Diana -- A Post-Modern Fairy Tale

The story of Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, is the first post-modern fairy tale in our Information Age. Her tragic end by the river bank in the City of Lights tells us that, in a world of insatiable gawkers, there is no longer such a thing as enchantment, nor for that matter happy endings."She entered our national consciousness through a camera lens," a colleague remarks, "and she exits because of one."Indeed, we live now in a strange universe -- a global village that is wired and connected by satellite dishes, faxes, and modems. Like spoiled villagers, we demand instant gratification -- click on the Royal Web Page for the latest scoop, turn on CNN and watch teary-eyed mourners huddling outside Buckingham Palace.Like it or not, we have all been rendered into hopeless gawkers and gossips. We look. We stare. We are riveted to the TV screen by the story of the fallen princess even as we condemn the paparazzis who serve as our surrogate voyeurs and stalkers.The day she died, my e-mail was inundated with messages from friends and colleagues expressing shock and anger. In fact, everything electronic in my home -- the TV, the computer screen, the radio, the fax, the modem -- formed a chorus that buzzed and hummed their various requiems.Princess Diana was the first global princess, more cosmopolitan than British. She died with an Egyptian billionaire boyfriend, after all. She traveled the globe. See her hold AIDS babies. See her pursued by journalists through the land mines of Bosnia and Angola. See her chatting amiably with poor Americans in ghettos and low income housing projects. She was scheduled to visit Cambodia.No other royal commanded so much world attention and adulation. People watched her story book wedding across the world. People will log on to attend her cyberspace funeral this Saturday.As someone who grew up in Vietnam, the story of Diana reminds me of a typical Vietnamese fairy tale. In these tales, the princess dies, the faithful widow turns into stone, the pious brother becomes a betel tree. You can be punished for being good. Vietnamese fables are strangely sobering: Life is short, life is full of suffering, no one can hope to escape tragedy, one can only hope to live righteously, and above all to love and love well.Everyone can see some reflection of themselves or their own cultural myth in Diana's story. And perhaps that's the problem. In a world filled with information but almost empty of enchantment, her fairy tale has a jagged edge. The wicked witch turns out to be us, the global villagers. And as much as we want fairy tales to end happily ever after, the only story we can hope for is one that ends badly -- in divorce, adultery, even death.After all, how long can enchantment last under a microscope? How can magic survive 24-hour-a-day surveillance? Do we really want to see Snow White in her panties? Cinderella naked on her balcony with her prince?Perhaps, insatiable viewers that we've become, we do. We want so much of our fairy tale princess that we have managed to smother her under the weight of our collective yearnings. We are shocked that she is gone but we shouldn't be. We have ogled her out of existence.

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