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Worshiping Diana


It’s been 10 years since Britain‘s Princess Diana died in a car crash with her boyfriend and their chauffeur in a Paris tunnel. A full decade, yet millions continue to worship her as something she never was.

 

Still the worshippers come to London from all over the world to lay flowers, placards, photos and other personal tributes at the gates of Kensington Palace. Still they lay flowers on the street outside a store window displaying photos and memorabilia at Harrods, the opulent department store owned by her boyfriend’s father.

 

Guided by plaques embedded along a seven-mile “Diana Memorial Walk” through four royal parks, they visit the palaces, mansion, fountains, and playgrounds associated with the princess.  And they hurry to the National Portrait Gallery to view even more likenesses of the princess.

 

The worship has intensified in this tenth summer since Diana’s death, as evidenced by the crowd of 70,000 that jammed Wembley Stadium on July 1 for a six-hour concert by some of her favorite musicians on what would have been her 46th birthday.

 

Although private, the official celebration of Diana’s birthday on Aug. 31 will be broadcast by the BBC, and it’s certain millions will be watching, if not the two billion who watched Diana’s funeral in 1997.

 

The worshiping is not all bad. That birthday concert and fund-raising efforts by Diana during her lifetime  raised money for worthy charities. Of course we should honor her for that and certainly should regret her death.

 

But so should we regret that, whatever Diana’s good deeds, her death brought out in many others some of the worst of human traits.

 

It’s said that Diana was vulnerable. She was – much less so, however, than her multitude of fawning admirers. They have been eager to assume the role of uncritical, wide-eyed celebrity worshippers assigned them by the mass media and treat Diana as a veritable saint.

 

It’s been a triumph of style over substance, a triumph of flash and glitter and wealth and empty-headedness, an incredible, unprecedented triumph of media hype and manipulation.

 

So what if Diana was one of Britain‘s wealthiest women, living on millions she inherited without so much as lifting a finger to earn them. So what if she demanded – and got – millions more from the British treasury as a divorce settlement when she and Prince Charles split.

 

So what if Diana spent much of the money on outrageously expensive designer clothes, beauty treatments and other self-enhancement. So what if she flitted from one playground of the obscenely rich to another, finally in the company of an obscenely rich playboy, leaving behind in boarding school the two sons she claimed to be her paramount concern.

 

That’s what glamour is all about, and that’s what Diana’s admirers want, much like the slack-jawed crowds that gather to gawk at the swells alighting from their limousines on opening night at the opera or symphony. Or the crowds that gather around Paris Hilton and other celebrated airheads.

 

Those claiming more serious interests say Diana’s life as the world’s most famous jet-setting clothes horse doesn’t matter. What counts is her fund-raising efforts for various charities and, most especially, her photo-ops with lesser folk.

 

Why, she was photographed, and in those costly clothes, her hair just so, actually touching dying AIDS patients, holding sick babies in her arms, speaking out against landmines that kill children.

 

It’s  not clear, however, how much her efforts actually accomplished, beyond winning Diana the public acclaim she so obviously craved and courted.

 

But as the response to her death has demonstrated to a distressing degree, it is clear that you can indeed fool most of the people most of the time. Or at least you can overwhelm them with the pressure of public opinion so prodigious they cannot or will not resist it.

 

Copyright (c) 2007 Dick Meister, a San Francisco-based writer. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com

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