As an almost-25-year-old, society’s obsession with Diana, Princess of Wales has been omnipresent in my life since birth. Honestly, I don’t even question why people still focus on the late royal’s life, romantic troubles, and macabre death with fanatical detail, almost 20 years to the day since her fatal Paris car crash. That’s why I didn’t expect many revelations from ABC’s latest special, The Story Of Diana, which painstakingly inspects Diana’s life with the help of interviews with historians, biographers, friends, and even her own brother, Charles Spencer. Yet, Diana surprised me by incidentally raising a major question about the celebrities of today as it showed shutterbugs hunting the mother of two down: Would the rabid paparazzi culture surrounding the likes of the Kardashian-Jenners, Taylor Swift, and friends exist without the original media frenzy around Princess Di? The answer is, probably no.
The similarities began to manifest as Story of Diana delved into British tabloids’ increasing obsession with the royal during the 1990s. While publication The Sun had been sharing photos of naked ladies since the 1970s, they looked at a woman like Diana with the same leering sensibilities, no matter what she wore.
“Diana was equally reduced to her looks, her figure [as the Page 3 Girls],” media historian David Folkenflik says. “Could they get her in a bathing suit? If they saw the royal bum, would that go on pages?” As he explains this, headlines like “You’re Looking Rear-ly Terrific” and “Diana: Where Did The Curves Go” flash across the screen. All of this is eerily familiar to the news stories today about 2017’s leading celebrities. Currently, a top story on DailyMail.com about Kylie Jenner screeches, “Dangerous curves ahead!” Earlier this summer, Life & Style magazine wrote of Jenner’s big sister Kim Kardashian, “Kim Kardashian Is Losing Her Signature Curves, and the World Is in Mourning.” Like Diana, these sexist and misogynistic “narratives,” as writer Folkenflik calls them, have been ridden hard “for years.”
At one point, we see the complete disrespect for A-lister privacy in its infancy. Diana shows us a few glimpses of the princess on vacation, as evidenced by her bikini attire. In archive footage, a reporter asks an apparent paparazzo, “You realize she’s on holiday? [Yet you’ve] been chasing her around getting pictures.” The photographer answers with a smirk, “Well, it has its compensations.” Immediately, I thought of Justin Bieber’s disturbing nude photo leak, which only occurred because a shutterbug stalked the Canadian singer's private Bora Bora hotel room to get the shots. It's highly likely the photog in that modern day situation also got his “compensations” for the full-front photos. And like today’s celebrities, those closest — or randomly close — to Princess Diana, including everyone from friends to random people at her gym, realized British newspapers were paying “vast amounts of money” for any paparazzi image, photographer Jayne Fincher explains.
No quote feels more applicable to today’s celebrity culture than that of Diana’s younger brother Charles Spencer when he recollects, “After awhile, they forgot that this was a real person, and they just saw her as a commodity.” Right now, TMZ is reporting, “Taylor Swift DJ Butt Grab Trial Hottest Ticket in Town!!!” Yes, there are really three exclamation marks, because a pop star’s alleged groping is more akin to the popularity of a the next mega-music festival than, say, a young woman’s legal battle over body autonomy. This case is apparently a commercial proceeding.
In Diana, the experts credit the princess as a “catalyst" for the cable news industry, which was just getting off the ground in the '90s. No one can say celebrities like the KarJenners and Swift’s now-defunct squad didn’t do the same for the age of social media. Kim perfected the Instagram selfie so well, she made an entire book out of them. And no one can question @kylizzlemynizzl made Snapchat the dominant force that it is.
Now that we’ve brought up Selfie The Book and the youngest Jenner’s Snapchat kingdom, it’s time to recognize Princess Diana also originated the celebrities of today’s positive relationship with the media as well. Many talking heads in the Story Of Diana experts agree the royal had a "symbiotic" relation with media, which she also used to her advantage. “In the ashes of her marriage, she succeeded in creating herself as a brand,” reporter Chris Connelly says.
What A-lister doesn’t have a brand these days? And most of them created it from some type of “ashes,” although few are as traumatizing as Diana’s very public split from cheating husband Princes Charles. Kim created her empire after a sex tape leak. Taylor Swift began her specific form of uncontroversial, easy-road feminism in response to her first VMAs run-in with Kanye West and the very public demise of countless relationships. Even Angelina Jolie re-booted her brand after divorcing Billy Bob Thornton, ditching the vials of blood in favor of becoming one of the leading philanthropists in Hollywood.
No one will ever be Princess Diana. In fact, no one will ever come close to being the icon, advocate, unconventional royal, and, ultimately, tragic figure as the Princess of Wales. Yet, it's impossible to pretend the media-celebrity practices that started with her haven't mutated into the insane 24-hour, seven-day a week coverage of the world's most famous people these days.
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