national psyche.
It is, somewhat surprisingly, animated nowadays by much less guile and greater candor than its political counterpart.
Twitter is such a confessional medium, an arena of a confessional box with the assurance of secrecy thrown away altogether.
Some posts are also calculated to fulfill a larger PR strategy to project anything.
For the many Filipinos who are still not on Twitter, there is "The Buzz" (or its counterparts on the rival networks) – the true equivalent of the national confessional booth.
Showbiz talk shows remain self-evident adjuncts of the entrenched publicity machinery. They have also increasingly intruded into the national conversation because their hosts and their guests already reflect the increased oversharing that defines our milieu.
It is now a part of the public expectation that whenever a celebrity makes the headlines, this public figure in his/her own right would thereafter embark on a pilgrimage that ends in the seat across Mr. Abunda's.
Their statements, alternately candid and calculated, explain why they should be talked about and also direct how they are to be talked about.
The candor can be so discomfiting as to be almost sublime in its triteness. And, yes, such talk reveals many things unexpectedly, including, as befits our predominantly Christian society, some spiritual insights.
When one steps back and thinks about it, much of the gossip that qualifies as reportage is not too much fun to behold.
Consider the epic squabbling among the Barretto family.
As narrative, family feuds are the capital of the most-watched telenovelas. Yet they are deeply painful for the family in the spotlight, and rarely enlightening to the public discourse.
“Leave them alone,” you’d insist if they were an ordinary family. “Leave them alone,” one might pretend or actually mean to say even if the family concerned is the Barrettos.
Still, if one were to go by the messy particularities in the statements among the family members, they themselves do not appear as insistent to be left unminded.
The latest chapter in the Barretto family saga will soon be the subject of litigation before the courts.
(Meanwhile, there has been a variation on this story in Cesar Montano's marital crisis with Sunshine Cruz.)
The public may not always realize it, but such public stories will soon find their spice diluted in the long grind of a court trial
But this is the opportunity assigned by the legal order to discover, vet, and pronounce judgment on factual truths.
But, yes, court transcripts are profoundly less sexy than gossip columns, no matter the same sordid details such documents may disclose.
They are also prone to reveal inconsistent or untidy narratives – the shades of grey that Hollywood screenwriters are told in workshops to avoid.
In any case, this legal supplement still serves as a valid if inconvenient reference point, alongside the gossip prevailing in conversations, online or offline.
At least in the court of public opinion, its "jurisdiction" is limited to public lives, the lives of celebrity.
But it's anything goes when other institutions like the legal system itself is caught in the fray.
Hey, Claudine’s lawyer happens to be an open admirer of Hitler.
We can talk about that. - Rappler.com
For a further appreciation on gossip, here's Professor Elaine Lui:
Oliver X.A. Reyes is a Writer-at-Large for Esquire Philippines. He is prone to share idle chatter on Twitter at @ageofbrillig