Polling all readers!

The Tiger Woods brouhaha has brought a question I've been wondering about for some time to mind. So I thought I'd ask you guys, our hordes of loyal readers. When we want read or watch fiction to explore the inner workings of people's minds and lives, we think that is a laudable habit. Yet when we want to explore the inner workings of the lives of real people, as we do in celebrity scandals, we think it's an execrable habit.

Is privacy the issue? Is it a class thing? Are we correct in thinking the former laudable and the latter execrable? Does it matter if the person is dead (is anything wrong with a salacious biography?) I have my own thoughts on this, but I'm curious to know what you guys think!


  1. A lot of it comes down to motive. We read fiction for entertainment, knowing the people aren't real, but the feelings, situations, and social conditions are. This gives us insight into how one might approach the similar situations in one's life, and what other people around might be thinking and feeling.

    Gossip, on the other hand, allows people with little to do and less to think about some way of feeling superior to others. In the case of a neighbor: I'm better than (s)he is because I don't engage in such awful things. In the case of a celebrity: (S)he's not so great. (S)e's no better than me. In fact, ain't it awful that that person's fame/wealth/whatever went to their head? I would CERTAINLY never do something like that.

    Either way, it can also be an escape from real life. It's easier to pry into other lives than to work on our own lives.

  2. I think part of the problem is that fictional characters aren't real. They are not aware of our watching them, they feel no paranoia or invasion of privacy, they go about their actions in the novel without fear of scrutiny or public humiliation. Not so with the famous, who are all too aware of the toll their fame and our prurient interest are taking.

  3. Dan is correct. Fictional characters in stage, film, and literature cannot be embarassed or humiliated. Dissecting a real human's personal failings in public is an equestrian animal of an entirely different hue. Dead people have friends and family that can experience the pain of public exposure, but eventually this changes. Examining Cleopatra's life is not likely to result in anyone's discomfort.

  4. Agree with Dan and Gadfly.

    However, I don't think there's a moral judgment to be made about our (collective) interest in the trials and tribulations of others, whether fictional or real(ish).

    It only becomes a moral issue to the extent our interest affects the lives of real people, as y'all have said.

    If I buy a copy of Emma (or Peyton Place, for that matter), it harms no one, whatever my reasons for buying it. The same cannot be said when I buy the latest issue of People, since my $$ encourage the tabloid press to make ever-increasing incursions into the private lives of Brangelina et al.

  5. I think it truly depends on the person, we read biographies of people who had an impact on the world so as to gain some insight about humanity ourselves. How can we understand Roosevelt or Churchill without examining their lives? And such examination could be laudatory, if Bill Clinton had known his sex life would be such an open book, would he have behaved as he did? Imagine no Lewinsky, and from that no Bush, no past 8 years.

    As to Tiger Woods, that is just salacious. I doubt in 100 years anyone will read his biography except the most avid of golfers. It is for this reason I won't read about Tiger, but Gov. Sanford, Sen. Ensign, Vitter, Edwards, etc. damn right I will. (well, not Edwards anymore) because these people impact our lives directly. We have the right to know these guys are pigs.