Straddling the Grapevine

“People say believe half of what you see
Son, and none of what you hear
I can't help bein' confused
If it's true please won't you tell me…”
- I head it through the Grapevine (Marvin Gaye)

It is baffling how the human mind always works towards finding patterns in everything it encounters. We always have a constant urge to generalize things and create knowledge of existing information. Our minds’ relentless and continuous effort of creating patterns was a subject we studied inadvertently in our conversations during the last two months.

We seldom realize how involved and interested we are in ‘gossip’. Each of us has exhibited substantial capacity to disseminate and absorb perfunctory and widely circulated information on campus. Although the source of the tittle-tattle is generally disregarded as unauthentic they nevertheless colour people’s perceptions unalterably. The use and abuse of the grapevine or of other similar methods of shaping opinions inadvertently are obvious in their importance when one looks at the historical vitality of propaganda. The term in latin means simply “things to be propagated”, and came to be shortly after the the Thirty Years' War, with the foundation of the ‘Congregatio de Propaganda Fide’ (Congregation for Propagating the Faith), an effort by the Church to oversee the propagation of Christianity by missionaries. Its later use in wars has been a subject of much interest and as been most used most effectively by Woodrow Wilson’s Creel Commission, Joseph Goebells in Nazi Germany, the British Political Warfare Executive, or more recently by the Unites States. Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 exemplify the use of propaganda to shape public opinion.

While one would see the gossips on campus more as a source of entertainment than anything else, we analyse it in this light, simply to recognise better the effects it has in shaping opinions. Although the outcome is immaterial, most gossip, as with propaganda has some element of truth in it. The favourite topics are of course related to the current status of romantic relationships between students, or committee selections, or to the more pertinent discussions on the practical exodus of professors to other institutes and why and how something could be done about it.

In analysing the nature of each discussion, we were able to identify some common recurring patterns. One individual was keen to impress upon the others his foreknowledge of an incident or activity, subtly or overtly, usually initiated the conversation. The rest would jump into the bandwagon readily with their expert opinions. These opinions could be comical or very serious depending upon the nature of the discussion, the ethos of the speaker and the amount of subsidiary information the group had on the topic. In each case however, as the group involvement in the discussion escalated, the idea of confirming the authenticity of the information became either of secondary importance or irrelevant.

As an interesting exercise, we in the group experimented by gossiping about the members of the group in their presence. What more effective way, we surmised, than to have the source of the discussion a part of it. This did little in keeping the rumour mill flowing as most denied speculations on themselves, and the sessions inevitably ended in mutual leg pulling. All the same, it resulted in something we had not taken into account or hoped for. It turned out to be the most effective icebreakers. By gossiping about ourselves, we opened up to each other at a level we would not have had we continued to see ourselves as members of a shot-term task force. An emotional element is the basis for any successful relationship, professional or personal, and ultimately, the grapevine served the group in a way we had not anticipated.

Top 5 Propaganda Messages you almost believed
Alok India Shining, Objectivity, Free Will, Tomorrow, IIMs
Animesh Life after death, Y2K, Life on Mars, “Smoking is injurious to health”, “Early to bed and Early to rise makes a man health, wealthy and wise”
Anshul I’m not one who believes in grapevines
Gurpreet Ditto
Siddhartha Capitalism, religion, the afterlife, “white-water rafting is safe”, the MBA dream