When it comes to something like the Golden Globes, you can expect a few things. Heaping acclaim onto what a very small group of people have ordained to be the “best” films? Check. Over the top gowns? Check. Hairstyles that make you resemble the singer P!nk? With regard to Florence Pugh, it’s a big ol’ check. Most of all, those of us across the pond expect to head online come Monday morning and find a whole load of celeb gossip born out of the event. This year, that came in the form of what we’re going to call the “Selena-Timothée debacle”. Several different videos of Selena Gomez talking to Taylor Swift made the rounds, and through a myriad of different methods it was deduced that the singer and actress was gossiping about couple Timothée Chalamet and Kylie Jenner. Purportedly, Kylie didn’t allow Selena to take a photo with the Wonka actor. Selena has since cleared things up, stating that’s not the case, but at this point it doesn’t really matter. What occurred, and how the internet swarmed upon it, says more than enough about the slightly toxic relationship we have with gossip right now.
With the proliferation of social media making it more accessible than ever, gossip is omnipresent at the moment. That’s illustrated no better than by something like Deuxmoi, the Instagram account that circulates celebrity gossip sent in by the average joe. Deuxmoi played a significant role in the allegations against actor Armie Hammer and has earned its fair share of criticisms from those that find their way into the “blind items” shared by the account. Though some will argue Deuxmoi is simply the modern answer to gossip rags like National Enquirer or Closer, what’s pertinent about it is its mechanics. “The key difference is the anonymity” Jenna Drenten, a professor in marketing at Loyola University Chicago, tells HUNGER. “With traditional gossip magazines, readers knew who was at the helm; the sources may have been anonymous but the writers and editors were not. Deuxmoi feels akin to having a mole on the inside and audiences like that”.
As well as anonymity, Deuxmoi has ushered in an era of gossip that’s decidedly less controlled. Unsurprisingly, the account is rife with spurious information. For Jenna, this “toes a careful line when it comes to issues of defamation and copyright”. This marks a stark contrast from the days when celebrity gossip was “brokered by agents of the attention machine: editors, press, and public relations managers”. “Today,” she adds “this power lies with everyday people”.
Another illustration of this lies in TikTok’s lip readers. As you might have guessed, the lip readers making the rounds on the short form content platform do as their name describes. The most prominent creators – @ninacelested’s videos often wrack up tens of millions of views – are sent inaudible conversations between celebrities that they interpret before sharing the results with their followers. With their rise, the public has become privy to private conversations that were in the past beyond the grasp of conventional gossip circulation. At the recent Golden Globes ceremony, it was lip readers that weighed in on not only the infamous conversation between Selena and Taylor, but one shared by Kylie and Timothée.
Kylie and Timothée’s relationship wades into another interesting facet of our contemporary relationship to gossip. “More than ever, we’re aware that the celebrities themselves are conscious of being watched, and of internet drama fuelling their own visibility and platforms,” says therapist Eloise Skinner. We see this play out with Kylie and Timothée’s relationship, which has long been thought of as a PR creation.
It’s a convoluted mess: one that makes it easy for lines to become blurred, and boundaries to be crossed. One jarring instance of this comes in the form of a recent New York Times piece which offered up 5,000-words speculating on Taylor Swift’s sexuality. One member of Swift’s team came forward anonymously to say that “because of her massive success, in this moment there is a Taylor-shaped hole in people’s ethics [sic]”. They’re right. It’s an article born out of the notion that we’re owed knowledge of public figure’s personal lives. “Social media has bridged a gap, creating an environment where fans don’t just gossip about celebrities; it’s as if they’re gossiping with them” adds Jenna. “When a celebrity shares an emotional moment on Instagram Live or replies to a TikTok video, it fosters a sense of closeness and accessibility that was previously unheard of. Fans are now active participants in a shared digital space with their idols. But all of this comes at a cost of privacy as celebrities are increasingly expected to turn their private lives into content”.
The notion of commodifying your personal life is a facet of our society that transcends the world of celebs too. Influencers like Alix Earle and Madeleine Argy, who’ve cashed in on laying it bare, are the epitome of this. Even us regular folk are getting involved: if you spent enough time online late last year it’s likely you will have encountered what was dubbed the “boyfriend hoodie drama”, where TikTok videos by two former friends essentially aired out their dirty laundry with each other in the public sphere. For Rukiat Ashawe, an editorial and social executive at The Digital Fairy, this is all a by-product of how “the concept of privacy has been broken in our digital age”: “whether it’s watching ads, accepting cookie policies without reading the terms or endlessly scrolling on TikTok, the sharing of private celebrity moments online is really just an element of a much larger privacy breakdown”.
The boyfriend hoodie drama was also interesting in the sense that it provoked others to weigh in. Who was right, and who was wrong, etc. For Jenna, it’s this participatory nature that’s key to what makes the modern iteration of gossip so irresistible. In reference to the Selena-Timothée debacle, she said that “fans will always be enthralled by potential squabbles among celebrities because they take those squabbles on as their own”. She calls this a “team culture” in which “fans are eager to pick a side”.
There’s a key question running through all of this: is it really a uniquely modern phenomenon, or something that we’ve seen before? For Rukiat, she doesn’t “see a difference between Deuxmoi and print gossip publications of the 2000s”. “These magazines were just as toxic and invasive, but with print dying out, it seems like the invasiveness and constant surveillance has shifted to online”.
If things like Deuxmoi and TikTok’s lip readers are simply the modern iteration of something that predates Instagram and short form content, it’s probably down to the fact that gossip is a facet of human nature. “Many of us enjoy sharing information, especially if it’s shocking or dramatic,” adds Eloise. “Research has indicated that gossiping within friendship groups or communities can actually be a sign of strengthened social bonds”. Most interesting of all, Eloise tells HUNGER that gossiping can result in a feeling of power: “it allows them to be in control of receiving information and shaping a narrative, which is important when our lives can feel so uncertain”.