The meaning of Diana

Sunday, August 31 marks the seventeenth anniversary of Princess Diana’s death. The event became one of those “I remember just where I was when I heard” moments. The car crash that killed her, and the life she lived prior to it, dominated the news for the next week. Tributes, from glossy magazine covers to rewritten Elton John songs, kept the event front and center far into the autumn, and “Di” remains at a level of posthumous celebrity once reserved for the likes of Elvis.

In Diana and Beyond: White Femininity, National Identity, and Contemporary Media Culture, author Raka Shome unravels the Diana Phenomenon—what it represented and what it reveals:

Few white women in history have had such an archive of images organized around them through which shifts in a nation’s modernity has been imagined. And very few white women in history have risen to a level where they symbolized not just a national popular but also a global popular. And furthermore, very few white women in our mediated times have simultaneously signified so many universalized narratives of white femininity: angel, good mother, global savior, icon of beauty, and a goddess. Diana Taylor (2003) notes that Diana’s physical existence was “redundant”; she existed always as an image, a representation that was more real than her corporeality and “that continues to defy the limits of space and time”.

Indeed, Diana’s image simply refuses to disappear. In the first few months of 2011, we saw it vehemently assert itself with the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Following that, we have seen almost every act and every fashion style of Kate Middleton being compared to those of Diana. And, more recently, the birth of Kate and William’s baby, William and Kate’s “hands on” no-fuss parenting style, the new 2013 biopic of Diana where she is played by Naomi Watts, and the 2013 resurrection of the investigation of Diana’s death following new claims of conspiracy continue to prove to us that Diana does not perish.