August 19, 2011

{Book's Prologue} Part Five: "A World of Celebrity"

[This is the fifth excerpt of the Prologue, "Front Row to a Royal Wedding," from my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride. Posting the book's prologue is to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Diana & Charles' archetypal wedding.]

Princess Diana did not invent our fascination with royalty; stories of nobility have long captured and will continue to capture our attention. However, this wedding ushered in a whole new ballgame: with the wedding of Charles and Diana, getting married became fashionable again and “society” world-wide was ready! “It was, perhaps, the defining event of the eighties,” declared writer Susie Pearson in a 1991 Ladies Home Journal article commemorating the tenth anniversary of the royal wedding. Almost everything about the 1980s became a symbol of excess, “a decade in which style so often trumped substance.”

A watershed event, this royal happening—“the first worldwide media spectacular…with all the pomp and circumstance at England’s matchless command”—brought ceremonial weddings back in style almost overnight, resurrecting the bridal industry from the social upheavals of the previous two decades. The royal wedding set the pace for a new era of fancy wedding hoopla: elaborate designer gowns; a return of the status wedding; staged over-the-top productions; and “celebrity” weddings as media spectacles. It opened the door for Martha Stewart’s beauty-down-to-the-last-detail kind of attention to everything wedding and imploded the wedding as a “consumer rite,” a trend that had begun in America at the middle of the twentieth century explained scholar Vicki Howard in her 2006 book, Brides, Inc.

The grand wedding energized the notorious English media machine, already in high gear ever since Diana came onto the scene as a photogenic shy teenager, and established a “world of celebrity” phenomenon that permeates our lives today. The gossipy, global media industry of newspapers, magazines and television shows spawned in those days, still feeds an insatiable public that continues to look for its next “tabloid princess” (royal or otherwise).

Looking back on the press coverage in the beginning of this royal tale, one can see how much was “invented” to feed the stories and headlines. Once Charles proposed to Diana “Fleet Street took over,” London based journalist Pearson stated. “On the prowl for a good story after years of political unrest in the seventies, the press transformed the engagement into a modern fairy tale.” And since our imaginations can’t resist updates on any sort of what we deem as a “fairy tale,” the press gave us exactly what we demanded.

Diana’s death at age 36 in 1997 secured her iconic place in the culture as we continued to put her life on view, from stories of “shy Di” to princess bride, to all-suffering wife, to devoted mother, to compassionate healer and crusader, to sexy divorcee—all accompanied by photographs that draw you into her world and have you wonder, What if?  From most accounts, including Tina Brown’s 2007 biography The Diana Chronicles, it seems that Diana never got beyond her childhood fantasies of being “rescued by a prince,” and, as a romance novel reading teenager, “fell in love with an image instead of the man,” making the marriage proposal from Prince Charles something she simply could not resist.

Such romantic notions of ungrounded “fairy-tale” love (as in “made up” and not based in reality) don’t sustain us through the “wartiness” of relationship and dealing with real life. We don’t have to grow up in the midst of royalty to get swept away with a dashing image or lose ourselves in the damsel and knight myth.

Was Diana beginning to grow up and grow out of that propensity for romance and fantasy before she died? Was she beginning to find her center and grounding—the power of her authentic voice? What if? ~

["Becoming an Archetype," the next part of the Prologue of The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride, will be posted in a few days. To see all the excerpts from the book's Prologue, click on "Prologue" in the Labels list below.]

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