August 28, 2007


The Dianafication of Modern Life (Theodore Dalrymple, August 24th, 2007, Britannica Blog)

The legacy of public figures is not necessarily what they want it to be, but it is nevertheless the outcome of their lives. Her death was a great godsend to the British Prime Minister of the time, Anthony Blair, who coined, or at least first used in public a phrase, the ‘People’s Princess,’ that perfectly captured his own domestic political programme (whether he knew at the time what it was or not): namely, demagogic populism combined with pork-barrel elitism. He needed an Eva Peron, and Diana fitted the bill perfectly, even being obliging enough to die before age destroyed her icy and self-conscious coquettishness and her good looks. A Diana with wrinkles or a thickening waist would have been of no public interest whatever.

In the orgy of demonstrative pseudo-grief that followed her death, Mr Blair said that the people had found a new way of being British. Indeed so: they had become emotionally incontinent and inclined to blubber in public when not being menacingly discourteous. They had come to believe that holding nothing back was the way to mental health, and their deepest emotional expression was the teddy bear that they were increasingly liable to leave at the site of a fatal accident or at the tomb of someone who had died in early adulthood.

The death of the Princess could not by itself have been a cause of the shallowness and vacuity of modern life in Britain; the scenes that followed it were only a symptom of such shallowness and vacuity. But they encouraged further such scenes, as when, for example, a chronically alcoholic Northern Irish footballer, George Best, died of liver disease. (At least he was the originator of one bon mot: ‘I spent most of my money on women and drink,’ he said. ‘I wasted the rest.’) But in general, our heroes and heroines now are all as banal as the rest of us.

We worship ourselves in our celebrities.

This is the Dianafication of modern life.

Perhaps more the democratization of British life? The reaction was hardly more labile and vacuous than our own to the sudden deaths of Lincoln and JFK some years or even a century before.

N.B.: The Britannica Blog is well worth checking out, with original essays by real authors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 28, 2007 9:11 AM

At least, though, Lincoln and JFk did something, they were elected presidents, the former a particularly distinguished one. Dianna was stupid as a bag of rocks, and looked like a man, baby. Julia Roberts looks positively feminine next to her.

Best too was accomplished, given his great football skills.

Dalrymple also misses the other great Bestie quote:

"He (Beckham) cannot kick with his left foot, he cannot head a ball, he cannot tackle and he doesn't score many goals. Apart from that he's all right."

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at August 28, 2007 9:45 AM

JFK was like Diana in that he too "was stupid as a bag of rocks."

Posted by: erp at August 28, 2007 11:13 AM

Diana did more good and less harm than JFK.

Posted by: oj at August 28, 2007 12:19 PM

Speaking of JFK, has anyone watched the TNT miniseries The Company on the CIA? JFK comes off really bad for refusing air support as the Cuban invasion force was being destroyed on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs -- so does Ike for that matter in the show's account of Hungary 56.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at August 28, 2007 1:21 PM

Bad as it was in Hungary, Eisenhower didn't promise anything, but Kennedy did and then reneged ... and yes he did a lot more damage than Diana. The worse thing he did was getting himself killed. Had he lived, he wouldn't have been re-elected and neither would Johnson. The whole 60's - 70's fiasco would have sputtered out and a lot of Southeast Asians wouldn't have died.

Posted by: erp at August 28, 2007 4:37 PM