Friday, February 23, 2007

The Diana Phenomenon

She married a prince and was supposed to live happily ever after. She was beautiful and misunderstood. People related to her. When she died there was an unprecedented outpouring of grief.


10 years after her death Diana still makes news. One could say it's a phenomenon. It's fashionable to say one doesn't understand it. To admit you've been sucked in gives others the chance to take the high ground to your naivete and delusions. Trying to explain her appeal can be compared to explaining the enduring fascination of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean or even Elvis Presley. Regardless of whether you were a fan, it's inexplicable. It's possible that it will always be so. No matter how many tell-all books are written or tv specials made, we will never have the definitive answer. We don't want to. What would we talk about then? Because she's no longer alive, what else do we have?

True, Diana may not have been perfect. She wasn't the most beautiful woman in the world and she was no saint. Nor should we have ever claimed that she was. To insist on that takes her appeal to the extreme. In my opinion, we elevate Diana, like movie stars and musicians, to a level that we could never possibly obtain in our lifetime. We need to see someone reach that level so that we can envy them and then have the satisfaction of tearing them down. Like the firing squad member with the blank cartridge in their gun, it's human nature and in our case, because we didn't know her, we haven't hurt anyone directly. Yet, we will still buy the newspapers so that we can read how someone else did the job for us.

Some might ask, does Diana has some deep and significant cultural resonance? It's arguable. But in my opinion, she did. Maybe not deep but she continues to resonate because people related to her. To the point where, when she died, people felt they had lost a member of their family. They grieved publicly, in a way that might not otherwise have been appropriate were it their own kin. An estimated 2.5 billion people watched her funeral. Countless bouquets of flowers and poems were left at Kensington Palace. Today, for a fee, we can visit her grave at her ancestral home. It's as close as some of us will ever get to her.

During the week leading up to the funeral, it was impossible to avoid hearing about her. From the day she died there was blanket coverage. The only way to escape was to turn off the tv, radio and hide in your home. Still, had you tried to carry on as normal, there were people talking about it. Headlines of 'Diana Dead', couldn't help but grab your attention. The press at the time ignored her human qualities. People didn't want to hear about that at the time; it would have canceled out the fact that people were indeed grieving for her. Whether genuine or simply a domino effect of the media coverage, it's hard to define why people responded the way they did. Some might be embarassed by their reaction and deny it. Today we still don't understand it.

The Diana phenomenon has taken on a life of its own, to the point where it doesn't seem to have anything to do with her, as a person, any longer. And why should it? For people who buy the books, visit her grave, and idolize her, the reality of her life is irrelevant. People may judge such fans ill-informed, but ultimately, does it really do anyone any harm?

I don't think so. But then maybe I'm one of the ill-informed.

© Marilyn Braun 2007

This article was inspired by a post on the World of Royalty message board.

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