Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer The Royal Mini-Series

By Bruce VanWyngarden

SEPTEMBER 15, 1997:  So here we are, blinking in the pale light of morning, hung-over, woozy, beginning the process of recovery from the international celebrity-death media binge on Princess Diana. And oh, what a week it was.

It began with the tentative Saturday-night crash coverage, the sketchy details that came in as the networks scurried to find someone, anyone, to work the story. For an hour CNN ran the same blurry 20-second video loop of the crash site over and over, while repeating, like a mantra, "Princess Diana's condition is said to be grave." Speculation was rampant. Finally, the news came that sent the media spiraling into overdrive: Princess Di was dead!

The story was made for prime time: a glamorous princess, a rich playboy, a gory crash, the handsome sons, the cold ex-husband, the weeping mourners. And all those flowers! It was like a tragic romance novel, with subplots aplenty: Why did it happen? How will it affect the monarchy? How will it affect the children? Will it delay Prince Charles' marriage? Was it the damn paparazzi? And will anyone buy those pictures? And how drunk was the chauffeur? Two times the legal limit? Three? Four?!!

Everyone had an opinion: British journalists, friends of Lady Di, American journalists, friends of Lady Di's friends, George Will, Larry King, Dodi's ex-fiancee, Tom Cruise, Steven Seagal, Dan Rather, and dozens more. CNN went all Di, all day. Network news operations, Good Morning America, the Today show, 20-20, Dateline, all went into Lady Di overload, re-enacting drunk-driving tests; interviewing paparazzi, guard-rail experts, tabloid editors, Mercedes officials, hotel bartenders, mourners, French lawyers, and taxi drivers.

Not to be outdone, local network affiliates offered their own coverage, breathlessly re-reporting the same news we'd been hearing all day long, as though Memphians had just snapped on their televisions after emerging from a cave. They tirelessly searched for the mostly nonexistent local angle, interviewing local AIDS counselors, Pat Tigrett (who owns four of Lady Di's gowns), and ordinary Memphians to get their reaction. ("I think it's really kinda sad, you know?") And sad it was.

Through the week, new issues emerged and were somberly reported: Would Diana have a state funeral? How long would her procession be? How many signing books should there be? And who would be invited? The royal family became the third set of villains in the piece, following the paparazzi and the drunk chauffeur. The people were ready to storm the castle. Queen Elizabeth came forward and offered some royal spin-doctoring.

The papers dutifully printed Elton John's new lyrics to "Candle in the Wind"; the networks trotted out the video from the original song. And the funeral was covered in all its poignant splendor by every entertainment and news organization on Planet Earth.

By all accounts, Princess Diana was a good mother, and a person who genuinely cared for everyday people. She apparently took pleasure in comforting the afflicted, and willingly gave of herself to good causes. Of course, unlike many other people you may know who fit that description, Diana was born into wealth, then married to, and divorced from, the historical anachronism known as the British Royal Family. She was dating, at the time of her death, one of the richest men in the world. She was taken in her prime, and it was a tragic day for those who cared for her in life.

But was it really an event of such magnitude that it needed to become the total focus of the world's media? The short answer is no. But, unfortunately the media were unable to stop themselves from "O.J.-ing" Princess Diana's death into a weeklong mini-series.

During that week, Mother Theresa died. And so did a million other people, some tragically: a teenage girl, lost to a sudden turn on wet pavement; a child, accidentally shot by his 4-year-old brother; a policeman, killed by a delusional mental patient; a teacher who finally lost his battle with AIDS. The everyday people Lady Diana cared for most, gone forever. And nobody noticed. We were too busy watching television.


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