Thursday, June 30, 2011

Princess Diana at 50

You have to hand it to Tina Brown. She knows how to create Buzz.

When it comes to Buzz you can’t do much better than to bring Princess Diana back from the dead.

And now, for your next trick...

Brown is an accomplished, experienced magazine editor. She has not always succeeded, but she is giving her new stint at Newsweek her all. This week that includes a mix of hagiography and idolatry about the dear, departed Diana, Princess of Wales.

I don’t have the statistics at hand, but I recall that during her lifetime Princess Diana sold more magazines than anyone else. Her picture on the cover of a glossy would cause sales to jump. For the magazine trade Diana was gold.

If you have given up trying to compete with the Economist, and if you are trying to make your magazine relevant in a celebrity-strewn, gossipy way, why not put Diana back on the cover, and why not pair her with Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, the woman would now, if you had lived, been your daughter-in-law?  

It’s a nice counterfactual, albeit one that ignores the possibility that if Diana had lived, then perhaps her elder son would not have been drawn to Kate Middleton.

With counterfactuals, you never know.

Pictures are one thing. As Tina Brown knows well, because she is an excellent prose stylist, magazines must also include words. For that reason, she has chosen to some  strange musings about what Diana’s life would be today if she had lived to live it.

For my part I do not begrudge Brown the effort. Unfortunately, her text is mildly embarrassing. To her, I mean.

Brown sees Diana as victorious, a rousing success, a creature full of brains, beauty, and good works. Her Diana would have triumphed over marital adversity and come out of the turmoil of her Windsor phase, stronger, wiser, more desirable, and more prominent.

Brown’s Diana would be living in New York and would a cross between  Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Michelle Obama.

I will not belabor Brown’s points, but, upon reading it, the phrase that comes to mind is: “too good to be true.”

Not only is it too good to be true, it is also too good to be possible.

If you ignore everything you know about Diana and feel that poetic license allows you to make up what you please, then perhaps Brown’s counterfactual portrait rings true. Otherwise it rings hollow.

For all any of us knows, Diana might have grown up to resemble Sarah Ferguson. Certainly, she had far more in common with Fergie than she did with Jackie Onassis. Where Jackie Onassis was the soul of discretion, Diana was the soul of indiscretion.

So let’s do our own thought experiment and imagine that Diana had not been martyred under the Pont d’Alma on that September evening.

If she had not died, well then, she would have been remembered not only for her good works, but for her unexampled vulgarity, her passionate embrace of her own celebrity, her extreme indiscretion, and her unremitting hatred for her former husband.

It is fair to say that the Princess of Wales had become a therapy junkie, a bitter and vindictive woman whose goal in life was to destroy her ex-husband.

Had Diana not died as she did, the world might eventually have tired of Diana’s antics. Hers was celebrity with a purpose. She manipulated the press and the paparazzi into order to diminish and defeat the father of her children.

Tina Brown imagines that Diana, had she lived, would have reconciled with Prince Charles. To imagine that you have to believe that Diana could have overcome her visceral fear of abandonment and could have forgiven Camilla Parker-Bowles. You would also have to imagine that Prince Charles would have forgiven a woman who made him an international laughing-stock.

You may not recall-- you probably don’t-- but in the week preceding her death Diana put on quite a show with Dodi el-Fayad on his father’s yacht in the Mediterranean. The happy couple was prancing around for the paparazzi-- baiting them, you might say; enriching them, you might also say-- by showing off their newfound passion in full public view. How better to embarrass Prince Charles.

Diana’s fame lay in her celebrity, in her talent for self-exposure. Doesn’t it make sense to think that if a celebrity does not feed the media beast, it will eventually move on?

Brown does not consider the possibility, but I suspect that the public would have tired of Princess Diana. Her public persona hid a woman who was limitlessly vindictive.

Were she alive today, Diana might still be able to attract attention. She might well be on her third billionaire husband. She might still be able to raise money for worthy causes. She might even have joined the Clinton Global Initiative. Then again, she might not have.

Some, like Tina Brown, seem to see Diana’s funeral and the attendant public delirium as the prelude to eventual beatification.

For my part I suspect that the British public, after a week of unseemly caterwauling about the dearly departed Princess Diana, came to its senses and felt ashamed for having indulged such an intemperate exercise.

And hasn’t anyone else noticed that one of the reasons why the world loves Kate Middleton is that she is the anti-Diana, she is nothing like Diana?

Tina Brown might see Diana cozying up to the Middletons, but it is just as possible that an aging Diana, fearful of losing the spotlight, would have tried to put an end to her son’s relationship. And what makes you think that the Middleton's, concerned as they are about their own social standing, would have happily hung out with the disgraced princess. Given her insecurities Diana might well have insisted that her son marry a younger version of herself. When it came to Diana, it was all about Diana.

1 comment:

Dennis said...

Well put. I am still amazed at the number of people who are fascinated with royalty. There must exist in a significant number of people the desire to be ruled and told what to do.
It is even more disgusting when it comes from a supposedly free press who seem to be jockeying for a place on the royal court. What else is this fascination with Diane and things like Camelot?
It is as bad as watching the Left create a "Messiah" out of a very, very, very flawed man like Obama. It makes one wonder if there is not a connection between those who need royalty and those who need big governments to control their lives. Are they so ashamed of who they are and so insecure in their own person that they need to be lead?