Diana is dead. The sudden and gruesome death of a woman in her prime, especially the mother of adolescent children, is a sad event. With Princess Diana, it has the makings of a real tragedy. She was pushed into a public marriage with an unloving and eccentric man 14 years her senior. To make matters worse, her husband was infatuated—and adulterously involved—with another woman throughout the marriage. Condemned to an unsettled life of loneliness and emotional turmoil, Diana lacked the stamina of her sturdier predecessors (notably Alexandra, Princess of Wales and later Queen of England), or that inner strength which is woven from a strong moral and spiritual fiber.
It is not for us to judge Princess Diana’s private life—although in an earlier time, her adultery would have constituted treason—but in withholding comment on her flaws and her often very poor judgment, one does not have to condone the ongoing sanctification of Diana by the frenzied media pack. The hurried promotion of the “People’s Princess” to sainthood is tasteless, and the presence of all the usual suspects on the bandwagon—from Nelson Mandela to Michael Jackson to Bill Clinton— makes the banality of the spectacle wellnigh terminal.
We have seen it all before, of course, and a cynic would conclude that Diana is the least flawed member of a pantheon which includes Jack Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, and Elvis. But while all of the above managed to create a name for themselves in their chosen profession, Diana’s only real claim to fame was in her awful marriage. Her AIDS-related work and her anti-landmine crusade were fine and dandy, but we all knew the truth: it was only by becoming a princess that she became someone, and she became a princess by doing what she must have bitterly regretted doing. Without that fateful “yes” at Westminster Abbey 16 years ago, she would have remained a privileged nobody.
But instead, in the words of a British commentator, “like over-emotional teenagers who mourn the break-up of their favourite pop group, we are encouraged to suspend disbelief and join in the false community that weeps and hugs itself in the worship of an icon of victimhood.” Diana’s death will remain with us well into the new millennium: watch out for charity appeals, book revelations, film contracts, television retrospectives, and assorted conspiracy theories.
An eager mass market, driven by the hunger in the “global village” for an aristocracy, will gobble up the outpourings of this lucrative industry. That Diana’s image will feed the hungry is simply further proof—as if any more were necessary —that the modern world is utterly lacking in aristocratic virtue.
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