LOPEZ: Why does Princess Diana remain an important cultural case study?
PHILLIPS: The hysteria over Princess Diana was a spectacular example of the tendency towards psychological projection, in which the public projects its deepest fears and fantasies onto a public figure who is held to transcend disadvantage. At its worst, this process makes the celebrity into a kind of sainted figure. A similar kind of pathological projection took Barack Obama into the White House.
LOPEZ: Tell me about “kitsch emotion,” what it is, and why it’s important to recognize.
PHILLIPS: Kitsch emotion replaces real feelings, such as love or grief, with a sentimentalized pastiche that is, at root, all about making the person feel good about himself. Thus, as with the death of Diana, people advertise their moral worth with open displays of grief over someone they only knew as a media construct; emotional restraint is seen not as an admirable stoicism but as evidence of callousness.
These are emotions for a narcissistic age; they are all about the self, not about looking out for other people. It’s important to recognize this so that we can distinguish them from the real thing — which otherwise will become confused and may be lost altogether, along with our concern for others and our whole understanding of the difference between what is true and what is false.Those of us who have endured a personal tragedy--the loss of a close friend or family member--know what real pain feels like, and it isn't at all like the pleasantly masochistic "kitsch" pain being ginned up by our blubbering media.