What Is Lost In Latin America's Gossip-Obsessed Culture
Gossip columns and scurrilous TV shows peer into people's private lives more every day. Not about freedom of information, they perpetuate the social complexes of the Colonial era.
LIMA — This article does not intend to censure or restrict freedom of information or expression, but seeks only to help generate a space in which to reflect on the limits between the public and private domains.
Over the past two decades we have witnessed a proliferation of situation comedies, talk shows and entertainment programs that have gradually seduced a society avid for sensationalism. We’re keen to witness the harshest public condemnations of questionable acts in somebody else's private life.
Many people have become faithful followers of television shows whose only attribute is to show the week's scandals through indiscreet cameras — serving us up a "main dish" of deplorable, intimate and strictly personal situations.
We have become used to habitually devoting part of our conversation in any social setting to the weekend’s "revelation," though admittedly after talking about the country's political or economic situation.
This habit has helped create a kind of censorious attitude not unlike the Catholic Inquisition's, which besides creating value judgements, condemns cruelly or gives a yearned-for "pardon" — often in an atmosphere reeking of sexist prejudice.
Of public or private interest?
These elements explain the successful ratings of the entertainment programs that have constructed public avidity for revelations or depictions of some "personality" caught in flagrante. A deplorable habit thus manages to kidnap all classes of a society that no longer distinguishes between the private and public domains.
On any given Monday at nine in the morning, the social networks are lit up with some revelation that has left us reeling. This time, an official is rumored to have a son from an extra-marital relation, so #qreconozcaasuhijo (let him recognize his son) becomes the most used hashtag on Twitter. Those involved keep a deathly silence as the news keeps growing. Thousands of users add their own speculative observations, each more spicy than the previous, while the public attentively follows a spectacle fit for the Roman Colosseum.
This morbid curiosity in distasteful situations appears to affect the entirety of society, up and down the social ladder. We delight in this. Do you doubt it? Well, let me ask you — how much are hypocrisy and scruples necessary to social coexistence? When we meet with our friends and acquaintances, do we only speak well of others?
Regarding the aforementioned incident, did we ask whether or not it mattered at all that this official had a child out of wedlock? Or if Juan's dating Magdalena, Pedro having dinner with Santiago or María divorcing José is of any interest to the general public?
What’s really important
The important point here is to make people conscious enough to distinguish the limit between our public and private lives. Nobody wants their neighbor to see inside their fridge, as our grandfathers used to say, or to put another way: "wash your dirty linen at home." How much more are we going to listen out for rumors or condemn our peers for what they have done in private? Are we still marked by the seal of prejudices and unfounded fears — and a morbid taste for titillation — left by the Colonial period?
Let us mind our own business, judging and criticizing people less. And when I speak of social inclusion, I don't just mean the contents of the gossip pages. Let us strive for a society without complexes, which lives and accepts the present while thinking ahead, without regrets, taboos and outdated suspicions. A society that does not constantly recall or mourn the past. Why not try?