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Weekly Alibi Damn you, Paparazzo!

Metaphysical Circles Bind Royalty, Public in Three-Ring Circus

By Marcos Martinez

SEPTEMBER 15, 1997:  The amount of news that has been devoted to Princess Diana surprises me. And the irony of my adding to it does not escape me. Many agree that her anticlimactic death is a waste, as all auto fatalities are, but the persistent fixation on her life and death models to us what modern worship is.

We live in a country that swept aside the ancient regime of monarchies. Even in the parent country the old way fell apart, but they preserved it as a living and lasting representation of the traditions of England. The royal family is a shadow play of polity: substanceless, yet fascinating to England's people. England provided a window into decadence; so why then does America watch? The royal family's involvement in the day-to-day existence of England is nonexistent. They do nothing politically. One may label them ambassadors or representatives of the United Kingdom (a doubly ironic title as it suggests both that the kingdom is united despite a history of dispute with Ireland, and that it is a king-dom). But what does that mean but that they are figurines, objects of study?

Even when a famous person directs her fame at worthy causes, she acknowledges her existence as a public figure. Since royalty has no state-appointed power, the only power one has is that of visibility. What else could one throw behind a cause but one's fame? It is an intriguing circle of causality: Princess Diana is a watched person, hence we watch her; we watch her, and she is a watched person. What may be called mass voyeurism could also be a projection of fantasy.

Some view the famous as living fantastic lives and they do; they possess money beyond reason and followings beyond rationale. But their fame is only in relation to how they are watched. Though I do not declare this to be the only kind of fame--authors are known for what they write, painters for what they paint--but royalty who produce nothing are known for being seen. Our watching gives them fame and a certain kind of power over us, but without us they would have no fame and no authority. They would have nothing even to suggest good causes for us to espouse and no authority to denounce us for looking at them--the celebrities whose whole identity depends on being seen.

Kill the messenger is the message. Because most of us cannot get to the royal family, intermediaries are needed. Behold the press, without which we would not know of her death and could not blame for her death. Perhaps the paparazzi go too far to satisfy the fetishes of the public. Some suggest that the public does not by itself create the demand for the pulp press, but that advertising creates its own demand. Since this is an unanswerable question, let us assume that the public is interested somewhat in the story of Diana, then the press services the public. And since service in itself has no ethical stance, then it should not surprise us that some service will be in poor taste and others not.

--Marcos Martínez


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