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Devil's Advocate: Is St Andrews Gossip Culture Healthy?




YES — RILEY RAAB


As a uni, we love our gossip. We all know how the feeling of walking up to a friend with great gossip to share contains a thrill you just can’t get anywhere else. I would know: at a white lies-themed party, I had “hates gossip” written across my shoulders. I’m basically unavoidably either certified or addicted. 


Answering why we find it so cathartic contains the answers to why it is a healthy exercise. If we look at St Andrews as an ecosystem, it makes sense why there is so much gossip. We are a community where you will see someone you know when you leave the house. It is naturally comforting to be a part of a community in which gossip makes you feel more connected: it’s human nature. Suppose you can strike up a library conversation based on someone you both vaguely know doing something insane. In that case, you’re living in a circular society where standard foundations make it easy to connect to new people. It's fascinating, unique, and temporary. You might get hints of this after participating in the great graduation exoduses to London or NYC, but you probably won’t be this integrated into your entire community ever again. We are living in a short-term sitcom, and I vote we jump into the gossip culture that comes with that. 


And why not learn about side characters? You likely want proof that someone you see daily in the silent section isn't as mundane as their plain yellow highlighter suggests. Additionally, hearing that someone you follow on Instagram just went through a horrific breakup can help you not feel so alone in your own relationship struggles. Gossip helps make reality — and us — feel real. It's a self-coping mechanism. And what is almost just as thrilling as having good gossip to share? Hearing good gossip about yourself. It is the essential, validating, ego boost we all need occasionally. To be talked about is to be seen.


Gossip as a concept usually offers us gossipers entertainment and/or the opportunity to make a moral judgement. The entertainment aspect of it can keep you moving by making days less monotonous. Gossip can also make you feel a little morally centred: hearing about how someone was filming an orgy at the Old Course might make you feel better about your awkward Hinge date last week. Gossip that is accurate in information is a reminder that we all do things at some point that are embarrassing or silly. It's part of growing up and growing old. Besides, between fashion shows and balls, gossip also just gives our young and idle minds something to think about. 


However, I don’t want to sign off without a disclaimer. Not all gossip is good. Gossip can be malicious, harmful, and uncomfortable, especially when false. Gossip founded on a stereotype or cliche is especially unhealthy and toxic. If sharing gossip poses a threat to someone involved, that is not gossip. Learn the difference between a secret and gossip. Be smart and mature. Always remember things can spiral fast. You are responsible for keeping the St Andrews ecosystem a place we all want to inhabit. 


NO — FLORA WARSHAW


As I write this I can just imagine the look of shock on my friends’ faces as they read this. Flora? Writing about the unhealthy nature of St Andrews gossip? Really?! 


It’s true. I am unashamed to admit that I love a good gossip. I love walking into a room and proclaiming “You’ll never believe!...” unashamedly — because honestly, who doesn’t? Indeed when my editor messaged me this pitch, I immediately turned around and replied “Sh*t. Please can I argue the other side?”. However, writing this piece has forced me to reflect on my actions and involvement in the specific world of St Andrews gossip. And whilst I will continue to tittle and tattle until the day I die, I have come to see the perils of the gossip culture particular to our small corner of Fife.


I fundamentally believe gossip is a natural and healthy part of life, and that is a hill I am willing to die on. However, there are limits; and sadly in a town like St Andrews, that limit is often pushed. The treacherous line between lighthearted observations about those who surround us, and malicious slander is too often crossed. 


To call St Andrews a Truman Show’ town would be an understatement. Truman Burbank would walk these three streets and be appalled. I’d rather opt for a 1984 Orwellian analogy: Big Brother is always watching us, whether it be from a corner table at The Dunny, or standing behind you in the line for the loo on the library's second floor. We drop names left, right, and centre with no social awareness of the fact that — in a town which could only be described as minuscule — our words and actions will invariably reach the unintended audience, repeating the vicious cycle of gossip. Do we do it just because we know we can? I think so. We know that in a town this small, and frankly this boring, there is no escaping the business of other’s lives. Knowledge in St Andrews isn’t power; it’s entertainment. We hang on to any morsel of information we can find, because, put simply, what else is there to do?


We, and I include myself in this, claim that gossip is healthy — but is that just to rid ourselves of the guilt for participating in such acts? I think the general normalcy and healthiness of gossip is ruined by the fact that in St Andrews, gossip sticks like nowhere else. Words passed over a pint several years prior can craft whole personas and images of those who surround you. But there is no way of fact-checking in these circumstances. No instant replay. We fail to sift the fact from the fiction, in turn, building up perceptions based purely on preconceived notions; judging those who surround us merely on the fables we may have heard. It's sad to think that one might miss out on a valuable friendship just because of the St Andrews grapevine. 



Granted, we cannot escape gossip. Gossip in its purest sense is just information relay. It is a historical act; indeed Shakespeare himself coined the word. So what we can do is escape the kind of gossip and the frequency. We feed into this gossip culture because we’ve known no different. We believe this town’s size equates to a lack of privacy, but in reality, St Andrews is only as small as we make it to be. Gossip is healthy. The St Andrews gossip culture is not.


Illustration by: Sandra Palazuelos García


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