The Thinking 

Famous Couples: An Introduction

May 12, 2009

I have a philosopher friend who has his own theory of gossip. He considers gossip a form of philosophizing.

To gossip about others is to engage in a type of necessary rational analysis. This is conducive to social order as it enables people to act with reason and forethought.

It’s an interesting argument, but I disagree, holding the traditional view that gossip is evil. The problem with gossip is that it’s addictive. The faults of others cast a mystical spell over our minds and lead us to stumble around in the dark, making grandiose generalizations and false presumptions. I admit that it is fun and stimulating. As a psychologist friend of mine said about her clients who commit adultery, “It makes them feel more alive.”

There is an exception to this rule. And, that involves gossip about famous people, either living or dead. Not only are famous people immune to libel, they are immune to the normal principles of everyday discourse. In other words, we can say whatever we want about them. Gossip about famous people, provided that it stays within the realm of empirical reality, is healthy. It sublimates our desire to gossip about the people we know and helps us to deepen our ethical awareness. Or, something like that.

All this is by way of introducing you to a regular feature of this website: occasional portraits of famous couples, both living and dead, real and imaginary. There is only one criterion I will use in choosing these famous couples and that is that I personally find them interesting. I’m going to do my best to include edifying moral insights without disguising what is essentially a highbrow form of gossip.

I will not be writing about Brad and Angelina. The truth is I don’t know who they are. I don’t say that with pride or disdain for the general hold this couple has, however fleeting, over the public imagination.  I’ve tried to find out who they are. I think if anyone explained it to me, I still wouldn’t know.

You may wonder why I have chosen to do portraits of couples and not individuals. If you have wondered this, I feel sorry for you. It’s only when people get mixed up with others, preferably someone of the opposite sex, that they really get interesting. I took a literature course in college about famous literary couples. It was deeply thought-provoking and I don’t know why all college courses, even physics and math courses, are not structured in this way.

I warn you that some of the love affairs I discuss will have tragic overtones, far more tragic than anything from the lives of Brad and Angelina. In fact, some will be darkly disturbing. I cannot shield you, dear reader. If I gave you only sunshine and lemon drops, would you respect me? My purpose, remember, is partly educational. Don’t travel down the same road! Love, but not in that way! The mistakes of others are the foundation of our own virtue and sanity. In that sense, my philosophical friend is correct. Gossip does make us better.

Please stay tuned for the first installment in this series.

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