Day: July 11, 2011

Dying for the era of Diana

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To the memory of Lady Diana Spencer who would be 50 on 1st of July

The obsession with celebrity that led to her death also defined the era she lived in

SHE DIED FOR A BLURRY PICTURE, a pointless snap from a speeding motorcycle that might have appeared on an inside spread of Hello! or Paris Match or some other glossy of no consequence.

It is unfair to the real Diana Spencer, by all accounts a nice person who used her fame well, that her death so symbolizes the emptiness of celebrity worship, the false faith of the end of the 20th century. Dodging tabloid photographers, she was doing her bit not just to preserve some privacy but to hold back forces that she helped unleash-forces of media intrusion that will now be subjected to an unprecedented backlash. In a twisted way, she died in the line of duty, not to country but to the age she came to represent. Historians are likely to judge that Diana’s reign she did owed its brilliance to the tranquility of the times. With no global wars or cataclysm no Hitler or Churchill to dominate the public realm, we could turn our full attention to diversion of gossip and fantasy. We now routinely view image and spectacle as large with meaning with old-fashioned substance suddenly the boring trifle. The irony is that with the end of her short life. Di may well achieve a political goal more substantial than of all but a few politicians. The shock of her death is being likened to the Kennedy assassination in 1963. Clearly the analogy seems overdrawn their forever young influences on popular culture notwithstanding. Diana wasn’t president and her death leaves no creative vacuum like that on Elvis Presley or John Lennon. But just as Kennedy memorial was the civil rights act Diana s could be ratification of a treaty banning land mines, not just in Britain but in the USA where skeptical senators may now have to contend with a new public groundswell. This could yet yield for her reputation as a first-rank humanitarian as well as immortal icon of style. If Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand ships, Lady Di launched at least a thousand of covers, and hundreds of millions of newspaper and magazine sales. In the 16 years since her marriage she became not only the most famous woman in the world but the only personality who consistently sold big in the global marketplace. While paparazzis are not a new phenomenon Di as prey took the game to a new level. Instead of 3 or 4 photographers trailing a celebrity it could in her case be 30 or 40, each hoping for that six-figure shot. This created a strange and perhaps emblematic protocol of coverage: the president of France can stroll down the Champs-Elysées undisturbed: a divorced ex-royal couldn’t leave a restaurant without a high speed chase. Di came to understand that the tabloids were simultaneously the bane of her existence and the source of her strength. In the recent years she not only developed working relationships with tabloid editors but learned to exploit publicity for her cause, be it skewering Charles or raising money for charity. One reason for her popularity was that the public essentially shared her spurgle-and purgle attitude toward celebrity news. Readers buy it and bemoan it without fully confronting the contradictions. They want to inspect the clay feet of their heros-then cry for the head of the sculptor. Will this global hypocrisy market still work as it always has? In the short run, only a foolish publication would pay for gory pictures of the accident. To do so would risk a boycott. The more difficult question is whether Diana s death might change the tabloid culture permanently. In recent years with global news proliferating photographers have gone from being a minor annoyance that came with the territory of fame to being a major source of anxiety for public figures. As their private loathing of the press boils over publicly, it will likely find a ready audience among millions already fed up with the news media-any new medium. The distinction between tabloids and so-called respectable news org will be difficult to uphold in the recriminations that lie ahead, and for good reason. If there had been no accident and the motorcycle paparazzi in the Paris tunnel had obtained a good shoot of Di and Dodi kissing, most of the world s newspapers would have checked over the price paid for first rights to the shot-then published it themselves.

Ultimately nothing much can change because media coverage is the oxygen of modern public life. Watch as celebrityhood is transmogrified into secular sainthood, courtesy of a publicity machine that will turn even its own remorse into just another story. Perhaps that’s appropriate, for it is the mighty communications culture that made Diana and shapes the world she left. The princess will never be queen, but maybe the titles don’t mean much. The England in which she lived will never be remembered as Elizabethan. It will be The Di Era.

 So sad she had to die for it.

after by J. Altar