Apparently, based on my Twitter feed, something happened yesterday that I didn’t know or care about. The result is people venting their outrage on social media today. This caused some rather old memories to come back to the surface. I want to talk about those memories.
I used to work at Borders Books and Music (remember them?). I am both a book lover and a music lover, so in a lot of ways it was a great fit. There were, however, two things that surprised me about working there, two things I was unprepared for. One was just how interested so many people are in celebrities. I don’t mean that in a snobby way. I’m not completely immune to it. But, I’ve never spent money on a tabloid, even the “respectable” ones. I might be mildly curious about famous people who make things that I like, but not curious enough to do anything about it. So, I guess the surprise was really how much time, effort, and money people were willing to invest in learning about celebrities.
The other surprise was how many people really wanted to talk to me, and tell me really personal things. I’m a stranger, just some schmo who works in a bookstore. I heard about people’s relationships, politics, medical issues, children, divorces, jobs, sick parents, drug use, you name it and someone wanted to tell me about it. Over time, I sort of got used to it. I thought of myself as a bit like a bartender. I often thought to myself, “You shouldn’t be telling me this,” but I did my best to listen sympathetically.
Both of these phenomena went to another level when Princess Diana died. I was working the morning after her death. We sold out of all the newspapers in minutes. We then spent the rest of the day dealing with really angry customers who were appalled that we didn’t have any Princess Di stuff in the store. We tried to explain that she was young and healthy, this was a shocking death, it would have been weird for us to have a stockpile of material on the subject. Some understood, but many did not.
Surprisingly fast, within days and weeks, material started getting released. It seemed like every magazine devoted their next issue to the Princess. Many released special commemorative editions. Then, there were the “biographies.” I put it in quotes because, while I never read any of them, they were released so quickly that they couldn’t have been well done. I think at best they were compilations of old material and at worst they were complete hatchet jobs. We also got photography books, calendars, and music. It got to the point where you couldn’t walk two feet in the store without seeing a picture of Diana.
All of it sold really, really well. And it seemed like the more tawdry and scandalous, the better. I helped customers that were literally crying because she was such a beautiful person, and others who seemed almost gleeful that she got what she deserved. Although, there were many more that liked her and hated the rest of the royals. They told me all about Diana, the royal family, the paparazzi, and their feelings about all of it. It was a strange time to be a bookseller.
The longer it went on, the more forcefully I was struck by the fact that it’s a vicious cycle. Most people blamed the paparazzi for Diana’s death and making her life so difficult. But, the paparazzi never would have bothered her if people didn’t want to know about her. But, people wouldn’t have wanted to know about her if the paparazzi hadn’t told stories about her. It’s hard to tell where it begins and it doesn’t seem to end.
It’s not unique to Princess Diana. It’s the same basic thing that has happened to the Kennedys, the Jacksons, Brittney Spears, and it’s still happening with the Royals (and former royals). There are also parallels to a political phenomenon that I wrote about here. It just really hit home when I was a bookseller navigating the aftermath of a princess’ tragic death.
Anyway, these memories seemed pertinent to me today. Take from them what you will. I would like to see the cycle broken. It would help me live a life with less guilt. I wonder how many other people see it that way.