August 30, 2007 § 1 Comment
I remember the moment when my wife came in the TV room and told me that Princess Diana died. For whatever reason — in a gesture I cannot remember doing either before or since — I slapped both my hands over my eyes, and shook my head. “What?” I said. “That doesn’t make any sense.” And the reason I said that was because just a few days before I had seen a little article in a tabloid about Frank Sinatra, and I marveled at the idea that Sinatra was still alive, and now he had outlived Diana.
I was not a person who really paid any attention to the Royals. I was unaware that she had actually gotten divorced from Prince Charles, for instance. I saw her in magazines and on TV, and was captivated by her beauty, which seemed to improve exponentially every year. But I wasn’t immersed in the details. I watched the boys grow up.
I think part of my detachment was that in one magazine I had seen a picture of Diana and her kids playing at the beach. The three of them were in the water, and off to the right you saw a small army of photographers. It was an oddly creepy, assaultive sight, and I wondered who in the hell would be so interested in all these pictures of Diana given that all those guys were also more or less getting the same shot.
It was a revealing photograph. In most instances of course we only see the picture of the celebrity, and we forget that there is actually a human being on the other side taking the picture. In the case of many celebrities, there are many photographers. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt when they are together and how the paparazzi must swarm.
It must be suffocating.
But I guess in my own way that is why I try not to star gaze too much. I know these celebrities — even the vast majority that I have no interest in — are trailed by amateur video bloggers and photogs and all the others who hang on to the fringe of stardom. If I’m the guy buying any one of the glossy celebrity magazines I know I’m opting into the culture that came of age when Diana was on the beach. And I don’t like it very much, but that’s just me.
Now, of course, death isn’t even able to afford some of these people any rest. I have this photograph of Marilyn Monroe in my house that was taken in 1953 and she looks both beautiful and frightened at the same time, and maybe that was how she was. But in the 45 years since she has died, she’s still being picked over and analyzed and picked apart, and sometimes you just want to say, Christ almighty, can’t we leave her alone?
That, of course, is never going to happen, just as it didn’t happen when she was alive. Because now, when I see a picture of her, just as I did recently when I saw a lovely photograph of her sitting way out on the end of diving board of a yacht, I know she’s not alone; her solitude was an illusion. We were on the beach, too, on the shore, looking out, looking on, looking in.