There’s no denying that humans love a good gossip. Whether you avidly admit your love for talking about the lives of others or fervently deny it, studies show that gossip makes up to 80% of our conversations. The more juicy and messy the tidbits, the more interested we seem to become— and nothing is more juicy or messy than a good old celebrity sex scandal.
Interest in celebrity scandals is nothing new. Most people will recall the Bill Clinton scandal, who allegedly had an affair with his intern, Monika Lewinsky, who was almost half his age. This resulted in one of the most famous scandal one-liners of all time: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”. With the rise of the internet came the rise of the biggest and juiciest piece of evidence in any scandal: the sex tape. Ripe for consumption by anyone with internet access and the inclination.
So what makes us seek out these deviant glimpses into celebrities’ lives? Psychologist Susan Kolod thinks it is the combined reaction of outrage and titillation we experience that makes scandal exciting. Here are three key things that I think contribute to our interest in the deviant lives of others:
1. Taking pleasure in the misfortune of others
Schadenfreude is a german word for which there is no equivalent in English — it means taking pleasure in other’s misfortune. It’s that slight feeling of glee when you’re in an elevator and someone runs to try catch it, but it closes in their face. This strange quirk of human nature means that when we see someone at a moral low-point publicly exposed and humiliated, we feel, well… strangely smug. This may be why people actively seek out incriminating content like Kim Kardashian’s leaked sex tape of 2007 with then-boyfriend Ray J. Not only is it still downloaded today, it’s the most viewed porn video of all time!
2. Moral superiority
Having a strong moral compass, good values and a squeaky clean reputation are all traits we desire. When celebrities demonstrate that they are not only human but extremely flawed, it gives us a little ego boost. I may not be famous, but at least I would never cheat on my partner or put a video of my sex life online. We’re able to look at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s secret child, the result of an extramarital affair with his cleaner, and think: nope, I would never do that. Sorry Arnie, but I have more self control and moral sense than you. And maybe that’s why, just like Arnie, we always come back for more.
3. A window into an often private world
People seem to avoid talking about sex. It’s considered an inappropriate dinner party topic. If someone discloses details of a sexual encounter, the response is often “Argh! Too much information!”. Yet despite the taboo nature of the subject, we are utterly fascinated by it, and spend a lot of time thinking about it. So when something so private suddenly becomes so public, we can finally look through this private window without judgement. We can eat up the scandal and devour it’s contents without being creepy or prying, because celebrities exist on a higher social plane than us. Paris Hilton’s sex tape is the second most viewed after Kim Kardashian’s, and together they have over 93 million downloads. That’s over 93 million people who are not only interested in a glimpse into the scandalous sex lives of others, but who want to see the whole thing in all it’s juicy, messy glory.