Camp / Film / Trash

Diana-rama!: Why Does Princess Di Inspire Such Schlock (And Why Do I Love It So)?

Kristen Stewart as Princess Di in Spencer

In the latter half of the year of our Lord—or really Lady—2021, I decided to become a Princess Diana obsessive. That’s right, send me all your purple Princess Diana Beanie Babies that you’ve been squirreling away under your beds since the late 1990s just in case they finally become worth more than NFTs. I’m now firmly, fully, and fervently entrenched in Lady Di fanaticism, spending all my free time searching for the best Princess Diana memorial T-shirt on Etsy. Or maybe I just need them all!

Part of this sudden pathological Princess psychosis is a response to my deep disappointment with the gift shop at Kensington Palace—“Home of Young Royals” where Kate Middleton and Prince William currently reside—during a trip to London last month. As a connoisseur of consumerist crap, I searched high and low for a maudlin display of “We Will Never Forget” Diana memorabilia. Where were the poorly rendered plush Diana dolls, the airbrushed T-shirts, the postcards, the mugs, the tote bags, the posters, the snow globes, the figurines? Sure, the gift shop had some tasteful delicate teacups and some less than tasteful jewelry, including a necklace with an enormously tacky crown bauble. But, ultimately, the Kensington Palace gift shop refused to deliver what they know the general public wants: souvenirs to build a sacred shrine of Diana-branded tchotchkes to remember our fallen People’s Princess by! I understand that this shopping spree hysteria is a wholly American impulse, but Kensington Palace was also one of the only places I visited in pandemic era London where I saw other Americans! I bet they would have bought a hefty amount of Diana gewgaws too!

This baffling decision to deny collectible-crazed customers our God-given right to salivate over Diana merch certainly didn’t have anything to do with otherwise sophisticated and refined choices made elsewhere in Kensington Palace. Walking through rooms featuring scenes from Queen Victoria’s life played out by twirling porcelain knickknacks and figures in dollhouses, as well as a whole heck of a lot of locks of hair from various deceased members of the Royal Family (Could we buy a lock of Diana’s hair? Too dark? Too intrusive? Ok, ok…kidding. I wouldn’t dare want that…unless you’re offering…), it struck me that visiting Kensington Palace may be the trashiest thing I’ve ever done in a life devoted to bearing witness to the trashiest sights our reality has to offer. In some respects, I shouldn’t have been surprised. First, approaching the monarchy in 2021 with anything less than skepticism and cynicism is just trashy period. Secondly, as we know, the origin of our favored camp aesthetic is often tied to garish palatial opulence. Yet, Kensington Palace far exceeded my expectations. For instance, this is the first artwork that confronts visitors as they enter “The King’s Gallery,” showcasing pieces from the Royal Collection:

Oof! (photo by author)

Fucking yikes! I may have put John Nost’s Bust of an Enslaved Man back in storage after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Oprah interview. And people were shocked the Royal Family might be a tad racist?!

This isn’t to say that all the trash was bad (is it ever?). The high point of the Kensington Palace visit may have been the special exhibition Royal Style in the Making in the Palace’s Orangery. While the exhibition presented a gathering of gowns and outfits belonging to the Queen and other members of the Royal Family, these paled in comparison and importance to the only fashion that mattered: Diana’s David and Elizabeth Emanuel wedding dress. The exhibition’s curators knew it too given that the dress, with its mammoth poof, not to mention its 25-foot train, took up the majority of the Orangery. The sheer amount of space devoted to the dress wasn’t the only excessive decision made by the organizers. Encased in a Plexi box in front of a vibrant background of St. Paul’s Cathedral and a swelling soundtrack of dramatic music, Diana’s wedding dress was displayed reverentially with the perfect dash of religiosity. Draped on a headless mannequin, the dress also gained a Miss Havisham-level of ghostly ethereality; an eerie stand-in for both Diana’s absence and continued presence in our cultural subconscious. The only thing that was missing was prayer candles. Speaking of, where were the Diana prayer candles at the gift shop?

The sacred Wedding Dress (photo by author)

Diana doesn’t merely hover like a bodiless specter in the rest of the Palace grounds, though there does seem to be a conscious effort made to prevent Diana’s legacy from usurping the entire displayed history of Kensington Palace. Regardless, Diana is also honored with a sculpture by Ian Rank-Broadley in the Palace’s Sunken Garden. She stands at a far end of the garden surrounded by three children, who, according to the Palace’s website, “represent the universality and generational impact of the Princess’s work.” Unfortunately, though, I couldn’t get a real close look at the sculpture since it was, much like Diana in life, stuck in a beautiful cage, only able to be viewed by visitors via the “Cradle Walk” that surrounds the Sunken Garden. Are they too afraid of what visitors might do while in a fit of cold flop sweat? If they don’t keep us away, what uncontrollable urges will we be unable to fight?!

As close as I could get (photo by author)

Perhaps if I was allowed to properly genuflect and paw at the sculpture, I would have moved past my Diana compulsion but now I’m stuck with a full-blown Diana complex! I’ll admit, my Diana fever isn’t exactly new. When I was in elementary school, we were assigned to make a paper bag puppet about a selected public figure. I chose Princess Di. Why? Who the hell knows. At the time, I was much more enamored with Disney villains than any sort of princess, but apparently, Diana struck me as perfect for preoccupation. For whatever reason, in a memory full of blank spots and gaps, I’ve maintained a vivid mental image of the Diana puppet—a wretched creation with yellow yarn hair and blue button eyes. I’m sure Diana would have been flattered—or traumatized!

In the intervening decades, I abandoned my Diana mania, but it’s back and stronger than ever! Thankfully, I’m not the only one, if a slew of new Diana-related schmaltz is any indication, from the Oscar-bait Spencer to the astonishingly abhorrent Diana the Musical. When watching all these Diana depictions, one question nags: what is it about Princess Diana that inspires such unabashed overblown schlock? There is, of course, a certain too-muchness to Diana’s life, a fairy tale turned nightmare with a surprise ending, yet even other doomed beauties seem to not get treated with the same over-the-top sentimentality. Though Diana’s life was nothing if not dramatic and she remains an example of an empathetic human amongst a plethora of indifferent monarchs, the melodramatic cheese oozed by much of the cultural representations of her life seems to stretch beyond the content of gossipy rags and tell-all books. Is it that Lady Di, despite being the most photographed woman in the world during the latter decades of the twentieth century, remains mysterious and unknowable with her shy, upturned gaze? Is it that, much like I’ve written about Lana Del Rey, we can project anything we want onto Diana—including our most emotionally overwrought camp fantasies? Is it our adoration of tragedy and love of agonized women? Is it the joy of watching impossibly wealthy and privileged people suffer (the only pleasure the rest of us can have)? Maybe we can figure it out together by delving into some of the campiest Diana schlock put to film in recent years.

Emma Corrin as Princess Di in The Crown (2020)

The Diana incarnation that sparked this nouveau cultural fixation on the princess was the fourth season of The Crown, which featured heartbreakingly doe-eyed Emma Corrin as the young Lady Di as she’s courted by Prince Charles, only to be trapped in a loveless and jealous marriage. Though Corrin’s Duran Duran-scored Buckingham Palace roller-skate is a memorable ode to the freedom Diana seemed to exude, I skipped through most of the show’s Charles and Diana drama since my heart was for one woman and one woman alone in the Netflix television series: the Iron Lady Maggie Thatcher, played to such gloriously droning excess by Gillian Anderson as to immediately place her in the upper echelons of conservative camp achievements. While sure, The Crown is likely the most historically accurate of the avalanche of Diana schlock, that dedication to, at least, half-truth means it pales in comparison to other more fantastical and frightening representations like Pablo Larraín’s Spencer.

With similarities to his previous 2016 film Jackie that delved into another almost mythic female public figure who became a stand-in for collective grief and the assassination of the mid-20th century American promise, Larraín’s Spencer is a suffocating look at Diana’s deterioration within the Queen’s country Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, played out over three holidays—Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Boxing Day—in 1991. In the film, the first thing viewers see is a fragile bird lying dead in the road as it’s driven over (and over and over) by cars transporting grotesque amounts of food in preparation for the Royal Family’s holiday celebrations. Subtle? Absolutely not. Yet, prescient nonetheless.

Billed as “A fable based on a true story” in the credits, Spencer takes more than a couple of tropes from Gothic fiction—ghosts, haunted houses, intimidatingly creepy butlers, or in this case, Major Gregory, played with all-seeing voyeurism by Timothy Spall, and simply all that British fog—to turn Diana’s life into a horror film. With the sprawling Estate taking on a claustrophobic character of its own with its sewn-shut curtains and its proximity to Diana’s boarded-up, barbed wire-enclosed derelict childhood home, Park House, visible right from beyond the Estate’s property line, the film feels like a particularly British version of The Shining, equipped with a tension-inducing soundtrack by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood that makes even innocuous scenes seem menacing. Rather than Jack Torrence’s wild-eyed descent into alcoholism, madness, and homicidal domestic ruin within the Overlook Hotel, Diana collapses and spirals inward. Written by Steven Knight who is no stranger to penning unraveling characters like Cillian Murphy’s Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders, Spencer follows Diana as she bends over the toilet in beautiful gowns to binge and purge for some semblance of control (Who wouldn’t if the fun family holiday tradition is a weigh-in?), imagines self-harm with bolt cutters, and hallucinates swallowing pearls at an oppressive family dinner. This is the same pearl necklace Charles also bought that hag, Camilla Parker Bowles, which appears repeatedly as a symbol of Diana’s confinement within her marriage and the Royal Family itself like a collar around her neck.

Kristen Stewart as Diana in the winter of her life in Pablo Larraín’s Spencer (2021)

For her part, lesbian heartthrob (I mean, of course, there’s a profession of sapphic love in Spencer) Kristen Stewart surprises as a femme fatale version of Diana. Stewart’s typically sarcastic and wooden acting style is exchanged here for a teary and wide-eyed emotional vulnerability. Taking viewers through nearly two hours of highly stylized wealthy white lady hysterics, Stewart plays Diana like a romantically doomed protagonist from a Lana Del Rey music video. She is fucking crazy, but she is free. In fact, I left the theater with the temptation to create a series of unhinged Chemtrails Over The Country Club-scored YouTube tribute videos to Stewart’s incarnation of Diana. When she’s not thousand-yard staring in central framing, which only further augments Diana’s placement as a bug under glass, an observation she herself makes in the film, she’s delivering prophetic lines such as “Will they kill me, do you think?” or “There’s no hope for me. Not with them” as if she was Edie Sedgwick in the appropriately titled Warhol film, Poor Little Rich Girl. The only thing that’s missing is Sedgwick’s breathy line: “I think I’ve run out of time.” I mean, Diana does align herself with pheasants—hunted, beautiful, not very bright, born and bred to die.

This isn’t to say that Stewart’s Diana is all condemned passivity. Diana couples her captivity with small rebellions that, in such a restrictive atmosphere, seem monumental. She drives fast. She arrives later than the Queen. She doesn’t wear the designated clothes on the right day. She snarks about masturbating in fancy dresses. She upends all the traditions that are of the utmost value at the Estate. She hurls. She’s also more than a bit sweary, as she’s introduced to the audience while lost on the road with a whispered “Where the fuck am I?” before wandering into a fish and chips shop decked in Chanel.

While the entire Royal Family is also at the Estate for the holidays, the others exist mainly in silence, only interacting with Diana when they are chiding her for acting improperly, offering disconcerting advice, or worse, making cracks about her eating disorder. In particular, Charles, played with appropriate stiffness by Jack Farthing, has the longest exchange with Diana when he advises her to be multiple people for the good of the country (“The thing is, Diana, there has to be two of you. There’s two of me, there’s two of father, two of everyone. There’s the real one and the one they take pictures of. You have to be able to make your body do things you hate”). She also shares a similarly unsettling moment with Queen Elizabeth (Stella Gonet) who acknowledges that she, like Diana, is simply currency. Otherwise, the Queen’s gaggle of corgis has just as much dialogue as the rest of the Royal Family, which exposes Diana’s alienation. In contrast, the staff seems much more sympathetic to Diana’s plight, especially her confidante and life-raft Royal Dresser Maggie (Sally Hawkins), and the Royal Head Chef, Darren McGrady (Sean Harris), who seems to be rooting for her to survive.

Mainly, though, Diana haunts the Estate, stuck somewhere between the past, the present, and the future as she caresses her Dad’s tattered red jacket, swiped from a scarecrow where it had been placed years earlier. Temporality shifts and doesn’t seem to quite exist in the universe of Spencer. As she says to William and Harry, “Here, in this house, there is no future. Past and present are the same thing.” Though this is visible in an extended sequence in which Diana dances and runs around her childhood home and various palaces in a dizzying swirl of time periods and fashions, including her wedding dress, the collapse of the past and the present is likely most obviously heralded by the frequent appearance of the ghost of Anne Boleyn to whom Diana is related. Convicted and beheaded by her husband King Henry VIII in order to push her aside for his new beau Jane Seymour, Boleyn exists—or semi-exists—as a warning to Diana.

Go!

Is this all a little on the nose and self-indulgent? Of course. The same goes for quite a number of notably heavy-handed decisions made in the film (I could have done without the particularly cheesy 1980s “All I Need Is a Miracle” by Mike & the Mechanics moment). But this is Diana schlock; an unabashed over-the-topness comes with the territory. Plus, when Anne Boleyn tells Diana to “run” rather than fling herself down the stairs of her childhood home, I think she spoke for all of us.

The only joy Diana seems to have in Spencer—and in real life, honestly—comes from her two sons who somehow remain like normal kids in the film, complaining about Christmas presents and worrying about their mother, amidst the increasingly surreal gloom. Diana also acts the sanest when she’s with them, playing games and picking out stuffed crustacean dolls at the petrol station. Her sons are the ones who offer her redemption at the end of the film. When she leaves the Estate, it’s almost like a spell has been broken, even the landscape of dreary London provides an open-air refuge, though, as we know, that doesn’t last long.

If you’re curious about what happened to our beloved Princess of Wales after she escaped the clutches of the Royal Family and want to see it rendered with similar histrionic zeal to Spencer, then look no further than Oliver Hirschbeigel’s Diana. Though this film, released in 2013, dates earlier than the recent rash of Diana dramatizations, its hysterically melodramatic, poorly written dialogue, naff romance movie tropes, soft-filtered TV movie aesthetic, and a strange fascination with medical procedures certainly earn Diana a highly coveted place within the Princess Di schlock canon. With a ghastly rating of 7% on Rotten Tomatoes and a tempting suggestion by The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw that new bouquets should be left in front of Odeon Leicester Square after “this new woe,” Diana, a Hallmark channel film that somehow made it to the big screen, may be the sappiest of the lot.

Who is she? Diana?

Forgoing the more popular monarchy era, with the Royal Family only existing as Charles’s disembodied voice in a television interview, Diana focuses on the last few years of Diana’s life as filtered through her on-again-off-again relationship with Pakistani heart surgeon Dr. Hasnat Khan, played by Naveen Andrews who attempts to give Khan as much charm as possible in a script that has none. And when I say filtered, I mean all of Diana’s actions, accomplishments, decisions, and her subsequent relationship with Dodi Fayed (Cas Anvar), who only exists for Diana as an excuse for a yacht vacay and paparazzi manipulation, are in service to her all-consuming obsession with Khan. Even her legendary stroll through a field of landmines is driven by Khan’s encouragement.

As interpreted by Naomi Watts, Diana’s Diana is, well, a bit of a stalker–ok, more than a bit–showing up at the hospital where Khan works, frantically calling him while faking a Liverpool accent, and creeping into his apartment to tidy up. Whereas Kristen Stewart’s Diana is all watery-eyed pathos, Watt’s plays Diana as slightly off-kilter with mania that exhibits as a flurry of intimidating amorous overtures. She drops a crab down Khan’s shirt while flitting around on a beach, appears at Khan’s door in a brown wig so she can go on a date incognito (she’s a master of disguise!), and mostly, gushes about how much she loves hospitals. Really. “When I visit hospitals, I get excited,” she enthusiastically coos at Khan. She goes on to explain that she loves hospitals because she imagines all the support she can offer financially. Sure, except we see her ghoulishly wandering around hospitals throughout the film, as well as buying a Grey’s Anatomy and later, scrubbing into a surgery! Someone’s got a fetish!

Paging Dr. Spencer!

She even has conversations with Khan about open-heart surgery, including this exchange:

Diana: “How long does a heart operation go on?
Hasnat: “Sometimes 8 to 9 hours.”
Diana: “God, how do you keep going?”
Hasnat: “You reach a place inside yourself where time has no meaning. You don’t perform the operation. The operation performs you.”
Diana: “I’d love to feel that.”

Huh?

With this kind of chemistry, it’s no wonder Diana and Hasnat’s relationship is so fiery. When they’re not talking about medicine, their relationship is filled with stilted flirting about subjects as engaging as the amount of wine at Kensington Palace (“Is there any more wine or have we run out?” “This is a palace we don’t run out”) or cellphones (“I don’t know how to contact you.” “Well, I’m like most people, I got a mobile. Actually, I’m not like most people. I have four”). However, it’s not all hot and steamy. The couple frequently fights about the impossibility of Khan balancing a tabloid relationship with the most famous woman in the world with saving lives in the operating room. This leads to uproariously over-the-top camp theatrics, including their final breakup spat, which sees Diana respond to the accusations that she’s being dramatic with a howl: “DRAMATIC?!!!!” Who is dramatic?! Certainly not Di! Especially not after she leaves the cursed park where they’re battling in order to return to Kensington Palace, morosely play the piano, and cry.

Despite Diana’s passionately berserk behavior, she’s also, as with most Diana schlock, depicted as a near saint–jumping out of cars to comfort grieving widows, charming Hasnat’s skeptical mother in Pakistan, and hugging children blown apart by landmines. Watts mostly maintains Diana’s whispered delivery, mysterious upturned gaze, and propensity to spew out dreamily ominous observations like she’s another doomed Lynchian blonde, Laura Palmer. Rather than talking about falling forever like Laura in Fire Walk With Me, she says: “The point is, will anyone catch me?”

As we know her fatalistic musings weren’t for nothing. The film is book-ended with a repeated scene of Diana leaving her Paris hotel room with Fayed and co. before that fateful car ride in the Pont de L’Alma tunnel. In the hotel, she checks one of her mobile phones, waiting for a phone call from Khan since even Diana’s death needs to be related somehow to this relationship. Giving up, she walks into the hotel hallway with Fayed and stops. In a rising dissonance of feedback, she looks back at her room as the camera pulls away. She knows she’s not coming back. Naturally, the crash is only hinted at through this moment, as well as later scenes in which Khan hears about her death and places a bouquet of flowers at Kensington Palace with other mourners (poor sod). This harkens to another bizarre universal dynamic of Diana schlock—a complete avoidance of the fatal car crash. In a genre of films and television that is bent on exploiting the most sensationalized aspects of Diana’s life, both real and imagined, why are filmmakers so precious about the moment of Diana’s death? Why start worrying about bad taste now?

Even though there’s no musical car crash number with singing and dancing paparazzi set to an industrial cacophony of twisted metal, Diana: The Musical sends bad taste soaring to new heights. I know what you’re thinking: a musical about the life of Princess Di? That sounds awful. Well, let me assure you, it’s much worse than you imagine. Much. Broadway is back baby! With abhorrent music and lyrics by Bon Jovi keyboard player David Bryan and Memphis’s Joe DiPietro, Diana: The Musical was originally slated to open in March 2020. One could certainly make the argument that COVID happened simply to prevent this travesty from occurring. However, Diana: The Musical has made its horrible return to Broadway. Though its official premiere was this week, I watched the musical’s Netflix rendition, sadly recorded without a live audience during the dark days of social distancing, which means the experience is absent of the jeering, cynical laughing, groans, exasperated sighs, and walkouts that I envision in person.

Still, Diana: The Musical stuns in a way I’ve never experienced since my favorite cinematic musical failure Cats. At least Cats comes with an undeniably iconic song that was able to tame the wild beast that used to inhabit the White House. Diana: The Musical has no “Memory”; its closest memorable banger features Princess Diana slipping into Spanish in order to profess her love for Charles as if she just got finished with her Rosetta Stone lessons (“Te amo/Te quiero/I’ll say it every way I know”). Even “Jellicle Cats” seems melodic and soothing when compared to an entire maniacal song about being a “bitch on wheels in six-inch heels” while wearing the “Feckity-Feckity-Feck You Dress,” known to the rest of us as Diana’s slinky black “Revenge Dress.”

Like The Crown, Diana: The Musical centers on Diana’s youthful experience marrying into the Royal Family and her subsequent hellish existence within her marriage to Prince Charles. This means Diana has to be relatively young in the musical’s timeline. However, Diana, as played by Jeanna de Waal, more closely resembles Hillary Clinton than the People’s Princess, particularly with her helmet of blond hair. All she needs is a pantsuit! In her introductory song, de Waal’s Diana declares she’s nineteen, a laughable prospect considering this Diana looks like she’s pushing 40. Suspending disbelief about age wouldn’t be that detrimental if that was the only misrepresentation. Yet, Diana: The Musical’s version of Diana also includes numerous songs in which she and other characters assert how dumb she is (“She really ain’t that bright!” “I’m no intellect”). While perhaps the Royal Family may have thought that, it gets to be a bit much when nearly every song includes an insult about how simple our girl is. Diana isn’t the only figure played against type. Queen Elizabeth trades her cold monarch energy for a nagging yenta, harping at Charles about finding a wife and telling Diana about the good old days. “In the old days,” she says, “we would have simply chopped off your head and been done with it. Sometimes I miss the old days.”

MOOOOM!

Yet age discrepancies and shocking personality changes pale in comparison to the actual plot, a bizarre head-spinning whirlwind of disjointed and unnecessary scenes and songs, including exuberantly shouted choruses about how being married to Prince Charles is “the worst job in England,” feather boa-draped romance novelist and Diana’s step-grandmother Barbara Cartland introducing Diana’s lover James Hewitt at the beginning of the second act on a horse like he’s in Equus (“All you need is a man on a horse!), and Diana musing about how she might be able to turn that stiff Charles into a rocker. Seriously. That song, entitled “This Is How Your People Dance,” is a nightmarish populist anthem that sounds as if it was swiped from the dustbin in the Glee writers’ room. In the song, Diana, enduring a recital of Bach, aligns herself with low-class pop tastes, which translates to the contents of a Midwestern gay bar playlist–Elton John, the Pet Shop Boys, Adam Ant, and Queen. And when she’s not being Social Justice Warrior Diana, decrying Charles’s love for music by “dead white men,” she’s sawing at the cello herself!

This isn’t even the worst of the songwriting, which, throughout its near two-hour run, inspires bug-eyed, jaw-dropped incredulity. That designation may have to go to the paparazzi-centered “Snap, Click” in which a chorus of trench-coat-wearing flashers…I mean, photographers…verbally abuse Diana for a picture. Take, for instance, this verse:

“Ain’t nothin’ like the hunt, ain’t nothin’ like the thrill
Find the right bird, then go in for the kill!
Better than a Guinness, better than a wank
Snatch a few pics, it’s money in the bank!
Honеy, you are money in the bank!”

The only reasonable response to this trainwreck is to press pause, shake your head, and say, “This can’t possibly be serious.” And you wouldn’t be the only one considering one of the most frequently asked questions about the musical, according to Google, is: Is Diana: The Musical a parody? This question becomes even more pressing when bearing witness to the song “Secrets and Lies,” performed between Diana and patients in an AIDS ward of a hospital. Visiting the hospital to the dismay of the Royal Family, Diana drags a camera crew with her so they can capture when St. Di *gasp* touches them. However, she finds the men in the hospital a little less enthusiastic about her publicity hounding as they’re worried about being outed about their sexuality and serostatuses. No matter! All Diana has to do is promise to bring those queens some makeup, after one Mary whines that his eyeliner is running low, and everything is fine! Bring on the bright lights! “I may be unwell, but I’m handsome as hell,” one of the men boasts. Yes, that actually happens. Here’s proof:

Now, I will say there are some missed opportunities for the musical to push the boundaries of taste even further. If you’re going to have an AIDS song, why not a landmine song with a chorus line of children with amputated limbs? How about an entire ballad in the bathroom after purging? I’m just spitballing here…

Nevertheless, Diana: The Musical’s commitment to musical theater atrocity can be understood as nothing else but awe-inspiring. It’s so heroically bad that it’s almost a terrorist act against the Royal Family. Admittedly, I may be the only one to enjoy it. Slate blasted the musical, calling it “too bad to even hate-watch” and The Guardian pearl-clutched: “If it was deliberate satire, it would be genius, but it’s not.” I disagree. Deliberate satire is not always as rewarding as a good old-fashioned unintentional stinker.

And perhaps this comes as close as anything to answering why I can’t tear myself away from Diana schlock. There’s an inherent joy in reveling in exaggerated mawkishness, as anyone with a commitment to camp sensibility should know. Writing on the intersection of camp and gay male culture in How To Be Gay, David M. Halperin explains, “Straight sentimentality—especially when its arm-twisting emotional power seems calculated to mobilize and to enforce a universal consensus, to impose a compulsory moral feeling—is just begging for an ironic response, and gay male culture readily provides it by treating such sentimentality as a laughable aesthetic failure, thereby resisting its moral and emotional blackmail.” If we apply this to Diana schlock, Diana’s image, within all this schmaltz, becomes raw clay for directors, writers, and playwrights to impose their own conception of who Diana was and what she means to the rest of us–a tragic figure, a woman unhinged, a caged bird, a stalker, a rocker—making each new incarnation of the princess both wholly absurd and entirely transfixing.

One thought on “Diana-rama!: Why Does Princess Di Inspire Such Schlock (And Why Do I Love It So)?

  1. Booked in to see it next week – she’s always been such a queer icon and exciting cultural thing. That gauche trasparent skirt shot! Much sexier than Marilyn’s calculated skirt-lifting. I worked (anthropologist) in South India, where there’s a whole tradition about dead young females who die with unsatisfied desire – and then become troubled spirits. These yakshi ghosts hang around in uncultivated ‘wild’ spaces kaavu – for example, little bits of woodland surrounded by water, kind of tiny uninhabited islands. When they put Diana to rest (ha! she will never rest, nor let us rest from her), my ethnographer self yelled ‘yakshi!’: -they produced a tormented undead spirit — and they know it. They might have tried to contain her on that island, but here she is again, our own beloved revenant.

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