Friday, August 31, 2007

Diana's Dead

TOWM's quote of the day comes from Reason Online - a a piece by Michael Young on the anniversary of Princess Diana's death:


So why will many people turn embarrassingly lachrymose this August 31, unloading bushels of clich├ęs explaining why we're memorializing a one-dimensional socialite with so little to be memorialized for?


That is a damn fine question. All the boo-hooing over Diana makes me hate the general public almost as much as Jesus bumper stickers and blue laws. Honestly, what the hell?

I put that very question to my girlfriend at the time it happened, actually - since she was one of these Diana "supporters" (no small contribution to the total lack of respect I eventually felt for her that led to the breakup). The answer I got was inane to an almost unbelievable degree. "Because she was a nice person done wrong by bad people, and everyone feels sympathy when nice people get taken advantage of."

Oh, Christ, where to even begin?

First of all, I doubt very seriously that Diana was a particularly "nice" person. From what I gather from the inevitable little bits of info that worm their way in despite all my best efforts to ignore the story, "nutcase" might have been a better term for her. But the point is surely that no US citizen who's spent one or two summers in Britain is plausibly qualified to determine whether or not Diana was a "nice person." We have enough trouble deciding whether our own acquaintences are "nice" people, so let's please please please reserve judgement when it comes to those we've never met and the details of whose lives are known to be distored through a lense of media wishful thinking anyway.

Second of all, and much more importantly, no matter how "nice" Diana may or may not have been, she surely doesn't deserve sympathy on the grounds people are giving it to her. So her husband cheated on her and was mean to her. It's as if no one has ever heard of this happening before! If you really want to feel sorry for someone for having made a bad marriage choice, sit on your front porch once in awhile, eh? It won't take long to find a candidate object-of-sympathy. But what's especially perverse is the sheer number of people laboring under the willful delusion that Diana's marriage counts as a marriage like any other. It doesn't. She married into royalty, for cryin' out loud! That's a JOB, people - it's not a lifestyle choice. When you become the wife of a future king, you are not accepting a role as a loving wife and mother, though of course it's nice if that happens too. What you are accepting is a role as a public figure. It is your job to put on a good face for the nation. If you are unwilling to do that, then you're not qualified for your position, and your husband would be right to divorce you. A little bit of cheating is so completely par for the course in royal marriages that you really have to wonder what fairy stories people have been reading instead of history books to come to the conclusion that Diana really even had it bad at all.

But I guess the main point is just that modern people shouldn't be interested in the lives of royals in the first place. It's ironic, really, that anyone is. Monarchy made a certain kind of sense at a particular point in history. People would do well to remember that back when it did make sense, common people weren't really allowed to snoop in on the lives of royals at all. Indeed, it would have been a capital offense in most places to even suggest the kinds of things that so many people seem to feel qualified to say openly about Charles et al today. Fascination with the lives of royals is only possible because they are no longer royals in any real sense of the word. So - move along, people, nothing left here to see. Now, I don't want to imply that there aren't plausible arguments for Constitutional Monarchy in its modern version because there are. I don't personally happen to agree with most of them, but I have heard intelligent people argue convincingly that a state needs a detached watchdog, a preserving force rooted in national tradition that checks the excesses of legislative whim. A monarch can serve this role much the way the Supreme Court does (or, rather, is supposed to) in the United States. Fine, as far as that goes. But even on this argument, a royal is a public official and nothing more. What goes on in their bedrooms should hardly be relevant to anything.

But of course my ex-girlfriend's explanation is just an excuse - a convenient cover for what I suspect is the real reason so many people - most of them women and gay men - feel so much "sympathy" for Diana. What's really going on is that the whole Diana story appeals to little girl fantasies that the people doing the crying have never bothered to grow out of. Some rich man is supposed to come out of nowhere, give them everything they ever wanted, which includes making them the object of envy for other women everywhere. Clearly, this hasn't happened for any of them. But to them, that is an imperfection in the world - and not in themselves. It's an abuse of term to call something an "ideal" that has no moral value (indeed, is IMmoral - because it holds up the unearned as a standard) - but Diana's story is just proof to them that the world doesn't live up to their "ideals." And that is comforting in the same sense that any self-righteous worldview is comforting.

The world is apparently supposed to work something like this. There is a certain class of people who are virtuous and desireable, objects of admiration by sheer virtue of having been born. And then there's this other class of people who are so enamored of the first class of people that they go out and build things and create wealth, etc. And it is "right" that they should build things and create wealth just to please the member of the first class of people. And of course if you hold this worldview then you are a member of the first class of people, whose job it is simply to exist, and not the second class of people - you know, the ones who do the work.

Now this is a basic human fantasy. We all dream of having it easy, and of being born so god-almighty special that people just do things for us just 'cause. And I guess the difference between a Diana-sympathizer and a normal human being is that the Diana sympathizer never grew up and gave up on the fantasy, while the rest of us eventually came to terms with the fact that we have to earn our keep.

Alright - well, some will be wondering why people like Paris Hilton are so universally despised, then. Why is Diana a heroine while people jab and cheer when this other "never-worked-a-day-in-my-life" heiress gets slapped down with jail time for a minor offense? It's pretty simple, I think: because Paris Hilton has never apologized for her easy life. She flaunts it, in fact. Everything about her rubs it in your face that she's born rich and you're not, you work and she doesn't, she can fuck whoever she wants and get away with it and you can't, etc. And frankly, this is why I like Paris Hilton a LOT better than Diana. At least she has the virtue of not being a hypocrite. Her "job," to the extent that she has one, is to fill up the celebrity gossip columns, and that's what she does. She doesn't soothe people's insecurities by pretending to be some kind of misused saint. It's really hard to have sympathy for someone, like Diana, who knows that life is unfair, and who further knows that she has benefitted from this and feels guilty about it, but isn't inclined to actually try to address the cause of her guilt by making life more fair, so instead she tries her best to win the public's favor by building an image as a charity worker so that she doesn't have to feel guilty (because if the little people don't mind...). It's a lot easier when it's someone like Paris Hilton who just doesn't feel guilty in the first place - or, if she does, is at least honest enough to admit that she's not going to give up her comfortable life, and so she makes the best of the actual situation. I'd much rather, in other words, get an honest "fuck off" than a hypocritical plea for friendship.

So Diana's in the ground, and I couldn't care one way or the other. I never met her - so there's really nothing for me to differentiate her from all the other rotting corpses on the planet. She means about as much to me - no offense - as your dead grandfather (though of course I'm upset about mine).

I will say this for the world: today the crowd only numbered in the hundreds. We're at least spared the scores of streets lined with cheering adherents to the "I'm special and noone else is" philosophy this time around. I would like to think that's because the world has grown up a bit since 1997 - and I'm optimistic enough to believe it actually has.

5 Comments:

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Jon said...

She waved at me in a parade once when I was little.

(Pause to sigh.)

But otherwise, I dunno. Seemed like a nice enough person, and out of place in the royal family... but I agree she wasn't doing any more than a lot of rich people do with their free time to feel better about themselves.

 
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