From the Collegian Archives: In Defense of Gossip

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Kenyon today is a small and insulated community, word travels fast and opinions, truths, falsehoods, and gossip can be heard from North to South. Recently, as many of you are I am sure aware, a new method of spreading gossip has appeared on campus in the form of Yik Yak, the popular, though controversial, anonymous message board. Gossip, though now spread so much more quickly through our phones and computers, has always been prevalent, even Kenyon. An opinion piece from the October 22, 1965 Collegian examines gossip as a source of news, and an intellectual concept, and gives opinion on gossip in Gambier. Read on to learn the reaction to gossip by your fellow Kenyonites.

IN DEFENSE OF GOSSIP

Among our source material for this issue, we discovered an essay in THE NEW STATESMAN (a pontifical rag, which therefore shares a kinship with our own) entitled “The Case for Gossip.” The the essay, the author argues, not altogether whimsically, for gossip as a viable and authentic form of conveying the news. He feels that, since gossips are indifferent to morality, they are traditionally loathe to respect any kind of patented public morality that the newspapers honer in the institutionalized news that they report. But the disadvantage of gossip is that it is a piecemeal form of communication; the gossip, in his incidental information, throws no light on the nature of things. The titillating details of an affair may be whispered into our ears, but what does the tidbit tell us about love or cupidity or jealousy?

OF COURSE, if one attempts to dispel the noxious vapors of rumor-mongering, one runs into the adamantine argument: all communication is good in a free society. We have been told that Gambier and Kenyon College constitute one department of this free society, President Lund said so. Then it would follow that the Gossip of Gambier–the only respected mode of communication in our burg–is Gambier’s contribution to the art of public knowledge in the Free Society. There are no other means. Although many expect the undergraduate newspaper to serve the community at large, we cannot with our meagre equipment, hope to fulfill this function. Then what of Gossip in Gambier? How does it operate? Whom does it hurt?

Shortly after the freshman arrives at Kenyon, he learns the truth of Samuel Johnson’s dictum: “Curiosity is one of the certain and permanent characteristics of a vigorous mind.” As he becomes acquainted with the vigorous minds in the upperclasses, he lends ear to the product of their curiosity–vivid anecdotes that make up the lurid footnotes to the official history of Kenyon College. Everybody has his favorite; they fall into several classes: The Professor’s Pecadillo, the Recent Graduate’s Incredible Scene, the Real Personality of the Man who occupies the Dean’s chair. In a sense, these revelations contribute to the freshman’s growth in the College environment. They destroy his illusory conceptions and endow him with a comprehension of real persons in real situations. He learns to tell it the way it is.

BUT THE PRACTICE, like all non-institutionalized traditions, has its shortcomings. The chief disadvantage of gossip is the mawkish way in which it is carried–impulsively, with no second thought, and by word of mouth. It is possible, then, when gossip is applied to criticism, to criticize the right person in the wrong way. That is, personal ridicule displaces valid argument with the result that a criticism of the man becomes tangled with a critique of his work.

To be sure, this publication, in the recent past, has been guilty of this blindness. Now, though we feel it important to recognize one point in the punctillo of the close community. A man whether he be a teacher, student, or administrator, has a job to do and wants to do it well. If he fails, he should have the integrity to take flak for his failure, but only insofar as the criticism applies to his work and not to his personality. “Free should the scholar be,” said Emerson,”–free and brave. Free even to the definition of freedom, without any hindrance that does not arise from his own constitution.”

WE THINK, in conclusion, that the nature of life in a close community like Gambier obliges the gossip and his affiliates to swear allegiance to a single integrity. We recognize, though, that a self imposed restraint of this sort may be altogether impossible, so in an effort to generate a universal scrutiny of the man’s job apart from his personality, we pledge ourselves to tell it the way it is and to delete what shouldn’t be told. Our commitment would anger our friend in the NEW STATESMAN, who winds up his essay by characterizing the gossip as a “hero-figure.” But he addresses himself to London-which welcomes information indiscreetly relayed. We are speaking of Gambier, which can only be hurt by the non-selective word of mouth.

-R.G.F

 

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