Who's asking: Kris Dean, Mechanicsville, VA
Gossip is a basic human need, up there with food and shelter. It's essential to the formation of social groups: we share information in order to bond with each other, and to distinguish "us" from "them." Efforts to curb gossip in schools and workplaces always fail, and make people miserable; the best you can hope for is that the gossip is led by people who are kind-hearted, rather than by the nasty ones. (Of course, the nasty ones usually have the best information.)
Tabloid journalism goes back to the early days of the printing press. Gutenberg invented movable type in 1440, and you can bet some of the first things printed were circulars decrying the crimes and moral transgressions of public figures.
The first cheap, sensational newspapers -- as opposed to single sheets of paper -- appeared in the United States in the early 1830s. These "penny papers" were a 19th-century version of The Weekly World News, reporting things like murders, fires, animal attacks and tragic stories of women gone wrong. The New York Sun, launched in 1833, was the first tabloid-sized paper.
The early tabloids were political bombthrowers and muckrakers, as well as sensation-mongers; by the late 1840s, they had become so powerful that four of them joined with three more traditional newspapers to form the Associated Press, the news wire service that survives to this day.
Five Random Songs
"C'est la Vie," Lowen and Navarro. This album (Walking on a Wire) was one of the best pieces of singer-songwriter pop of the 1990s; what happened to these guys?
"Train in Vain (Stand by Me)," The Clash. I'm excited to see Julien Temple's new documentary about Joe Strummer, which premiered at Sundance.
"'74-'75," The Connells. I think this was the single off this album (Ring), which is baffling, because it's not one of the stronger songs on the record. Kind of limp, kind of whiny, and (at 4:38) it goes on too long.
"Out of Egypt, Into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I Shake the Dirt from My Sandals as I Run," Sufjan Stevens. This wonderful album (Illinois) is the anti-iTunes; it's designed to be listened to as one complete piece, and chopping it up into individual tracks makes it incomprehensible.
"Cry a While," Bob Dylan. From Love & Theft. Old-timey blues, and Dylan's sense of humor shines through.