Perhaps the best way to think of it is as a war. On one side are the Hollywood stars with their armies of agents, managers, lawyers, publicists, handlers, personal assistants and, of course, bodyguards. And on the other side are the paparazzi – guerrilla warriors armed with cameras, whose job it is to break through the stars’ defenses, steal small parts of their souls and sell them to the highest bidder. The lengths to which paparazzi will go to get “the shot” are legendary – hiding out in trees, digging through garbage and spitting on the stars in order to shoot their reactions. Car chases and helicopter surveillance seem to be routine. And there’s very little the stars can do about it. Even the paparazzi who were trailing Princess Diana that hot August night, one of whom called 911 while the others recorded the scene for both posterity and prosperity, got by with a slap on the wrist, if that.
The car crash that killed Princess Diana and her companion Dodi Al-Fayed early Sunday, apparently as paparazzi trailed the couple in Paris, follows a series of run-ins between celebrities and those who take their pictures for big money. Witnesses said news photographers, probably freelance paparazzi, were pursuing the couple on motorcycles. A witness told CNN that paparazzi were taking pictures of the wreck within seconds of the crash, and that one of the photographers was beaten at the scene by horrified witnesses. According to news reports, seven photographers were in custody after the accident. (Edwards, 23-4)
Chasing celebrities has become a big-stakes proposition for many professional cameramen, worth incurring the wrath of those luminaries who want some personal space left to them. Richard Wood, in his article “Diana: the people’s princess”, said a single photograph of Diana could have been worth thousands to tens of thousands of
extra issues sold for its buyer. “She has always been a main news story for the newspapers of this country,” Swift said. “The whole country, indeed the world, has a deep fascination for everything she does. And she was and will remain one of the most popular figures in the world” (Wood, 3).
While sympathy and fond remembrance for the 36-year, often star-crossed princess poured in from around the world, there was an undertow of anger at the media, whose obsession with Princess Diana’s every move may have contributed to her death.
“I always believed the press would kill her in the end,” said Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, who accused “greedy and ruthless” editors and publishers with having “blood on their hands” (Edwards, 31). However, one must question the reasoning behind Charles Spencer’s statement, for when the issue at stake, celebrities and there relationship with paparazzi and public voyeurism, is really examined, the topic becomes rather complicated.
Princess Diana had a very complex and sometimes symbiotic relationship with the paparazzi who covered her. In fact one reason why she was so loved, so followed and so revered is because the paparazzi constantly kept her image in the public eye. She was constantly portrayed as a sort of fairy tale princess, a lady of elegance and class who somehow connected with the poor and downtrodden people – regular everyday people – and in this way she gained the publics admiration and unfortunately their desire to know all the details about her life, including her personal agenda. There’s no doubt Diana cultivated and used the press to her advantage during her life in the spotlight. “A woman who’s been followed by the press as much as she has does not embrace her Egyptian lover
in public on a boat where she knows there are going to be people floating around offshore taking pictures unless she means to make a statement” (Levine, 52). She, like many other stars and celebrity figures, played a game of sometimes hard-to-get and sometimes of great accessibility with the photographers who covered her.
Although Princess Diana used publicity for her causes, she often appealed to the press to give her and her family space to live. On a skiing trip with her two sons, she left a restaurant on the slopes to go along a row of photographers and ask them to give her sons some breathing room. All but one did, and of course he made a fortune for his exclusive pictures (Levine, 86). It’s the invasion of the stars private lives, the personal stories and the pictures that the paparazzi struggle to obtain; for they know that this is not only the material that earns them large sums of cash, but it is what the public desires to view and be apart of. The regular, everyday activities that most people do on a normal basis are glorified and blown out of proportion when done by a star and when these menial tasks become a public obsession the privacy of stars is intruded upon. And in Princess Diana’s case, although she was not a Hollywood star, she was royalty who attained celebrity status and therefore also the treatment and image of a star. In this situation, it is easy to see that the paparazzi are actually only part of a larger problem.
There are no royalty in America, and yet the run-ins between celebrities and those who would take pictures of them are growing increasingly ugly. There are many instances of stars and their confrontations with the paparazzi that in some sense parallel those of Princess Diana. The Kennedy encounters are among the worst. Surely one reason Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis was the privacy that his immense
wealth could offer her. In her later years, she finally got a court order against one of her most persistent stalkers. Her son John has a permanent blockade outside his apartment so that photographers have to stay a humane distance away as he and his wife, herself a constant target, come and go (Mulvaney, 39).
If you’re not a Kennedy but just in the movies, you are also fair game, although the stars tend to fight back. George Clooney urged a boycott of Paramount Pictures TV shows because of their use of video paparazzi footage of him and his girlfriend. Alec Baldwin scuffled with a photographer who confronted his wife Kim Basinger and their newborn daughter as they came home from the hospital. In addition, Robert De Niro, Will Smith and Woody Harrelson have all fought with the shooters (Tabloid Frenzy).
But when really scrutinizing all of these situations one finds that there is a long chain of responsibility with much of it ending with the reader. If readers hadn’t wanted to stand in the supermarket check-out lines and devour Princess Diana in her pink-flowered swimsuit in the Mediterranean with Dodi Al-Fayed in shades and shorts on his father’s yacht, would there have been a phalanx of photographers in a high-speed chase to capture yet another glimpse of the couple? There’s an audience for celebrity paparazzi, and when the mainstream press does not pander to it directly, it does so indirectly by tabloid laundering: writing about how crazy it is that the tabloids spend so much time covering a royal romance, and then running pictures of the tabloids’ pictures to say how invasive they are. The mainstream press is just a step behind the tabloids when it comes to exploiting the private lives of any public person for newsstand gain. Paradoxically, like Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Princess Diana may have chosen Dodi Al-Fayed for the cocoon
of protection he could offer. Ironically, the very act of taking up with him raised her news value dramatically. It became apparent that the paparazzi were willing to do anything to capture her. But in the end, the public can only blame the press if it stops watching and demanding the publicity put out by magazines, tabloids, periodicals, newspapers and other venues of communication.
The demand for paparazzi photography reinforces the concept of the public’s fascination and voyeuristic tendencies regarding the lives of celebrities. What keeps the paparazzi alive is the fact that fans believe that through the exclusive photos taken by the paparazzi they are gaining access to the “truth” about celebrities. Richard Dyer observed that “stars are a case of appearance – all we know of them is what we see and hear before us. The media…encourages us to think in terms of ‘really’ – what is Joan Crawford really like” (Dyer, 2). Paparazzi photography delivers that ‘really’ through their visual documentation of stars in compromising or embarrassing moments. In addition, the images that they capture show “celebrities as more mundane figures who sometimes inhabit the same space, perform similar tasks, and wear the same clothing that the none celebrity does” (Morton, 49). These photographers are appealing to the public’s curiosity by capturing the very limited aspects of star’s lives. Perhaps another reason why the public is so enthralled with these types of photos is because it allows them to make more of a connection and relate to the star (and maybe even makes the idea of stardom more attainable), especially when they see them doing the same activities that the average person does on a day to day basis.
There was a dual message in the way the paparazzi and celebrity photographers
presented Princess Diana. In one respect, the photographs of Princess Diana had a certain interest and focus on the her body. “Each part of Diana’s body was fetishized…her cleavage became an object of fantasy and a subject for the news…and the press would point to her sexual desirability” (Squiers, 297). Celebrities’ relationships and their sexuality are prime areas of interest to the observing public and therefore are the sort of images that the paparazzi strive to capture. These types of images are prepared mainly in the essence of voyeurism and the female spectacle. However, Princess Diana was also later portrayed with the images of lonely and neglected wife, good and devoted mother and that of a public patroness of worthy causes (Campbell, 54-8). In this way Princess Diana manipulated the media in an effort to re-represent herself, especially after her divorce with Prince Charles. And even though it is sex, not good works, that tabloids sell best, the public still remained fixated on the Princess and her charitable appearances. It can be speculated that the public remained interested in Princess Diana not only because she was royalty who showed compassion for the downtrodden and the poor, but also because her works showed to the public the ‘real’ person behind the created, made-up image, the only image that most stars will permit the public to see.
In the end however, and in a broader sense, what all of this finally revolves around, what all of us are buying, is celebrity, the rather murky urge to adore someone wealthier, luckier, more beautiful and talented than we are. And in Diana’s case this was also true, however she appeared in the public’s eye as extraordinarily exceptional because she looked beautiful, but her personality also shined through, especially when “she would bend down and touch children with AIDS, you knew she was for real” (Wood, 7 ). She
reached their level and she made herself accessible.
Today, fame cannot exist without photography; this is a culture that invests so much of its energy creating, consuming and obsessing about photographic images. It was images that helped make the British Princess Diana into an international celebrity figure. This type of media brings images of fame to a mass audience at an accelerated pace and creates a rather false sense of intimacy between subjects and audiences. Photographic images of recognizable faces have become icons and commodities. Images of fame are business tools used by anyone with a product, service, or political agenda to promote, and are therefore worth large sums of money to the buyer. Unfortunately, this creates an intrusion upon the private lives of stars and celebrities, especially by the paparazzi. The explosion of gossip columns, magazines, and tabloid television programs covering the famous and the notorious has created new venues for celebrity stories and slick photographs. After the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the backlash against the paparazzi implicated celebrity photography itself, however, the incident did not put a halt on the business. The audience for images of the famous has mushroomed from single viewers to global communities, and these photographic images have multiplied and become unavoidable.
Campbell, Beatrix. “Diana, Princess of Wales: How Sexual Politics Shook the Monarchy.” London: Women’s Press, 1998. p. 54-8
Dyer, Richard. Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1986. p.2
Edwards, Anne. “Ever After: Diana and the life she led.” Journal of Female Biographies. London: St. Joseph’s Press, 2000. Vol. 22. p. 23-31
Levine, Michael. The Princess and the Package: Exploring the Love-Hate Relationship Between Diana and the Media. Los Angelos, CA: Renaissance Books, c. 1998.
Morton, John. “Feeding Reader’s Tabloid Appetites.” American Journalism Review. New York: Sept. 2002. Vol. 16. p.49
Mulvaney, Jay. Diana and Jackie: Maidens, Mothers, Myths. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. p.39
Squiers, Carol. “Class Struggle: The Invention of Paparazzi Photography and the Death of Diana, Princess of Wales.” LTCS 170 Class Reader. p. 297
“Tabloid Frenzy.” videorecording. Producer and director, Desmond Smith; writers, Desmond Smith, Fred Langan; produced by Newsco in co-production with CBS Newsworld. New York: Cinema Guild, c.1994
Wood, Richard. “Diana: the people’s princess.” Colombia Journalism Review. New York: St. Martin’s Minotaur, 1998. Vol. 34. p. 3-7.