Thursday, June 30, 2011

Talk About Bad Taste

CNN interrupts graphic wall-to-wall coverage of the Casey Anthony child-murder trial to lecture Newsweek editor Tina Brown on a “revolting” computer-generated cover showing Kate Middleton side by side with her late mother-in-law to mark what would have been Princess Diana’s 50th birthday this week.

In the world of journalistic grave-robbing, this might seem a minor misstep at most, but it raises questions about taste in an era when we have all just had electronic and digital views of Anthony Weiner’s penis ad nauseum.

From a dead-tree editor of the past century who did his share of exploiting Prince William’s mum, this comes with no sanctimony about what anybody is doing now, but it’s hard to see what’s vulgar in Newsweek’s respectful what-if about how the Princess would look and what her life might be like if she had survived that 1997 car crash.

If anything, it makes fascinating reading and viewing, and brings back a memory of what an aide of Diana’s told me at the height of her fame in the 1980s. Driving through the countryside past a huge billboard with a magazine cover, the Princess buried her face in her hands, saying, “It’s gotten so that I don’t know where I end and she begins.”

Neither did we all but, in this era of 24/7 shamelessness, it’s good to be reminded there were real people who lived and suffered back then from our prurient interest.

In those days, some journalists still cared about taste, as Joseph Epstein, then editor of American Scholar, attempted to define vulgarity in an essay and came up with his best invented example—-Barbara Walters interviewing the Pope and asking, “Tell me, Holy Father, have you never regretted not having children of your own?”

That was smarmy before the word became popular, but Barbara is still with us and, compared to those who have followed, is now a doyenne of good taste.

Vulgarity Update : The legal case in Manhattan crumbles against France’s towel-wrapped statesman, creating moral confusion an ocean away.

As forensic tests find evidence of a sexual encounter between Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the woman in his hotel room, prosecutors “now do not believe much of what the accuser has told them about the circumstances or about herself.”

None of this has the glamor of Princess Diana redux, but it’s a fair sample of the state of bad taste now.

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