City Journal Autumn 2014

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Autumn 2014
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By Theodore Dalrymple

The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.

Eye on the News

Theodore Dalrymple
The People’s Princess
The latest revelations about Princess Diana reflect poorly on her and on the celebrity cult that surrounds her.
19 November 2002

Recently cleared of the theft of his late employer’s goods and effects, the former butler to Her Royal Highness, the late People’s Princess, now did what any sensible person would do in the circumstances: he sold his (and her) trivial story to the newspapers for a large sum of money.

His revelations so far would have damaged the reputation of the Princess in any age but our own. Those who never admired her always thought her vain, witless, shallow, scheming, egotistical, vulgar, tasteless, sentimental, manipulative, hysterical, and altogether lacking in culture, character, and intelligence (though not without a certain low cunning): but even they never suspected the extent of her promiscuity, which required her butler—actually, her procurer—to smuggle lovers into the palace in the trunk of his car, to be greeted, Danielle Steele–style, by the Princess in a fur coat and jewels, only. Her much publicized psychological travails resulted not so much from the complexity as from the emptiness of her personality.

No revelations of her unseemly behavior, however, will do much to tarnish her image: on the contrary. It is true that her cult, based upon nothing except intense but shallow emotion, has proved evanescent: after all, it never grew out of any solid achievement of hers, for the simple reason that she was capable of none. She was too self-absorbed to be interested in anything but herself.

But the very qualities that would once have damned her in popular estimation are precisely those that have raised her in it in our own age. Her cult was that of vacuity worshipping, and also justifying, itself: people “loved,” “admired,” and “esteemed” her precisely because she was so banal in her tastes, emotions, and responses to the world. Apart from the fact that she was icily pretty and moved in high circles, she was just like us: this gave us hope that people of no accomplishment might accede to a glamorous, rich, sex-suffused world, and reassuringly demonstrated that there was nothing inherently limiting about our own mediocrity. Her appeal goes to the heart of the modern cult of celebrity. It represents the total triumph of the banal.

That is why no revelations about her conduct will make any difference to those who adhere to her cult: a cult to which it is so easy and gratifying to adhere, because it requires nothing in return. Her deep inner emptiness reflects that of modern man, who distracts himself from it, just as she did, by feverish sensation seeking. Thus she was indeed the People’s Princess, but not quite in the sense originally meant: her epithet flatters neither her nor the People.

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