Huffpost UK uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Mark Fletcher-Brown Headshot

Leveson: We Are The Problem

Posted: Updated:

The demand for juicy gossip is what makes our media what it is.

Tales of people who have done well for themselves as well as the low-down on those who were never likely to do that well, fill page after page (and hour upon hour of reality TV).

We have an insatiable thirst for tales of woe.

We just love to talk about other people. Particularly, when things have gone horribly wrong for them.

The need to talk about others must be something in-built and while it might have performed a useful function on the savannah plains when we needed to bind together people who might otherwise have killed each other, other than selling newsprint and filling reality TV, it's hard to see what benefit it offers mankind.

The Daily Mail online is apparently the most popular website in the world, so it's not just us in the UK who are sad.

But look at the content that gets sucked up and it's a diet of celebs and downfalls - preferably both at the same time.

She looked so good - and now she's let herself go.

He was such a hunk but now look at the love handles.

Does she really think we can't see her cellulite in that dress?

Strapless dresses - chicken wings, anyone?

He's way too old for her.

Mutton dressed as lamb - and then some.

We trusted in him and now look at what's he's done to us.

She was one of us and now she thinks she's better than us.

It is more than a little bit depressing.

Phone-hacking and other techniques for news-gathering occurs at the meeting point of the demand for salacious goss and the commercial imperative.

It must be irresistible.

They want this stuff, we can find it, write and sell it - get the detective on the phone.

The sad truth at the heart of it all is that we love it. (Didn't the Sun say that?).

So we collectively turn a blind eye. We don't want to know where it comes from, we just want to read it so that we can talk about it.

How sad our lives would be if we were happy.

But why?

According to Kate Fox, "About two thirds of our conversation time is entirely devoted to social topics: discussions of personal relationships and experiences; who is doing what with whom; who is 'in' and who is 'out' and why; how to deal with difficult social situations; the behaviour and relationships of friends, family and celebrities; our own problems with lovers, family, friends, colleagues and neighbours; the minutiae of everyday social life."

Gossip can be helpful. It can help us sort out all of our problems. Our news diet gives us something to talk about in case the weather becomes predictable (although, if you take a longer time frame, it usually is).

Spreading goss can also help pass on social values. It helps us talk about what matters. It's subliminal social control.

We love this brand of vodka

But there must be more to it than that. That the stuff of tabloids is so predictably depressing suggests that we like a particular brand of negativity.

It's not bad news, per se. There's plenty of that. If we really want to give our lives some purpose we could do something about things that matter.

Debt, HIV/AIDS, the fact that half the world can't get a glass of clean water or that billions live each day on less than we might spend on a coffee - all these matter more, surely.

Nobody could argue - not without the assistance of copious quantities of alcohol - that the issues we face at home and that others face abroad are less important than whether a celebrity's breasts are either too big or too small.

Or is it rather more sad than that?

Does our obsession in seeing others fail have more to do with our own lack of personal success? Do we take some grim satisfaction from knowing that although our lives are empty and unfulfilled even those with bags of cash are no happier? (All that money and she still left him!).

Do we want to see people do well so that we can be reassured when they fail (as they inevitably will, or so it will be written), that there was no point in us making an effort in the first place?

Or is it that there's no point in having a Great in Britain: is this what people who live in nations that were once great do all day?

In other words, do we want to be reassured that life is grim - whether we make an effort or not?

How else can we explain this insatiable thirst for tales of failure? We only seem to be able to celebrate success, culturally, if we know that in the end it will all fall apart.

How the mighty are fallen - in 13 glorious colour pages.

There but for the grace of God go I - we have the skinny.

The Leveson Enquiry has been highly informative, beautifully probing and calmly clarifying. The result may cause the media to change their ways.

But it will take a lot more than Leveson to stem the demand. Only we can do that.

Around the Web

Leveson Inquiry: Scotland Yard probing more than 50 data intrusion cases

Leveson inquiry: Sue Akers, Paul Dacre, Dan Wootton - live

Leveson inquiry: Sunday Mirror man denies he would buy medical records

Leveson: Ex-NOTW showbiz editor gives evidence

Another day, another idea to regulate the press - but this one won't work

Leveson inquiry needs a lesson in press regulation history

Leveson to recall Times editor over hacking claims

Leveson inquiry: mother of stab victim says PCC failed to stop intrusion

Leveson inquiry: Sun editor recalled for questioning on Page 3

While Britain picks over the Leveson inquiry, the US produces Facebook