Rihanna is the new Diana... seriously?

Late Sunday night an inebriated @BADGALRIRI stumbled – literally – upon Camille Paglia’s front-page Sunday Times article that claimed that she had more than just Diamonds in common with the late Princess Diana.

“I came home drunk to this in a pile of papers outside my hotel room!” the Barbados-born beauty instagrammed to her 5.1 million followers – present included.  

“My lil Bajan behind, never thought these many people would even know my name, now it’s next to Princess Diana’s on the front of a newspaper! Life can be such a beautiful thing when you let it be #yourejealous :)”

Images via Rihanna's instagram

Aside from definitely not being jealous (if you study Rihanna’s instagram, you’ll understand why), I, like some of the 180,000+ fans who ‘liked’ the picture, felt compelled to read Paglia’s point of view.

Entitled “Double take”, the article draws parallels between the two public figures by painting them as similarly “tragic” personas. Paglia’s argument centres on the points that both the former-princess and pop princess have been embroiled in love triangles (Diana-Charles-Camilla vs. Rihanna-Chris Brown-Karrueche Tran); that they both came from “broken homes” (Diana’s parents got a divorce when she was six, while Rihanna’s crack-addict father beat her mother regularly); and that the two managed to emerge from their respective situations as “sensitive, wounded, but appealingly bubbly and good-natured provincial girls”.

Now, without unpacking everything that’s wrong with comparing divorce (an unhappy marriage is far sadder than a mismatched couple splitting) with domestic violence, and an – undoubtedly traumatic – extramarital affair with, again, domestic violence, Paglia’s other comparisons read sloppy at best.

This, coming from the woman who labeled Katy Perry a "cyborg cheerleader" while applauding Rihanna's rawness as a step forward for women. 

Her overarching argument, which says that the late princess and pop star both use/d “photo ops to send messages of allure, defiance or revenge in a turbulent relationship with an errant partner” has slightly more substance, but really, linking love triangles with provocative red carpet get-up is hardly new. (What about Jennifer Aniston’s succession of press baits post Mr and Mrs Smith? Liberty Ross’ Alexander Wang catwalk last September? Posh Spice’s post-Rebecca Loos media lures? The list is extensive.)  

“Not since Diana rocketed from a shy, plump kindergarten aide to a lean, mean fashion machine has there been such a ravishingly seductive flirtation with the world press,” Paglia writes, specifically comparing the “artistry” in Diana’s iconic, lonely “stage managed” shot outside the Taj Mahal in 1992 post-Charles split with photos of RiRi in Barbados this past December as she escaped her broken relationship with Brown.


Image via The Sunday Times.

Aside from the undertones of heartbreak, the two are not the same. Diana’s was a carefully curated shot targeted towards a (comparatively controlled) print media, whereas the Rihanna images cited are examples of brazen exhibitionism in an over-saturated celebrity cyberspace. Diana released one image to a press gagging for news of her, Rihanna posted hundreds, and in so doing, created the story.

These points are not what is most problematic with the Paglia story, her problem is the fact that she feels the need to put two completely different women side by side, inadvertently pitting them against one another in a more-tragic-than-thou stand-off.  

Aside from ostensibly judging Rihanna – “Diana, rebuffed [from the Charles split and] eventually accepted her exile. But Rihanna, in the classic syndrome of the battered woman, still pities and hopes to change and save her abuser. ("I was more concerned about him," she told Oprah about her recovery from Brown's assault.) By her gallery of splendid stills, Rihanna thinks she can stop the tormenting flux of emotion, but her brilliant eye is helpless against the tyranny of the heart” – Paglia neglects the achievements of the two women and focuses on their personal shortcomings, portraying them as figures unable to exert control over the men in their lives, and thus resorting to using sexual prowess to manipulate a voracious press.

Shouldn’t she be celebrating the contributions Di and Ri made to their respective fields? In honing in on their (extremely different) personal lives, Paglia edifies both women as eternal victims, who, despite their pop and philanthropy successes, remain eternally defined by philandering males.

Comparing Rihanna with Diana is also dubious because it is culture’s first instinct to defend Diana – a graceful, bygone figure of a generation passed – and go into exhaustive detail about why Rihanna is unlike the late princess. This is baiting at its finest. Creating a space where it is acceptable to shame Rihanna for her provocative style, her very public love affair with marijuana and for being a Chris Brown sympathizer is an open invitation to trolls and other pop culture publications (not to mention social media’s wider peanut gallery) to compare one unfavorably to the other.

Paglia certainly got attention with the piece - even her subject's - but what does one have to gain (aside from page views) from comparing apples to Mac Books? Perhaps Paglia just really, really likes Rihanna*, and, if this is the case, maybe it's better to enjoy than justify. 

*It's okay, us too. 

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1 comments so far..

  • Aerialgrrrl's avatar
    Date and time
    Tuesday 19 Feb 2013 - 4:26 PM
    People still care what Camille Paglia thinks? I had hoped she'd faded into exile, preferably somewhere with no access to keyboards, pen or paper...
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