Like the trial of O.J. Simpson, the death and funeral of Princess Diana was one of those media events which remind us of how villagelike the global village really is. The bare facts of Diana’s life and accomplishments, and of the circumstances surrounding her death, were nothing but the simplest of patterns upon which fantastical embroideries of gossip and speculation, of moral praise and censure, and of (usually) hilariously bad literary and artistic invention were woven—and woven by a communal effort in which not to take part was obscurely shaming and even antisocial. Ordinary people considered it priggish or worse on the part of a few spoilsports even to refer to the princess’s moral and intellectual insignificance, except as a pastime to the trivial media that live off the contemporary cult of celebrity.

Well, ordinary people had, as they so often do, a point. For one thing, the more trivial and lightweight the...

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