CELEBRITY GOSSIP is social pollution, dirtier and more destructive than anything emitted by industrial smokestacks or automobile tailpipes. Just ask Geoffrey Owens.
The 57-year-old actor, best known for playing Dr. Elvin Tibideaux on "The Cosby Show" in his 20s, was thrust into the spotlight recently when a shopper surreptitiously snapped unflattering pictures of him bagging groceries at a Trader Joe's in Clifton, N.J., and sent them to the media. After the Daily Mail and Fox News published them, they instantly went viral, and Owens was widely mocked for working a low-status job. "I was like, wow, all those years of doing the show and you ended up as a cashier," the woman who took the pictures told the Daily Mail. Eventually the "job-shaming" of Owens sparked a backlash in his defense, but not before millions of people had joined in smirking at his reduced circumstances.
In her 2000 memoir, "Natural Blonde," the late gossip columnist Liz Smith praised gossip as "one of the great luxuries of a democracy," and claimed that people only have an appetite for scuttlebutt about the rich and famous when there is nothing more important to concern themselves with. "Should the day come when we are enduring big, black headlines about war, famine, terrorism, and natural disaster," Smith confidently predicted, "then that kind of news will drive gossip underground and out of sight."
She couldn't have been more wrong. The years since 2000 have seen no end of war, famine, terrorism, and natural disasters. Yet the torrent of gossip is greater than ever. Avoiding this bilge is virtually impossible for anyone who lives a normal modern life: It comes at you when you turn on the TV, when you go online, when you pick up groceries, when you read the daily paper.
The line between scandalous tittle-tattle and legitimate news has been crossed so often that it can barely be detected. . . .