Diana, Princess of Wales has recently been named on Time Europe magazine's issue 60 Years of Heroes. Personally I was quite surprised at her inclusion as I don't think she belongs anywhere on a list like this.
Don't get me wrong, I liked Diana. I collected all of the books and magazines and I grieved in my own way when she died. But to add her (along with Sophia Loren and The Beatles) to a list of heroes which include Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa, Margaret Thatcher, Bob Geldof, and Mother Teresa, is obviously going for the popular vote from people who would otherwise not read this list. Ah, names I recognize and can (somewhat) relate to! In Diana's case, if only for the fact that she was female, a mother, unhappily married who found her voice, coming out sadder and wiser in the end by bucking a system that holds the future for her children. But the comparisons to reality end there with a supposed reluctant celebrity who knew how to use her beauty to her advantage when it suited her. But honestly, in her position, would she have really been kept down for very long? What did she really and truly have to lose?
During her marriage she walked a line between fashion plate and trying to find a purpose. She took on the issue of AIDS, shaking the hand of a patient while gloveless. She went public with her eating disorder. Toured slums, touched lepers, took children into her arms and knelt by the wheelchairs of the elderly. All while dressed in designer clothes. Once freed from the binds of her royal marriage, Diana found a new sense of purpose when she took on the anti-landmines campaign, becoming almost a global, humanitarian ambassador; a role no one had conferred upon her. She did not invent anything in her lifetime, did not earn the Nobel Peace Prize, did not climb over any fences, and was not imprisoned. Had she not been beautiful, or died tragically, it's questionable how much we would really remember or revere her today.
For royalty to make a difference, boost morale and bring attention to important issues is not a new concept. Early in her reign, the Queen toured leper colonies too and just look at Princess Anne with her work with Save the Children. Unlike Diana, neither of them are young and beautiful, so we don't look.
Are we just under the spell of hero worship? No more so than when we elevate a celebrity for doing nothing more than donating to charity, giving face time on a telethon or adopting a child?
Maybe my definition of what makes a hero is different, because in this case I tend to think we are.
© Marilyn Braun 2006
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