I’ve been thinking a lot about the overheated spotlight of fame in the last few days.
More specifically, what it means when we see someone relentlessly splattered on our screen or are unable to avoid incessantly reading about them in the news or on social media.
Who and what exactly are these people and how do they fit into the paradigm of who and what THEY really are?
And what do our reactions to and fascination with them say about us.
Two people now all over the news and in pop culture that couldn’t be more different prompted this.
In fact, the only thing they share in this moment, and likely for all time, is an outsized level of notoriety that IMPLORES us ALL to have an opinion on them.
1. The late Princess Diana Spencer, aka The People’s Princess.
2. Kyle Rittenhouse, the now 18-year-old AR-15 rifle-toting killer of two men a year ago that was just found not guilty of committing their murder.
It doesn’t feel right to even carry them in the same thought, does it?
But bear with me.
Earlier this week I received the first complimentary DVD of the 2021 Hollywood awards season, Spencer. It’s a creepy little film about a reimagined pivotal week in Princess Diana’s life in 1991 where she is secluded at the Queen’s estate to celebrate Christmas with the Royal Family and must decide whether she wants to fully embrace her public doppelganger, Princess Di, or re-emerge as her fast disappearing true self, Diana Spencer, and in the process attempt to save her two young sons from the clutches of the royal version of the fame monster.
If that sounds a little pretentious, well, it is. But that’s because this film was directed by Pablo Larrain, who unapologetically played fast and loose with the facts of Jacqueline Kennedy’s life in Jackie (2016), a movie I personally loathed and would have turned off had I not been determined to blog about how truly disrespectful and sickening I thought it was.
Still, there is something about Spencer that sadly speaks to the latter part of 2021.
Not to mention that, in its way, and with the help of a disturbingly transformational performance by Kristen Stewart, it manages to give the people’s princess a momentarily quite happy ending.
It also helps that at the outset the filmmakers superimpose onscreen that what we are about to see is: a fable from a true tragedy. As we watch what seems like yet another crushingly awful exploitation of a dead person’s life we can at least relax into the idea that the filmmakers have copped to the fact that they’re cherry picking their way through a reimagined and reassembled graveyard of facts to serve their own purpose.
Not quite noble but, hey, when you’re as famous as Diana was and continues to be you’ve willingly bargained away your anonymity for the type of riches and attention that the rest of us mere mortals can only dream of.
Or have you?
In a sense that is the question Spencer asks and it’s best expressed when the philandering and quite awful version of her husband, Prince Charles, finally confronts what seems like a mid-nervous breakdown Diana with a sobering fact he presumes she had to have always known.
The idea that there are two of us, the personwe really are and the other one people take pictures of.
In the film Charles is speaking of the Royal Family, trying to drum it into Diana that this is what she signed up for and to think or act in any more authentic way will indeed literally drive her crazy.
Yet given what we’ve “achieved”(Note: Ahem) in terms of world interconnectivity in the last three decades this has now become an undeniable fact of life for all of us.
For it’d be naive to deny that in less than 24 hours any one of us could be living out the hideous fishbowl existence of our own 2021 version of Diana, but without the designer clothes and cool sports car she drives in Spencer.
Whether we enable it, whether we plan it or if, as in most cases, it happens quite accidentally.
This brings us to Kyle, the good ole boy cause celebre or object of international hate/love of the hour.
The moment this then 17-year-old little shit chose to travel to another state with a semi-automatic rifle he didn’t own strapped on his shoulder so he could strut around like a big bad PROUD boy, pretending to be someone he was not (Note: A military-style paramedic vs. a princess for the people) he was immediately trading in his anonymous life and willingly putting himself in the crosshairs of danger – red, white and blue style.
It might be true that he hadn’t planned murder – or well, multiple shots with a war weapon directly into the bodies or two unarmed people he would kill, though later be found not guilty of committing a felony against – but this was always in the cards.
The reason they call them military-style weapons is that they’re meant to kill people in the most efficient manner possible. To deny this is like denying that dating a famous person from a famously Royal family can very likely make you viscous fodder for the international consumption of venal gossip.
The difference, of course, is that young Kyle chose a potentially lethal weapon that he could aim at others for fun, frolic and effect. Diana chose a potentially lethal arena where many of the weapons of the world would eventually be borne down on her because, well, they could. And it’s fun.
Kyle quickly and enthusiastically became the hunter. Diana found herself hunted.
And it’s always better to be armed when you find yourself in the midst of a hunt. Until, well, it’s not.
By play acting soldier and making himself a minor in a minefield of social unrest, young Kyle was living out a video game fantasy of right wing revenge on the streets of Kenosha, WI over a year ago. But as often happens in these situations, who he truly was or could have become (Note: We’ll never know) got swallowed by the events he set in motion to hideously public effect.
With his exoneration in criminal court last week, it might right now seem that he’s emerged victorious and gotten away with it. Yet recent history often has a way of George Zimmerman-ing and Dan White-ing the crap out of people like him – shooters who walk away seemingly unscathed to only years later be hoisted on their own petards (Note: I’ve been waiting decades to use that comic book phrase from “Batman” and this is the first time it’s ever seemed appropriate).
Kyle might have physically survived a situation his victims couldn’t (Note: Tough crap crazy Judge Schroeder, I can use that word outside of your courtroom). But it remains to be seen if he can survive himself.
He’s scheduled to do his first post-court interview with Tucker Carlson to air on Fox Monday night and there has already been talk of him being offered an internship via accused child sex trafficker, Rep. Matt Goetz (R-FL).
So, I mean, that will certainly end well for him in the long run, right? Like, what could go wrong as the years go on?
Fame and some potentially small fortune might be currently knocking at his door but one of the things we know all too well as 2021 is coming to a close is that everything comes at a cost.
And I’m here to tell you as a college professor with two decades of experience that few, very few, 18 year olds have what it takes to weather the kind of relentless, ongoing storms Kyle will find himself in.
Fame is a harsh, relentless and unforgiving mistress as all of us adults who’ve been fortunate enough to live through Diana’s death AND the last thirty years can attest to.
No matter what side you’re on and no matter how dastardly or noble your motivations or deeds. Stay tuned.