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A Media Disease Provoked by the Anniversary of a Princess's Death
By Bruce Crumley

PARIS, 31 August 1998 - As I write here towards the close of August 1998, the world is witnessing one of the most grotesque and necrophilic profit-motivated undertakings since still-born two-headed babies were dunked into formaldehyde-filled jars and featured in carnival freak shows. I am, of course, referring to the media blitz surrounding the one year anniversary of the death of Diana - a woman whose legal family name no one quite seems to know (Spencer? Windsor? - née Spencer - married Windsor - demoted to Spencer?), and whose title I refuse to acknowledge. Still, you know who I'm talking about.

By way of indignation-pacifying disclaimer, I'll note that I had no ill-will towards this woman as a person when she lived; most certainly did not wish her death; nor rejoiced in the sorrow and loss her passing caused her family and friends. I do find, however, the gushing expression of loss voiced by masses of people who never met or knew this woman to be cheap emotional thrill-seeking-cum-vicarious living at best, and a wholly psychotic personal association with an utter stranger at worst.

Nor do I find the initial reason for Diana's fame to be either credible or legitimate. The notion of royalty has to be one of the most rodent-gnawed social and historical relics of our time, advancing as it does a clearly fallacious notion that destiny and lineage leave some of us anointed, lofty, and noble, and the rest of us merely genetic and intellectual panty waste. The deference paid to people whose superior station in life is presumably explained by their fate-determined intelligence and good taste in having chosen to emerge into the world from a "royal" vagina rather than a "common" one seems to be in this day and age not only anti-democratic, but indeed anti-human.

Be that as it may, however, my rub with the Diana phenomenon and the current feeding frenzy of timely remembrance lies neither with the woman, nor even her tie to fame. I am sickened instead by the cynical and avaricious global media no longer content to merely "dumb-down" to perceived reader intelligence, but which has actually dumbed itself all the way down to the below sea-level altitude of its own bottom line. To be sure, the media have always been a profit-focused business - like any other - but at least one that needed to respect a certain concern for subject and editorial content to remain credible. No more: the traditional media now show all the good taste and scruples of the greediest ambulance-chasing lawyer or the most ruthless slice-and-bill cosmetic surgeon. Indeed, what we have in visual terms with the current news media re-heating of Diana is an entire informational industry masticating large hunks of flesh from this woman's cadaver, and then looking over its shoulder in anticipation for the geyser of cash it expects to come shooting out of its ass. If Diana was exploited by the media while alive, she's now being gang-raped in death.

Until not so long ago, the litmus test for most mainstream media outlets on whether to do a story was "is it news?", or "is it important to public interest?" To answer that question in the current One-Year-After circus, I'd pose the question at hand in rhetorical terms: "What has this woman done in the year since her regrettable death that constitutes news or activity meriting updating for the public interest?" Nothing, of course - she's been busy being dead. The media, however, do not see it that way, and are now furiously churning out the Diana coverage it had to put on hold in order to continue chasing down idiotic details about a Wienergate scandal none of us cares about. Retardatia has become high fashion, and reports of "the dress" and the constitutionality of executive fellatio now segue smoothly into cover stories on a woman who is no more. News is no longer news; it's factually-assisted entertainment.

This hype I am decrying differs enormously, of course, from some of the other Diana tie-ins that have found themselves hyped, or have caused hype of their own. Although I'd not be caught dead listening to it, I'd also never dare reproach Elton John's tribute to Diana - it being what clearly seems a heartfelt musical farewell from an actual friend, whose proceeds go to the departed's charitable works. This is not what the media is after, however, and what it is after is not what its vocational mission is about. Civil war rages in ex-Zaire, Serbian fascism has been unleashed in Kosovo, Iraq continues to placidly develop weapons of mass destruction, a once-miraculous peace process has been trampled to near-death by Likud boots in Israel, and horrific famine is wiping out thousands of Sudanese who weren't fortunate enough to end it all by getting in the way of US missiles.

These are all veritable news stories, but ones that only get erratic and ashen-faced attention at best. One can only hope that a visit to starving Sudanese or refugee Kosovars would have been the kind of thing Diana might have undertaken to draw attention to these horrendous and largely neglected situations if she were still alive. She's not, of course, meaning that the best tribute both the media and her mourning fans could give would be to leave her in peace, and turn their attention and energy to the kinds of events she might have considered worthy of note.

Bruce Crumley is a journalist with TIME magazine. He last wrote on the Spice Girls for

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