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.
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