Everyone loves to hate tabloid magazines. Tabloids, or “trash papers,” as they are sometimes referred to, are a guilty pleasure, furtively dropped onto the conveyor belt at checkout lines or slipped in with a drugstore shampoo purchase when no one is watching.

People don’t like to admit being drawn in by screaming headlines like “GAY LOVE TRIANGLE!” and “OPRAH GAINS 32 LBS!” but somehow the lure is hard to escape. It seems that the outlandish stories, garish color and multitudes of exclamation points can somehow tempt an otherwise rational person to wonder about something like the “details of Demi Moore’s fertility treatments at 43!!!”

Tabloids are not all just sex, drugs and rock and roll, however. They relish scandal, failure, corruption and desperation. They report the weight gains and cosmetic surgeries of the people most in the public eye. They are often deliberately, shamelessly malicious. Not only do they triumphantly announce the presence of cellulite on the toned leg of a young movie star, they also zoom in and enhance the defect, complete with arrows, circles and catty cut lines.

So again, why do people read them? What it all comes down to, it seems, is basic human curiosity about one’s social environment. Just look at college. Day in and day out, students spread rumors and gossip about people they barely know. They discuss each other’s promiscuity in explicit, graphic detail and criticize the conduct of their peers and acquaintances.

It is immaterial whether the story is completely true, or whether the student discussing the situation witnessed the event or is in any way involved. Everyone seems to want to pass judgment on the dishonorable actions committed by the honor-roll student on an uninhibited Saturday night. When it comes to the appearance, morality or discretion of a peer, everyone is a critic.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. Maybe we are putting ourselves above these people, believing that we can seem more righteous and wholesome to those around us by condemning their misdeeds. Maybe we are living vicariously through them, secretly wishing that our own lives were wild enough to provoke the shock and interest we bestow.

The conclusion to all this is really that tabloids, much like college gossip, are justifiable. They are indulgences into the petty dramas comprising the lives of everyone in the public eye, whether it is Madonna or whatever particular frat-quad figure. They make the perfect creatures gleaming on red carpets seem less intimidating by assuring us that just like everyone else, these larger-than-life figures also occasionally gain weight and dress unflatteringly.

Essentially, tabloids tell us what we want to hear. They shock and scandalize us, yet at the same time validate and reassure us, letting us know that even those we perceive as immaculate can still screw up horribly sometimes. That is what compels us to slide a knowingly disreputable, trashy magazine into our shopping cart. And therein lies their value.

Hass is a member of the class of 2010.

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