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Fuel for our celebrity obsession
Fuel for our celebrity obsession

-Analysis-

When the song came across my favorite German radio station this morning, my eyes rolled with the familiar lyrics: "Your candle burned out long before your legend ever will." Still, with today's 20-year anniversary of the death of Lady Di, Elton John's prediction is holding up strong.

Princess Diana's "death by media" was a watershed moment, one of the defining events where many remember where they were when they heard the news (though, given the technology of the time, it was likely to be near a radio or TV). As such, it also provides a reference point to assess the changes society has undergone over the past two decades.

In 2017, the paparazzi who denied Lady Di her privacy (and whom some blame for the Paris car accident that killed her) haven't gone away, but social media have arguably made them much less relevant. Take the example of Beyoncé, whom we can consider music royalty. A singing superstar and business mogul with over 100 million followers on social media — her fans even call her their "Queen Bey." But whereas Lady Di and her charity work were dependent on the same media she both needed and despised, Beyoncé, through her Instagram, is able to take complete control of her image, ensuring the world sees only what she wants it to see. She simultaneously offers up her life for consumption and strictly controls access to it.

This past February, Beyoncé took to Instagram to announce she was pregnant with twins, posting photos from an elaborate and floral maternity photoshoot. By breaking the news of her pregnancy first, Bey scooped the paparazzi at their own game. She cut out the need for any speculation, any observations about her body or her weight, and instead made room for immediate celebration among her fans. And again, after the twins were born this summer, Beyoncé was the first (and only) person to release photos of them.

Princess Diana's "death by media" was a watershed moment.

When she posts a photo, Beyoncé gives the public the same thing as the paparazzi: fuel for our celebrity obsession. But by sharing the photos herself, ahead of the tabloids, Bey liberates herself from the pressure of having the media constantly breathing down her neck, something Lady Di was unable to do, up until her dying moment.

Of course, for celebrities as well as for any individual, there's a fine line between cherry picking the important things you want to share (for both business and private reasons) and feeding your entire life to what French psychoanalyst and philosopher Clotilde Leguil calls "the online Other." In a piece penned for Le Monde, and exclusively translated by Worldcrunch, Leguil warns that the "mass narcissism" of our time "eventually diverts everybody from their own existence," and calls for a rethink of psychoanalysis' role and place in our hyper-connected digital world.

We'll never know whether social media could have saved Lady Di's life. But judging by our Facebook and Twitter feeds today, it's fair to say that the candle is still burning.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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