A German friend comes over and notices a copy of InTouch magazine on my living room table.
“You shouldn’t read these things,” he says. “They’re stupid and meaningless.”
“Yes,” I say. “I know.”
I wonder why Germans are so bossy. They’re always telling you what to do and what to say and how to think. Emily Davison will be turning in her grave for me admitting this – I feel guilty just thinking it, like it’s a thought crime: but I actually quite like it when German men are bossy with me. It makes me feel safe. I hate it when the women are, though. It makes me feel claustrophobic. There.
“I hate the whole concept of gossip,” he says. “I’m surprised to find out you read this kind of thing. Normally the only women who read these magazines have really low self-esteem.”
“Oh,” I say.
“Don’t you think?” he asks. “I mean – why does it matter if Justin Bieber killed his hamster or Robert De Niro’s pregnant again?”
“It doesn’t,” I say. “It’s unnecessary information.”
“Exactly,” he says.
“Thing is,” I say. “Thing is, the plot to Romeo and Juliet is unnecessary information, too. That’s all information we don’t need to know. And you know, in a way, the plot to Romeo and Juliet is pure gossip, really. Like, there’s this boy, yeah? And he’s a romance junkie. And he’s in love with this chick, right? Rosalind or Rosamond or someone. But he goes to this party, right, and he meets this other girl, and this time he falls properly in love – well, I reckon he does – her name’s Juliet. Only guess what? Her family hates his family. They’re feuding. It’s like the Ramsays and the Robinsons at the beginning of Neighbours. And then he goes and accidentally kills her cousin! And then her nurse tells her to fuck him. And then guess what happens? Her parents want her to marry some other dude, the friar gets them to do a weird trick with some poison, and in the end they both die.”
“You can’t compare literature and gossip,” he says, softly.
“You mean because of the language?” I ask. “I mean, of course the language in Romeo and Juliet is better than the language in a gossip magazine. But maybe a lot of the women who read gossip magazines, maybe their language skills aren’t good enough for them to read Shakespeare. Or Emilia Galotti or something. I don’t mean that in a snide way. I mean maybe they really are genuinely at that level, you know? The language of gossip magazines is the language they understand, just like Dutch people understand Dutch and the French understand French. That’s okay. Isn’t it?”
“No,” he says. “Not because of the language. I mean, of course the language is beautiful and – and, well, it’s better, even. But people don’t have to read things they don’t understand, or don’t want to read. Of course they don’t. But still. You can’t compare gossip and literature.”
“Why not?” I ask.
He says: “You can learn from literature. You can learn for your life. Literature teaches us how to live.”
I shrug my shoulders, a tiny bit indifferently. “Do you really think that?” I say. “I’m not sure I agree with all that learning from literature stuff. I think literature is just some people’s hobby, and also we learn it in school, so the people whose hobby it is get off on thinking their hobby is really educational compared to knitting or scuba diving. What do we really learn from Romeo and Juliet? Don’t go to a friar for advice when your boyfriend’s been banished from Verona?”
“You learn more from Romeo and Juliet than you do from reading about all those stupid celebs.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I think if we’re learning all this stuff from Romeo and Juliet, then we can learn stuff from celebrities, too. Because they’re like fairy tale characters, aren’t they? Don’t you think? Victoria Beckham is Jack out of “Jack and the Beanstalk”. She’s been really lucky, but she’s also been quite brave. And Daniela Katzenberger’s Cinderella, obviously. And what about Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Anistion? Jennifer’s this innocent farm girl, she’s really bendy and naïve, her limbs are all malleable and her face is all puffy. And she’s happy, she’s married to this beautiful prince. And then this icy witch comes and steals her man – this white, beautiful, white, white, white, beautiful, porcelain ice-queen. Only the ice-queen steals her man and then pretends to be so nice. She’s like the witch queen in the Seven Ravens, when the babies keep on being turned into pigs, you know? She pretends to be all caring and motherly, but deep down she’s got ice in her heart. She’s skinny and beautiful, lots of black hair, adopting all these kids, pretending to be maternal – we all know she’s just pretending. And Jennifer Aniston, who’s all sunny and innocent, she stays childless. You know? Angelina Jolie is like the moon and Jennifer Aniston is like the sun. It just doesn’t make sense for Jennifer to be childless. It’s like an evil gnome has cursed her or something. And then, one day, all of a sudden, Angelina Jolie chops her breasts off. She’s like Lady Macbeth. The whole Jennifer Aniston/Angelina Jolie saga isn’t a fairy-tale. It’s a fucking opera.”
“Yeah, okay, okay, but Jacinta – those are their lives. They’re real people and they’re living real lives. How can you learn something from a real person’s actual life? It’s unfair, isn’t it? Their life is a real thing.”
“Oh,” I say. “But it’s all made up. Didn’t you know that?”
“What?” he says. “You mean Angelina Jolie didn’t really get her breasts removed? I thought that was true. I read it in Taz.”
“Oh, some of the details might be true every now and again,” I say. “But the story’s made up. The narrative’s been invented for us. Angelina Jolie, the icy queen witch, Jennifer Aniston, sunny and barefoot on the beach, alone, Brad Pitt, the enchanted prince, following the icy queen witch around like a hypnotized zombie. It’s a made up story. The editors of the gossip magazines made it up the day Brad Pitt announced he was leaving.”
“You really must stop reading these gossip magazines, Jacinta,” says my friend sternly. “You could be a really intelligent woman if you put your mind to it.”