In the most recent edition of Newsweek, editor Tina Brown jotted down some thoughts about what Diana Spencer would be up to if she had lived to be 50. On the cover, there is a Photoshopped image of the former princess of Wales with added wrinkles strolling alongside Kate Middleton. I picked this out of my mailbox an hour ago, and have already found Brown all over the news defending this ridiculous thing. The photographs are bizarre. The fact that anyone is still obsessed with Ms. Spencer is pathetic. I would have thought that the mere suggestion that this freak show belongs on the cover of a news magazine would be met with mean-spirited laughter.
But how gracefully she’s aged. I suppose it would be in really bad taste to imagine her making it into the 21st century and becoming a frump. Readers are also treated to a few fake tweets from what would be the enormously popular @RealDiana. Brown assumes her follower count would be around ten million, and I can guess where she pulled that figure from.
I learned from Diana’s fake Facebook page that she enjoys Mad Men and The Real Housewives of New York. Of course she’s friends with the Dalai Lama and Deepak Chopra, thus forming the A-Team of overexposed hacks. She wrote on Ai Weiwei’s wall, “So fab you’re out!” Consider briefly that Newsweek employees were paid to spend time mocking this up.
(And in one photo she’s holding an iPhone! What’s the fascination with elderly, overrated people using technology? Joseph Ratzinger recently launched the inaugural papal tweet, becoming the first VOCOEOT, or Vicar of Christ on Earth on Twitter. Diana Spencer’s former mother-in-law got an iPad, prompting comedian Jimmy Carr to remark: “The Queen’s got an iPad! Wow. What could be more modern? How about a democratically elected Head of State?”)
Tina Brown has always a hawked gossip and has succeeded in making Newsweek unreadable. She has been an obsessed biographer of Diana Spencer since her time at the magazine Tatler. Don’t be misled by her curriculum vitae; when she abandoned her post as editor of the New Yorker to pursue a job offer from the Weinstein brothers, Randy Cohen wrote, “I assume we can now look forward to Miramax becoming the shallow, celebrity obsessed money loser she made The New Yorker.”
I won’t say that magazines should avoid provocative graphics and headlines on their covers. That’s how magazines get sold. (Last week, Newsweek’s cover was filled by President Clinton’s big dumb face, looking earnest and gaunt, and I’m sure it made them money.) But when readers start turning pages they should see coverage. Maybe some analysis. Wit and irony are not too much to ask for. Instead, readers had to see fantasy status updates like this: “Sitting with the Beckhams front-row at Burberry. Love the shoes!”
Then again, you can’t hope to see anything edifying under a headline like “Diana at 50.” Even when she was alive, Diana Spencer was a non-story.
“Lady Di,” as she was called by people who never met her, was the temporary consort of a pathetic heir to a desiccated royal lineage. (“Coked-up, cousin-fucking, chinless aliens,” to quote Malcolm Tucker.) In a country that does not recognize titles of nobility — because we had a monarchy, thank you very much, and got rid of it – countless Americans willingly prostrated themselves before the Princess of Windsor. She earned her prestige by marrying someone who once had the fortune of being born rich.
On her Wikipedia page, the section regarding her charity work for banning landmines claimed that she influenced the Ottawa Treaty “after her death.” Assuming that this had no supernatural implications, I followed the link to the Red Cross website to learn that “the creation and sustenance of the necessary political will, and extensive media attention following the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, are of obvious significance.” I suppose she’s a martyr, then.
The ICRC report then mentions South African ambassador Jakob Selebi, who should “not be forgotten,” for doing actual work and negotiation. Before Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Price for preemptively bombing the hell out of Libya and giving the Egyptian military the green light to murder civilians, the last American to win the prize was Jody Williams. She won it for her efforts to get rid of anti-personnel landmines. Her efforts were not “aspirational” like Diana’s or Obama’s. They could be considered, let’s say, actual.
Brown says Diana would have “parted company with Tony Blair, stung by his failure to use her for big peacekeeping missions overseas.” Yes, what a slight against the poor lass, after her great success in preventing the Bosnian genocide. If only Diana were alive to negotiate with the Taliban, we were all thinking when President Obama announced troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. When Saddam Hussein was kicking weapons inspectors out of Baghdad in 2003, we wistfully mused, “Where’s Lady Di when you need her?”
Even if there weren’t a royal wedding recently to rekindle romantic fairytales of unelected despotism, Tina Brown has probably been planning this feature since the wreckage was still strewn all over the Pont de l’Alma.
Covers sell magazines. That’s the business. But this is not like Time magazine’s recent controversial cover, because that produced a rather interesting debate about intervention in Afghanistan. There is almost no substance inside this magazine anymore. Newsweek has instead opted for the same tactic gossip magazines use to attract attention when people are waiting on line to buy toothpaste.
If you’re curious enough now to go read Tina Brown’s diary entry about “RealDiana,” I really must discourage you. My dentist is going to ask how I ground all the enamel off my teeth. Just go look at the pictures. It seems to be all Newsweek is good for these days.
And somewhere, Jon Meacham is chuckling.
This is an updated version of a Tumblr post I wrote in June of 2011. The year after that, in October, Brown announced that they didn’t have enough cash left to keep printing the magazine. “Newsweek Global” as it is now called, is an online-only publication.