Tabloid readers share blame for Diana's death

September 06, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

By the time you read this Princess Diana's funeral may already be several hours old. Soon she will be buried. What will not be buried are the various allegations about exactly who, if anyone, was responsible for the crash that killed her, her fiance and her driver.

Initial reports targeted the paparazzi, the free-lance photographers who hounded the princess with the same fanaticism with which Ahab hunted Moby Dick. It was while trying to elude the paparazzi, we were told, that the driver of Princess Di's and Dodi Al Fayed's Mercedes crashed.

Only days later, we were informed that the driver was legally drunk and possibly going at speeds exceeding 100 mph. As of yesterday, yet another twist was added: wire stories carried the allegations of a witness who claimed that one of the paparazzi cut Diana's car off and caused the driver to lose control.

Other culprits have been mentioned, notably the publishers of the tabloid magazines that seem obsessed with running pictures and stories about Diana's sex and love life. But ignored thus far have been the ones who are the true villains in this sorry affair: the readers of those tabloids, who make the greed of the publishers and paparazzi seem like an ethical breath of fresh air by comparison.

If no one bought tabloids, the publishers and paparazzi would be out of business. No longer would we have photographers skulking about near celebrities taking pictures of their private lives. We wouldn't have seen pictures of Diana in her swimming suit, which she no doubt thought was a private moment. We wouldn't have seen stories telling us who her latest lover was, as if such were any of our business in the first place.

It's tabloid readers who wanted to know the intimate details of Diana's sex and love life. The reason is simple: these bumpkins have no sex or love lives of their own. They had to live vicariously through Diana's. As pathetic as that sounds, here's something even more pathetic: The tabloids sell quite well, which means millions of people out there have no lives to speak of.

That shouldn't surprise us. Tabloids rose in popularity in proportion to the decline in good taste in America. To see how the extent to which good taste has virtually disappeared, we need only look at television talk shows.

There was a time when game shows dominated daytime television. Some of them actually required you to think. But there's little danger of anyone being intellectually challenged by most of today's talk shows. The genre became popular more than 20 years ago with the "Phil Donahue Show." He had to leave the air when he tried to devote his show to topics that were serious and meaningful.

Oprah Winfrey took over from Donahue and tried to give us more serious fare. But it's been downhill from there. Today's daytime television gives us a plethora of talk shows, most devoted to topics such as "My Mother Dresses Like a Hooker" or young women with egos the size of a continent boasting "I Can Get Any Man I Want."

When they're really trying to be cutesy, the talk shows will bring on guests who then bring out lovers, relatives or close friends who will then drop some "secret" on them, in front of a television audience of millions. We've heard girlfriends telling boyfriends why they're dumping them, men telling close friends they've had a sex change and even one case of a man revealing he had a crush on another guy.

The last happened on an episode of the "Jenny Jones Show." Subsequently the guy who was the "surprisee" murdered the man who had a crush on him, claiming the revelation on national television pushed him over the edge. The dead man's family filed suit against the "Jenny Jones Show," and the host ended up in court trying to defend why her show and its producers seem devoted to airing things that are none of our damned business.

But that has become the Great American Passion lately: a disturbing obsession with those things that people in an earlier age cherished as private. Tabloid readers wanted those stories about Diana's love life, probably cherished those paparazzi pictures of her in a bathing suit on the beach.

They no doubt found boring stories about Diana's commitment to children with AIDS and her attempt to have land mines banned throughout the world. In the great scheme of things, these are much more important.

But the ultimate tragedy is that the paparazzi who took photos of a dying Diana in her car will probably sell them for millions to a tabloid. And the readers will snatch up copies of that particular issue in record numbers.

Pub Date: 9/06/97

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