Our fascination with Diana just doesn’t go away

It’s the sixteenth anniversary of Princess Diana’s death in in Paris this week.

It was first reported in New Zealand, mid-afternoon on that August day in 1997, as ‘breaking news’ that she had been injured in a motor accident. In our household we were cynical about media beat-ups of Diana’’s adventures – a woman being presented not as some-time part of a key British governmental institution with a thousand year history, but as celebrity gossip magazine fodder, with all that this implied for manufactured drama.

‘Pah,’ I snorted to She Who Must Be Obeyed. ‘Probably chipped a pinkie nail.’

We were due to have dinner with my wife’s parents that evening. By the time we got there, the news was out.  Since then I’ve been through the Pont de l’Alma tunnel where Diana’s car crashed. There is a small sculpted flame on a plinth at the eastern end, in memorium.

A photo I took from the top of the Arc de Triomphe - Hausmann's wide boulevards with their clear lines of fire for cannon very evident.

OK, not the tunnel. I didn’t take a photo of the tunnel. This is one I took from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, on film, using 200 ASA Fuji Superiacolor stock. Hausmann’s wide boulevards feature, designed to give clear lines of fire against mobs.

What intrigues me about the whole tragic affair is that it hasn’t gone away. The outpouring of grief during those late August days of 1997 was unprecedented. Ironically, I suspect Diana had captured the hearts and minds of people partly because the media circus that pursued her, even as she lay dying in the wreck, had also brought her into every household.

That did not reduce the disgraceful voyeurism. A circus motivated not by the values I learned journalists should have – fair investigation, getting the stories that are important for society – but by baser need; personal profit leeched off the fortunes and misfortunes of others, fuelled by the fascination society has been conditioned to have with celebrity.

The meda fascination about Diana hasn’t gone away – expressed, still, in relentless talk of conspiracies, of plots, of secrets known only through whispered stories published in gossip magazines. Naturally. Celebrities can’t die in mundane and banal ways, can they, or by the same sorts of accidents that affect the real world – though we can be fairly sure that is exactly what happened.

The media money circus grinds on. It’s grubby. It’s demeaning. And it’s probably not going to stop for a while.

What are your thoughts? And what were you doing when you heard the news  of Diana’s death?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013 

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16 comments on “Our fascination with Diana just doesn’t go away

  1. jjspina says:

    Yes, I agree even in the USA we are obsessed with her and used to be. She was beautiful and natural and a peasant in terms of royalty. She was very unhappy or so we are told by the media and wanted to find real love. Whether she found it with her new Arab prince or not, we will never know. Was she killed by someone to prevent her from bringing shame on the Queen by marrying this man? Was there a conspiracy against her? I still remember clearly hearing the news on TV that day and how I cried for Diana. It was so tragic to erase someone so full of life and potential. She did a lot of good for so many peoples around the world traveling and spreading good will. She has left an emptiness that can never be filled, so sad.

    • It’s always intrigued me how the US upholds British royalty – possibly because of not having a royal family? I suspect in the wider light of history Diana will be seen as one of the people who materially helped modernise that institution, which did need it in the 1990s – they were stuck in a time-warp of 1920s values which, itself, was product of a deliberate reinvention during the First World War. They kind of had to.. their surname was Saxe-Coburg Gotha and they were only one generation on from Victoria, a half-German who married a German and whose daughter had been the Queen of Germany. But that reinvention was of its time, and it had a use-by date.

    • Gabrielle Rothwell says:

      Who cares?Quite honestly I’m sick to death of this, just as I was sick of all the hooha of the Diana story. I’m not interested in wasting time talking about it even. I have a book to edit and get to the publishers and I’m surprised that you have even blogged about this.

  2. The American obsession (I can’t speak for the rest of the world) with celebrities has reached a pathological state. It is a sign of the emptiness in lives when they thrive on the slightest celebrity gossip—no matter if how fictional. If people would put half that energy into projects that help others (in any way), they would be happy and fulfilled beyond compare. And they’d be wondering what all the fuss is about celebrities in the first place. It’s $.02 Tuesday, and that’s mine. ;-)

  3. Gabrielle Rothwell says:

    Quite honestly I’m sick to death of this, just as I was sick of all the hooha of the Diana story. I’m not interested in wasting time talking about it even. I have a book to edit and get to the publishers and I’m surprised that you have even blogged about this.

  4. I feel for her sons. Every time there is another ‘resurrection’ of the horrific accident, it must bring it all fresh to mind. My husband and I have been through the loss of a son. It is not something you can get over, but time dulls the pain. Fortunately we don’t have reporters ‘shoving’ reminders before our faces with monotonous regularity.
    Let her rest in peace, and stop stirring up hurt for those who were close to her.

    • I agree. I got spurred to write this post by yet another absurd media beat-up relating to supposed conspiracies. Diana displaced the Marilyn stories (which had endured) and I think was really only replaced as relatively regular tabloid ‘royal’ fodder recently by the marriage of William and Kate. I really have problems with the ethics of the way the tabloid media perform, especially here where Diana had close family who will, indeed, be reminded by the ongoing speculation – all of it for no better purpose than to sell copies of trashy tabloids.

      You are absolutely right, it must be have been so hard on the two princes; they’d lost their mum, and they were kids. I remember seeing, on the TV broadcast, a card Harry put on the coffin, addressed simply ‘Mummy’. Utterly poignant. I have to say how impressed I’ve been at the way both of them present on TV as grown-ups – decent, realistic, normal adults, utterly professional, who can take a modernised monarchy forwards. A good deal of that normality, I think, is to do with the way DIana nurtured them.

      I am so sorry to hear of your own loss; A hurt that can never be mended; but time can indeed be a friend in such matters.

  5. Deceased celebrities are safe. They can never let you down because the lives they live after death are manufactured in the media. Too, the lives they lived before death become more than their lives, but a swelling mix of reality and myth until the tabloid reader doesn’t know the difference.

    • Indeed – not only safe, but forever as they were…apart from the tabloid reinvention. Like Marilyn Monroe, Diana will never get old. I did see a ridiculous tabloid effort a couple of years back to doctor a photo to make her look as she might have at 50, which I think thoroughly underscores your point about the media creating mythologies.

  6. KokkieH says:

    I was in the tenth grade when it happened. Needless to say, the only influence the incident had was to provide us with new fodder for tasteless jokes. Nowadays? If you hadn’t mentioned that it’s the anniversary of her death I wouldn’t have known and I just don’t get that people who didn’t even know her personally takes her death so personally. That goes for all celebrities, by the way. And if I look at how some celebrities behave nowadays (you know who I’m talking about), I don’t see why anyone would want to worship them.

    • I’d forgotten too, but it got resurrected here in a media burst about the ‘conspiracy’ theory. It was amazing how much of a chord her death struck at the time – something, I think, more to do with the nature of society than with Diana herself. I think that sort of mass emotional response happens from time to time, usually focussed around some event or moment. It doesn’t have to be about grief.

      • Erin Willet says:

        I think it’s terrible the media hasn’t just let her rest in peace. How can you expect her children or family to move on and get closure when the media is still dredging up conspiracy theories and speculating.

  7. Lemuel says:

    Despite assertions that we’ve progressed from the need of a monarchy it seems to me that society still seems to have the same need for role models, the same need for people on pedestals to give us cues on what our priorities should be, how we should dress, how we should behave and how we should react to our changing world.

    It seems that to continue to hold any semblance of the importance that the Royal family had held for so many centuries they were forced to adapt to this new world – and become part of the cult of celebrity that now competes with it. The death of Princess Di seems to me to mark a critical moment in that transition, or at least mark the point when we first truly reflected on it collectively.

    It was probably the first “where were you when XXX happened” moment that I can remember clearly. At the time I just thought it sad that a boy of similar age to myself had lost his mother in such a tragic incident, but in retrospect I now also see it as the moment when a mirror was held up to society. Her death was due to the hounding of the paparazzi, who were being paid by media moguls, who were giving society exactly what it wanted.

    • I agree. I think the reduction to tabloid fodder has also popularly obscured the fact that the monarchy is an integral part of the government system – and not just in Britain. I sometimes wonder whether the fact that this survived the general demolition of the crowned heads of Europe in 1918 was due to the way the British monarchy had reinvented themselves at the time.

  8. I awoke to the news on the radio on the morning of her death. I was at university at the time, doing my Master degree and I remember just peeking over my duvet cover as I just blinked in disbelief at the radio.

    I don’t mind admitting that I was upset that such a beautiful young woman who was on the verge of finding true personal happiness for the first time was dead. She wanted to be the country’s ‘Queen of Hearts’ and she certainly was mine. To all those ‘who cares’ and ‘stop talking about her’ people, I say, do that if you want, but for those of us who take a (brief) moment every few years to honour the memory of this extraordinary, kind and beautiful woman, we can and have the right to do that. A brief moment to remember and keep close the lesson that the media and society should allow famous people to have some privacy.

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