Thursday, July 18, 2013

"How to Gossip" by The British Association of Gossipmongers

Perhaps no one has written anything more humourous (or ambiguous) on the subject of gossip than Nicole Banerji. Banerji satirically created the fictional organization The British Association of Gossipmongers (BAG) and wrote their handbook How to Gossip.1 According Banerji, BAG exists, among other things, to “enhance the status of gossip, moving its image from seedy and shameful to positive and proud” and to “create a growing body of expert gossipmongers who can elicit and transmit sensitive and salacious information with passion and panache.”2

How to Gossip is clearly satire. What is not clear, however, is what message (if any) Banerji is trying to satirically convey. At times, Banerji seems to truly want to promote the practice of gossiping. “It is healthy to take an interest in your fellow human being, it is healthy to encourage others to share secrets, it is healthy to talk. We need to stop apologizing for doing what comes naturally and start celebrating it!”3

In other places, she wants to temper that with “ethical gossipmongering.”4 But the ethics of “ethical gossipmongering” are satirically dubious themselves, encapsulated by “the four D’s: Discretion. Discipline. Distance. Duality.”5 Discretion, for example, is practiced like this, “Be selective in who you tell, only spill in one-to-one situations, make them feel special . . . and no witnesses!”6 The ethic of distance includes, “Make it clear that you are just repeating what you have been told – say that you don’t know whether it is true or not.”7

The entire book has this kind of ongoing hilarious “advice.” There are chapters on how to find people to gossip to, how to get gossip out of people, how to carry on gossip online, how to effectively reveal secrets, and what to do if caught. As I read it, I kept thinking that Banerji was trying to shock her readers into actually doing the opposite thing in a kind of “Screwtape” sort of way.

But the evidence for that reading of How to Gossip is thin. Banerji never tips her hand to reveal an ironic agenda. Instead she concludes by saying, “The approach laid out in this handbook is all about ethical gossipmongering. It is about discretion and self-discipline whilst still enjoying the pleasure of full and frank information exchange.”8 In the end, Banerji is unapologetic. “We can all do our bit to rescue the image of gossiping from the clutches of the neurotics, the ne’er do wells, and the downright nasty, and return it to being something to be proud of. Right then, go out and goss.”9

1Nicole Banerji, How to Gossip: Expert Advice from the British Association of Gossipmongers (Leicester: Matador, 2005).
2Ibid., ix.
3Ibid., 5.
4Chapter 3 is entitled “Ethical Gossipmongering: What the Devil Is That?” (ibid., 21).
5Ibid., 24.
7Nicole Banerji, How to Gossip: Expert Advice from the British Association of Gossipmongers (Leicester: Matador, 2005), 25.
8Ibid., 74.
9Ibid., 75. As near as I can tell, Banerji coined “goss” as her own abbreviated slang word for the action of gossiping. She autographed my personal copy of the book with the superscription, “So . . . what’s the goss?”


This is part #2 of "Ambiguity and Ambivalence about Gossip."

[To Be Continued on Monday]